Dozens of demonstrators are camping out in front of Hamilton city hall, calling on the city to defund police and reallocate funds toward housing.
Advocates with a group called the “Defund the Police Hamilton Coalition” set up speakers and tents in the forecourt on Monday afternoon, issuing a list of demands during a series of speeches.
Those demands include calling on Hamilton police to immediately reduce their budget by 50 per cent, and for their 2020 budget surplus of $567,875 to be reallocated toward “free permanent housing” in Hamilton.
One of the coalition members, who asked not to be named, said the call goes beyond Hamilton.
“This is a call across the country, not just for Hamilton. We’re calling on municipalities and provinces across the country to defund the police and invest in housing because we’re in the middle of a housing crisis.”
The group cites the number of tent encampments across the city, which have become more visible since the beginning of the pandemic.
Two of the larger encampments — one along Ferguson Avenue North, and another alongside FirstOntario Centre — were dismantled last month.
Sarah Jama, one of the members of the coalition, said they don’t plan on leaving the city hall forecourt until their demands are met.
“We will not leave. We will stay here. We are prepared to stay.”
In a release issued late Monday afternoon, the city of Hamilton said it’s working with protesters to “encourage them to express their views in a way that adheres to provincial COVID-19 safety orders”.
“City Bylaw officers are encouraging demonstrators to reduce their numbers to 25 or less to meet provincial orders and adhere to physical distancing rules,” wrote Jen Recine, a spokesperson for the city. “If the number of demonstrators does not fall to 25 or less, the City will take appropriate enforcement measures, which can include issuing fines.”
The coalition member who requested that they not be identified said they understand the importance of following COVID-19 measures, adding that they would be making an effort to ensure people who are gathered for the demonstration are wearing masks and are physically distanced.
“We are taking COVID precautions extremely seriously and we understand that we are in the middle of a red zone, but at the same time, people are going to die if they don’t have housing.”
That same member said they will be staying in the forecourt until Mayor Fred Eisenberger meets with them and agrees to their demands.
Shortly after 5 p.m. on Monday, Hamilton police said the organizer of the protest has been charged under the Reopening Ontario Act, saying they determined that between 80 and 100 people were in attendance.
“The City of Hamilton By-Law Enforcement and Hamilton Police Service attended the event and confirmed that the number of attendees exceeded the numbers permitted for an outdoor gathering,” police wrote in a media release.
The 26-year-old Hamilton woman is due to appear in court on Feb. 22 and could face a minimum fine of $10,000.