A noisy protest against Hamilton’s 2023 police budget shut down a discussion at city hall on Monday night.
The budget session was abruptly adjourned around 7:30 p.m. by chair and Ward 9 Coun. Brad Clark when a large group of protesters stormed the chambers after about half of 50 or so delegates made presentations.
At the root of the disruption were critics opposed to Hamilton Police Service’s request for a 5.48 per cent or estimated $10-million budget increase in 2023.
The scheduled delegates who did get to address council made pitches to allocate that money toward community support groups and programs instead.
Some suggested that spending on continued surveillance, particularly around people deprived of housing, would hurt constituents’ pocketbooks and escalate situations that need to be met with compassion and care.
Many also said they would rather see the local government money support food, health care, crisis intervention and mental health centers.
A rally against the proposed police budget also took place outside city hall, in the forecourt, organized by the Hamilton Encampment Support Network.
Sonia Hill, a volunteer with the network, described the atmosphere in city hall Monday as a “very high energy” show that could see a future return by many “to have their voices heard.”
Amid the pandemic, Hill says she witnessed police actions that led to tent tear downs, disposal of belongings and fines of around $500 for those who were houseless.
“Think about it … you’ve got a little bit of money to keep yourself fed and then all your stuff gets torn down,” Hill told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton.
“You lose everything and now you owe the city $500. I think that’s absolutely disgusting.”
Mayor Andrea Horwath, who was not a part of the committee meeting at city hall on Monday, characterized the disruption as “unfortunate” since it didn’t allow several scheduled delegates a chance to say their piece.
“I understand that many individuals in Hamilton are passionate about the budget, including the police budget,” Horwath said in an email to Global News.
“However, disrupting a peaceful discussion, shouting people down, and refusing to listen to one another cannot replace respectful dialogue.”
In December, Hamilton’s police services board asked the city for an operating increase in 2023 putting the overall total police budget at $195.85 million.
Chief Frank Bergen said spikes in police responses for shootings and motor-vehicle fatalities were part of the reason for a needed bump.
He said the majority of the funds would be spent on employee-related costs, including salaries, benefits and collective agreement increases.
The service hopes to add 13 more officers and 18 new civilian members through the increased budget.
Bergen told Global News he understands the “necessary lever” demonstrators used on Monday to get their message across but insists “just shouting over each other” doesn’t contribute to a productive dialogue.
“One thing we can agree upon is that investing in community care is important, and we are absolutely agreeing in real evidence based solutions in our community,” said Bergen.
He says $1.6 million of community safety money from the budget ask is earmarked for an existing three-year rapid intervention support team (RIST) aiding Hamilton paramedics, Wesley Urban Ministries, St. Joseph’s Healthcare, Canadian Mental Health Association Hamilton, Hamilton Regional Indian Centre, the local YMCA and Interval House of Hamilton.
He went on to say the service’s budget has consistently been around 18.5 per cent of city levies, less than annual policing increases taken on by many other Ontario communities.
“When we’re looking at comparatives, there are communities in our in our municipal regions here that are paying 30 per cent levies,” Bergen explained.
“So the cost of policing is not increasing in the city, but the reality is any decrease to my budget will absolutely result in a decrease in service provided.”
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