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Hamilton police budget: time to Defund

By: 
Rick Wyman

June 10, 2020

Each year the Hamilton Police Services budget dwarfs all others in the city. It’s larger that social services, parks and recreation, in a city with a road loving council the police budget even outstrips the road budget.

It is the single largest item in the City’s budget.

There are 770 employees of the HPS on the Sunshine list of tax funded employees making over $100,000 per year. These employees take in over $90 million per year collectively.

Imagine the parks, the transit, the seniors care or the schools we could build with an extra $90 million every year. Imagine those resources being used to organise and help stop the murder and disappearances of indigenous women.

City council is crying poor and looking for places to cut due to Covid-19. Yet not once has any of them mentioned the police budget. Until now the police have been shielded from budget cuts and austerity that other services have faced. Each year working people and pensioners watch their taxes go up to feed the bloated HPS machine.

The HPS clearly is not all that it claims to be – it claims to be about “protecting and serving” and “diversity and inclusion” about being part of the community.

Yet the HPS and the Police Services Board, who gobble up over 17% of tax dollars are almost wholly unaccountable and unelected. They function completely removed from any democratic or citizen or workers oversight. The reality is they function with near impunity and next to no control, outside of public pressure and protest. This is why the current protests and the growing calls to defund the police are so important.

There is now a greater light being shone into the dark corners of police services and budgets across North America. Thanks to a rising movement against police murders and racist practices in the aftermath of the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in the US.

In Canada there has been no respite to police killings of youth and people of colour and working-class people in general. Since April police in Canada have shot and killed D'Andre Campbell (26) in Brampton, Eishia Hudson (16), Jason Collins (36), Stewart Kevin Andrews (22), all 3 in Winnipeg in the span of 10 days, Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Toronto and Chantel Moore (26) in New Brunswick. All these victims were Indigenous or People of Colour.   

These police killings are what has given rise to the calls to defund the HPS along with calls to disarm, to make the Police Services Board an elected body and in some cases to disband the police force as it exists.

It should be of no surprise to anyone that these demands are picking up support across Hamilton. The past several years has exposed the HPS as being an unaccountable entity in the City.  From allowing bigots to roam, freely assaulting people, to arresting and harassing anti-racist protestors, to ensuring that Pride came under attack from religious bigots and neo-Nazis.

Hamilton police have shown time and time again that when it comes to “serving and protecting” they are really only abut serving the wealthy and protecting the status quo. The police force defended its use of racist carding programs, the use of random “drug sweeps” in schools that overwhelmingly target youth of colour in poorer neighborhoods all show what the priorities for the HPS are.  It is a police force that spent millions on harassing the poor and homeless through it’s discredited “ACTION” teams, which gave hundreds of tickets out to those who could least afford it. All of these programs came at a time when crime, even according to the HPS’ own statistics was drastically declining in the City.

Time and again the HPS and the Police Services Board deny wrongdoing despite all evidence to the contrary. They rely on Police friendly institutions such as the SIU and OIPRD to absolve them of any issues raised by the public. Yet over and over again when forced to allow external oversight or investigation the HPS is found to be in the wrong – from Pride, to carding, sexual assault cases being dismissed to corrupt practices – time and again the HPS is exposed, only to have City Council and the Police Services Board make a few mea culpa’s, write some new policy papers and all get swept back under the rug.

This article is an attempt to do a quick and superficial overview of the recent history of the HPS and show why people – in particular workers and oppressed peoples should support the call to defund, disarm and disband the HPS.

Hamilton Police Service to protect and serve whom?

Homophobic

In 2019 the police refused to have officers on hand at Pride. Despite it being common knowledge and being informed by Pride organiser that far-right activists and religious bigots were going to show up, as they had done in previous years and had threatened to do two years prior, when Pride had to move to another location.

The reason given by officers and even the Chief of Police Girt was because, like many Pride events around the world – police were not welcome to attend in uniform as officers, in Hamilton the Police had been denied a booth.

The police arrested and targeted those who showed up to defend pride instead of the instigators, much like previous year.

So eager where the police to arrest those challenging bigotry that they arrested a known activist shortly after they spoke out about the police despite that person not even being at Pride.

The debacle at Pride shows that the police are both negligent in terms of enforcement and incompetent at doing the very basics of their job.

In fact, that the police took so long to charge “helmet guy” enabled him to assault another person at a rally in Toronto. The refusal to take this seriously and instead to ignore any community input puts LGBTQSI+ at danger in this city and creates a sense of confidence amongst bigots that the police and City tolerate hatred.

That the HPS and Chief Girt denied any wrongdoing and then doubled down with homophobic commentary about gay men and public washrooms is just another glaring example of what is wrong with the HPS.

It took huge amounts of public pressure to even get the HPS and the City to agree to an outside review of failures of the HPS. Girt and the Police Board were resistant to anything other than a whitewash report from the Office of the Independent Police Review Director – which absolved them of any wrongdoing.

The recent report released assessing what happened paints a clear picture of a negligent and dismissive leadership inside the HPS. It shows clearly that the HPS failed to take seriously the open threats against Pride and instead officers were more focused on the “agitators” who came to help defend Pride from the bigots.

For details check out the excellent coverage on the RaisetheHammer website

Pride 2018 attendees counter religious bigots (in background). The same bigots returned the next year, and again the police stood by.

Supporting the far right and racists

The Hamilton police have selectively refused to enforce laws and secure the safety of the public by routinely allowing far-right organisations such as the “yellow vesters” and “soldiers/sons of odin” to march and gather with impunity, while routinely harassing those counter protesting.

The police have on several occasions ignored assaults by right wingers, including an incident where a “yellow vest” supporter drove a school bus up on the curb at City Hall, in front of a counter protest. This not long after a neo-Nazi drove his car into a demonstration in Charlottesville. This occurred after the misogynist van attack in Toronto killed 10 pedestrians and injured scores more.

The driver of the bus Martin Brousseau a well known racist and far right activist from Alberta has a history of violent spousal abuse and was discharged from the military. Yet the HPS saw fit to chat with him and gently encourage him to leave after more than an hour. An anti-racist protestor however was arrested by the HPS for opposing this.

In 2018 when Islamophobes and bigots tried to hold a march on Locke St. the HPS called in support from surrounding police forces at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars to prevent an anti-racist peaceful protest form marching on Locke St. The HPS did however provide an escort for the Islamophobes to stroll around on Locke St. waving Canadian flags and getting donuts at Donut Monster.

Time and time again the HPS have harassed and arrested those who oppose racism and instead protected, supported and permitted to break laws those from the far right.

This all occurs against a backdrop of Hamilton having some of the highest numbers of reported hate crimes, something which clearly the HPS does not take seriously. By defending neo-Nazi’s and right-wing bigots while arresting anti-racists the HPS ‘s actions have shown that it not only tolerates racism but encourages the growth of the far right. Of course, this is all keeping with the City itself who saw nothing wrong in hiring a well-known Nazi organiser and allowing them access to privileged information.

Hamilton cops have a friendly chat with violent yellow vester after he drove his bus up on the sidewalk trying to intimidate protesters.

Sexism

The HPS spent nearly a year trying to deny that it did anything wrong by dismissing hundreds of reports of sexual assault by women in the city.

A Globe and Mail investigative report in 2017 found that 1 in 5 claims of sexual assault were dismissed outright by police forces in Canada. In Hamilton the report found that as many as 30% of claims were dismissed by HPS officers as “unfounded”.

Faced with these numbers and the publication of the report the HPS initially dismissed the report itself as being unfounded – missing the horrifying irony to survivors of sexual assault in Hamilton. The HPS claimed it had re-reviewed these cases and had a different method than the one used nationally with a much lower rate of dismissed claims. In essence the HPS tried to bury the report and deny its findings – a pattern of behaviour the HPS continues with today.

Eventually, public pressure and outrage at the disgusting denial by the HPS forced a review task force to form, involving women’s organisations. When that review was done it was found the HPS’s numbers were way off and that of the cases dismissed a staggering 70% should not have been. It was clear that the HPS for years ignored and dismissed women reporting sexual assaults.

The HPS has attempted to spin that it has learned from all this, but the reality is that the culture of HPS gave the green light to cops to dismiss claims of assault.

In 2014 a veteran HPS officer (Derek Mellor) who headed up a 2012 task force investigating “human trafficking”  was charged with a series of offences for using his position to have sex with women in the sex industry and sending lewd photographs to others. He resigned before further charges could be brought, but allegations surfaced going back as far as 2000 of him using his position to gain sexual favours while overseeing cases of domestic violence.

In 2014 another officer, (Thomas Mckay) was found using an “informant” to perform sexual favours on him and was charged but remained on the job. The same officer went on to use his position a year later as a uniformed officer in Hess Village to prey on drunk women leaving bars. Once again, he remained on the force and since 2016 has been paid over $450,000 in salary.

Killers:
Sadly, like most major cities in north America, the police in Hamilton are also often killers.

The statistics show that over the past several years the incidences of HPS officers drawing their weapons has drastically increased from 10 years ago, despite crime going down. In 2018 every 3 days the police pulled the gun out on someone in Hamilton.

Since 2011 Hamilton Police Services employees have killed 7 people in the City,

Andreas Chinnery
James Kiteley
Phonesay Chanthachak
Steve Mesic
Anthony "Tony" Divers
Quinn MacDougall
Robyn Garlow

Several of these cases are incidents where the person killed actually called HPS for help (Quinn MacDougall and Robyn Garlow), others involved persons who were clearly distressed and suffering mental illness (Steve Mesic).

In all of them the HPS allege to have been threatened, yet in almost none of the coroner’s investigations did stories match or were the alleged weapons ever found. Several of the Officers remain on the force collecting salaries that put them on the Sunshine list – such is the HPS’s reward for shooting someone in cold blood.

After each killing a series of calls go out for the police to not be engaging with weapons drawn and escalating situations. Yet despite all the lessons – from the killing of Sammy Yatim in Toronto and others the HPS continues to kill people in our city with impunity.

Routinely the Special Investigations Unit clear officers of wrong doing, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

 

Quin MacDougall – killed by HPS in 2018

Steve Mesic – member of USWA 7135 – killed by police 2013

Corrupt:

The scandal of Craig Ruthowsky and his cronies in the HPS Guns and Gangs squad, exposed how deep the rot of corruption is in HPS. He was found to have taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from drug dealers in exchange for information and protection. One dealer testified that he paid upwards of $20,000 a month in protection money to be allowed a free hand to deal drugs in Hamilton.

Despite obvious clues that corruption was rife in the unit nothing was done until Ruthowsky was caught during a raid by Toronto police. Disgustingly the courts have released this bribe taking, drug dealing corrupt cop on bail. The city now faces multiple lawsuits for wrongful convictions and planting of evidence. The corruption of the HPS will likely cost taxpayers millions.

One of the officers involved in the initial trial of Ruthowsky was a decorated 25-year veteran of the HPS, Ian Matthews. Matthews, who took his own life in December 2013 after being told he was being investigated, was lauded by the Mayor (Bob Bratina – now Liberal MP for Stoney Creek) to Chief at the time Glen Decaire (now highly paid security chief at McMaster).

While being hailed by some as the “Wayne Gretzky” of investigators, it turns out that Officer Matthews really summed up the standard for corruption, racism and sexism of the HPS. 

Matthews had been part of the investigation into the burning of the Hindu Samaj Temple in Hamilton by racists in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Matthews is alleged to have coerced the fiancé of one of those eventually convicted (13 years later) for the arson. She alleged, and had text messages to back up the allegation, that Matthews provided her with drugs, money and coerced her into having sex. Not only did his conduct jeopardize an investigation into a racist attack on Sikhs in Hamilton, it also involved alleged use of drug “evidence” and he used his authority and power as a police officer to coerce sex from a witness in the investigation.

If two senior and respected officers were engaged in such behaviour, what else goes on in the HPS that hasn’t seen the light of day?

Even after this the HPS still continues to refuse to answer questions about the depth of corruption. The HPS has even been condemned several times by courts for “pathetic” and “startling” practices about evidence control.

The HPS also have refused to provide court mandated documents in response to a lawsuit by a former undercover officer Paul Manning who alleges other corrupt officers exposed him by outing him as a cop during an investigation. Despite the court ruling multiple times that the city and HPS must release documents both have refused, despite it being a legal order. The City and the HPS have decided they aren’t bound by the same court orders and laws as you and me.

Strike breakers

The police in Hamilton and across Canada and Quebec have a long record of undermining the fight for decent working conditions and wages. At nearly every big moment in the fight for workers rights, the Hamilton Police have been there to support the employers and bosses.

In 1906 the police tried to smash the transit workers strike. On Nov 24th the Sheriff of the day read the, “riot act” (a literal law) to a crowd gathered outside city hall. When the crowd of strikers and their supporters refused to leave the police and army waded into the crowd swinging batons and causing a riot. Such was the violence that the vast majority of public opinion swung in favour of the strikers and against the employers and police.

On Mayday in 1932 the police launched a vicious assault on a rally of several hundred unemployed workers at Woodlands Park, turning it into a mass march on City Hall as 1,000’s of onlookers joined the mayday event in anger at the brutality of the police.

So distraught was the city council at the time (much like today) that the fear of citizens rallying at meetings and denouncing council lead to huge police presence at each meeting driving up the cost of the police budget in the midst of cuts to relief for the unemployed.

The relatively conservative Hamilton District Trades and Labour Council narrowly defeated a motion expelling the Firefighters Association for their role in supporting the police attacks by using firehoses on demonstrators.

Throughout the 30’s and into the 40’s the Hamilton police routinely spied and harassed labour activists and militants across the city. If not for the role of left leaning Mayor Sam Lawrence and a strong workers movement stopping the police from breaking the picket lines in 1946, the gains and pensions won in those struggles might not have been. In other cities across Canada the police were used to try and break up picket lines and strikes. It should be noted that the police did not behave so generously to striking Spectator workers.

Despite the role of Sam Lawrence, it didn’t take long for the Hamilton police force to return to its repressive roots.

Throughout the 1950s and up to today the Hamilton Police department has intervened and tried to break strikes – either physically or with the threat of court injunctions.

In 1953 the police tried to break a strike at Wallace Barnes by the United Electrical workers. They massed outside the picket line and tried to break the lines to allow scabs in.

Famously the police violently assaulted workers during the 1966 wildcat strike at Stelco at behest of the company, arresting many and injury others.

In the 70’s police were routinely used to try and break strikes. At Massey Ferguson police broke up picket lines of striking workers. An anonymous ex-police officer stated in an interview with the authors of “Intelligent Control: Developments in Public Order Policing in Canada”
“…our only role was to break the picket lines. …. We were just trying to prove we could break the picket lines.”

In the 1980’s the police and employers became more sophisticated in some places and began to rely on “injunctions” and “protocols” to dampen down militancy and hobble the effectiveness of strikes.

In some places though, like Windsor and elsewhere it was still clear that the police were at the beck and call of employers. In 1987 the Windsor police broke up picket lies at ADM and then forcibly removed workers occupying a Sheller Globe auto parts plant slated to close. Management of the plant demanded the police remove the occupiers and the cops charged in with batons drawn to end the occupation.

Even today, if not as much in Hamilton, police forces across the country routinely break picket lines and assist employers in keeping workplaces open.

The police now serve the interests of employers by upholding “injunctions” issued by judges against picket lines holding vehicles up or shutting down operations. The recent lock out by MANA in Hamilton is an example of this. Any attempt to shut the plant down, was met by threats from the police to break up the line for violating an “injunction”.

The ongoing strike at the Co-Op refinery in Regina is a current example of the role of police in strike breaking and acting as the armed force of the employers.

The police have several times raided the picket line to arrest union and strike leaders, they have mobilised paramilitary equipment to ensure the refinery keep running with scabs. Further the police chose to ignore and not inform strikers of threats to plant bombs at the picket line. The police clearly decided that union members were not worthy of protection from anti-union terror threats.