City Hall session ended after police budget protests
Citizens advocating against the $12.3 million police budget increase disrupted a budget feedback session at City Hall on Feb. 6
A budget feedback session at city hall was shut down on Feb. 6, following disruptions from a sit-in protest against a proposed 2023 police budget.
The Hamilton Police Services proposed a 6.71 per cent, or $12.3 million, increase to their budget, for a total $195.8 million. Police Chief Frank Bergen said the increase is necessary to keep pace with the growing population and rising crime severity in Hamilton.
Discussions of the HPS budget, which makes up approximately 18.5 per cent of Hamilton's total spending, prompted local advocacy groups to call for diverting the money that would go towards the budget increase to other resources in Hamilton.
The Hamilton Encampment Support Network, a volunteer organization that supports unhoused Hamiltonians, organized a protest outside City Hall on the day of the budget feedback session.
During the session, protestors filled the chamber’s gallery and protested the proposed increases to the police budget.
Ward 9 Councillor Brad Clark, the general issues committee chair, adjourned the meeting after an hour of the sit-in until protestors left.
Before the session was adjourned, numerous delegates spoke to the councillors about why they should reject the budget increase. The delegates proposed the budget be allocated to other services such as addressing affordable housing, mental health and addiction resources and food insecurity.
Since the protests, Ward 3 councillor Nrinder Nann has publicly opposed the proposal, citing concerns about the budget.
Ward 1 Councillor Maureen Wilson, who represents the McMaster University area, viewed the event as an attempt to bully city councillors, calling the protest undemocratic.
“What we witnessed last night was an unacceptable attempt to bully members of #HamOnt City Council. In previous Council I spoke out when members of Council attempted to bully staff & members of public. This undemocratic act denied the opportunity for many delegates to be heard,” said Wilson in a tweet on Feb. 7.
Mayor Andrea Harworth echoed similar remarks, stating that disrupting a peaceful discussion impeded respectful dialogue.
HESN responded to their criticisms, explaining that playing by the rules was not enough to address the ongoing issues.
“The community came out last night to flip the script – we can't keep coming to your table, to your council chambers, and playing by your exact rule book, while our neighbours keep dying,” said HESN in a statement on Instagram on Feb. 7.
Moving forward, city council can choose to reject the budget or appeal the final decision to the Ontario Civilian Police Commission. If the council rejects the proposal, a new budget will be proposed by the police services board.
However, city solicitor Lisa Shields told councillors during a general issues committee meeting on Feb. 7 that city has never rejected the police budget.
This is an ongoing story.