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Children who attended Ottawa protest face increased risk of trauma: expert

Seeing police officers in riot gear and arresting people at the Ottawa protest can be very traumatic for children, says an emergency psychiatry specialist.
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Photo: CityNews / Adrian Ghobrial

As children were present at times at the trucker convoy protest at Parliament Hill, a psychiatrist from the University of British Columbia hopes their well-being is taken into consideration.

Dr. Tyler Black, a psychiatrist and adolescent emergency psychiatry specialist, says the chaos and turmoil seen at the Ottawa protest can be very traumatic for children witnessing it.

“When things are happening, and there’s police officers in riot gear, parents being taken away, children can perceive incorrectly, they can perceive that those officers mean to do harm. They can perceive that they might be harmed. Any time a child is worried about the harm of someone they love, this can be quite challenging for them,” Black said.

Officers were in riot gear clearing out Ottawa’s downtown core on Saturday, February 20. Police repeatedly asked that protesters not bring children to the area of the demonstration. 

Black says children who are brought out to these events can easily become distressed.

“Our biggest worry is, how will they process it?” he said. “It’s going to be really important to make sure that any children who are in distress are given the supports they need because at the end of the day, when distressing things occur, children can post-process them, but they need support and love and attention. Hopefully, there are family members who could have been contacted to help.”

According to Black, although police are trained to act with extra compassion when children are involved, a riot scenario amplifies the challenges of ensuring children’s safety.

“I would just always encourage that parents should always be thinking about protecting their children and not exposing their children to conflict and harm. And whenever police are involved and their children involved, it’s an opportunity to reassess.”

Aside from the possibility of being exposed to violence and chaos, the site was also filled with diesel fumes from the idling vehicles, smoke from barbecues and campfires lit by demonstrators, and marijuana.

Black says children exposed to the environment at the protest for an extended period of time can even develop trauma-related issues further down the line.

“We just really have to make sure that the environment that they’re in is supportive and we have to make sure that the children who are displaying concerning behaviours or thoughts because of what has happened, are given the supports they need.

"But of course, any child who’s witnessed something very traumatic or distressing is going to be a little bit higher at risk for developing problems in the future.”

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