Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story indicated the per month allowance for monitoring was to come from councillor pay. It is a taxable benefit for councillors. We regret the error.
The City of Calgary will cover costs of home security systems for city councillors who want them, following protests outside the homes of the mayor and another councillor earlier this month.
It follows a confidential briefing to council from City of Calgary corporate security at the beginning of Tuesday’s strategic meeting of council.
Based on a recommendation from administration, council voted 8-7 to give each councillor a reimbursement of up to $8,000 to cover the costs to professionally install home security systems in their homes.
The motion also allows for a maximum of $100 per month for “monitoring,” a taxable benefit that will come from city coffers.
During a virtual press conference following the meeting, Mayor Jyoti Gondek said the measure is temporary as a motion to discuss continuing the funding during budget deliberations was included in Tuesday’s vote.
“I am not fully aware of the financial position of my colleagues, and not knowing whether they have the means to do this on their own was something that was a little unnerving for me,” Gondek said. “I want to make sure that, given what is happening right now and the continuing escalation, my colleagues in the public service have access to some funds to protect their home and their family.”
“That’s why I voted in favour.”
According to the previous bylaw, security costs for home alarm systems were not eligible expenses for elected officials.
Councillors Sean Chu, Sonya Sharp, Dan McLean, Andre Chabot, Raj Dhaliwal, Terry Wong and Jennifer Wyness voted in opposition.
“This is not asking for special treatment,” Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott told council. “It’s asking for the recognition that the threats made to elected officials is higher and ever increasing.”
The funding for home security systems is not mandatory and is the choice of each individual councillor to use the funds.
Gondek said the money for the security systems will be covered by an existing administration account and isn’t an increase to councillors’ office budgets.
Some councillors felt that if there are concerns for individual safety, those councillors should pay for mitigation like a home security system with their own money.
“I feel that safety is important to me, and my family in protecting them. I feel that I make enough money to pay for it myself and I will,” Sharp, who represents Ward 1, said. “So I cannot support what is in front of me today, but will support my colleagues in other forms of having conversations of where and how they can be safe in doing this role.”
“This is what we signed up for,” McLean told council.
Ward 2 Coun. Wyness said she respects the concerns her colleagues have for safety, but is concerned it gives the impression council was prioritizing their own safety over that of the community.
“The message we are sending is not one of Calgarians come together, Calgarians have a safe city,” Wyness said. “We have made a message that city councillors get to be urgent and the community isn’t.”
Several councillors questioned the timing of the recommendation from administration and why an update came during a strategic meeting of council, which are typically reserved for long-term planning sessions.
City manager David Duckworth said city administration want to act as quickly as possible in regard to matters involving the security of the public, elected officials, or city employees.
“There have been some incidents over the last couple of months that have been reported in the media,” Duckworth said. “I can tell you these incidents are expected to continue in the future and we felt it was important that time is of the essence.”
Earlier this month, a protest against COVID-19 health measures was held outside the home of Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek.
In a video posted to social media, several protesters stood on the street outside Gondek’s home holding signs in opposition of vaccine mandates and health measures aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19.
Premier Jason Kenney reacted to the protest at the mayor’s house, calling it “just wrong.”
“There are plenty of opportunities to protest without disturbing the families and neighbours of public officials,” Kenney tweeted on Jan. 10.
Calgary Police said at the time that the protest was brief but it would be investigating in concert with city security.
Another protest was held outside the home of Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra last week.
“Needing security is not a perk, it is not a benefit, it is a by-product of the environment that we are living in,” Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner told council. “I am disheartened that we are not recognizing the threats that are before us and that we do hold a position that is not an ordinary citizen position.”
Gondek addressed the costs, saying it was assessed based on the top-end of what security may be needed at councillors’ homes. But councillors aren’t expected to use the entirety of the $8,000.
“It’s not to say that every councillors’ home will need to have that kind of expenditure,” Gondek said. “When it was considered there may be certain types of homes where a little bit extra is needed, that it could be afforded.”
“The maximum expenditure was indicated today, I don’t believe it is what will be spent.”
According to Dr. Kelly Sundberg, an associate professor in the Department of Economic Justice and Policy Studies at Mount Royal University, home security systems are a “very small step” in addressing the safety of elected officials and more is required.
“I think that there needs to be coordinated intelligence, enforcement and more done,” Sundberg said. “I think that we’re gonna see this becoming more and more prevalent and more visible.
“It’s an unfortunate reality, but I don’t see it changing.”
Gondek said she would not be opting into the funding because her home went through a risk assessment by City of Calgary corporate security when she was first elected to city council in 2017, at which time she made improvements out of her own pocket.