By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
HALDIMAND—Ward Six Councillor and Chair of the Police Services Board Bernie Corbett laid out his concerns over the lack of adequate policing by the OPP during Council last week.
“The Police Services Board has notified this Council that in our opinion, we are not getting adequate and effective policing,” said Corbett.
The Service Board is anticipating advice from their legal advisor on what recourses may be available to them to combat this long-existing problem in Haldimand County. An invitation was sent out to both the Commissioner of the OPP and the Solicitor General to attend a Police Services Board meeting, but the Commissioner declined to attend, sending a representative in his place, and they did not receive a reply from the Solicitor General.
“Why is the Solicitor General, who’s responsibility it is to monitor, not coming forward to give us information or guidance?” asked Corbett. “We are bombarded by complaints about the OPP. I feel for the OPP staff that we have. It’s not uncommon for the County of Haldimand, with the distances we have, to have one Sergeant and two officers on duty throughout our county. It’s just not acceptable; the message is not getting across.”
Corbett asserted that the contract between the OPP and the municipality is not being fulfilled, and urged Council to take action.
Ward Three Councillor Dan Lawrence joined in the discussion to share his concerns over the lack of policing taking place near demonstration sites in Caledonia.
“In Caledonia, residents along Sixth Line are not getting policing from the OPP. They are taxpayers and they deserve that,” said Lawrence. “To me, this is breaking the contract. They’re not policing as they’re supposed to under the contract. Maybe it’s because they’re scared of the illegal occupiers and supporters that have set up on Argyle Street and Sixth Line. Whatever their motivation is, we need to have that addressed specifically because they deserve that. I know the Six Nations police are covering them at this time but that’s not our deal. Our deal is with the OPP to police all of Haldimand County.”
Corbett said he is worried about the morale of officers working in the county as well: “I’m extremely concerned about the officers that we have at our detachment. They are getting frustrated and fed up in terms of what’s going on because of being overworked…. When you look at OPP policing overall, there are a lot of suicides in that profession. Why is that? They’re overworked. Looking at statistics in Canada, the average number of police officers per 100,000 people is 185. I worked that out for Haldimand County to be 84 officers total and 21 officers per shift – 21 versus three, and you wonder why so much work is not getting done? How can three people do that much work unless they’re superhuman?”
Corbett added, “The people that show up for the work are taking the brunt of it, and I thank them for what they’re doing. I understand the duress they’re under and the concerns that they have. We should stick up for them and tell the senior levels that we’re tired of it and want something done.”
Mayor Ken Hewitt supported Corbett’s claims: “It’s fair to say that it’s more consistent that there is less than the expected amount on a regular basis. It can be as low as three officers, but on a regular basis it could be five, six. Not very often are we getting a full platoon of eight officers on a shift. More often than not we’re getting less.”
Hewitt suggested that he would like to write a strongly worded letter to the Attorney General to voice his two prevalent concerns: “One is about adequate and effective policing and the lack of foot soldiers on the ground to provide that service. We know that it’s not happening and we know that they aren’t able to provide the true definition of ‘adequate and effective’.”
His other concern has to do with the judicial system and how offenders are being being arrested and charged in relation to demonstrations in Caledonia but then released: “These people are being let go with nothing more than a slap on the wrist and are returning to the site. It’s a cat and mouse game and I think the Attorney General needs to step in…. You can’t have one judicial system support that and say to the public that you are going to arrest people who are occupying a site illegally and then have another arm of the same division say they are going to release them and let them go back to the site. How does that deter anyone from being concerned over what the OPP is doing? It takes away the credibility of the uniform and the credibility of our judicial system. So that is a complaint we need to file on behalf of the County and the Council.”
Hewitt also took aim at politicians who have visited McMenzie Meadows for a ‘photo op’. He said, “When I see pictures of politicians, municipally, provincially, or federally, in contradiction to that injunction, it is incumbent on the OPP to follow through on arresting and charging those same individuals, and it is also incumbent to ensure those same people are held accountable at the same level as everybody else. You can’t charge a dozen or so individuals because they’re at the site and not charge politicians who go for a photo op because they’re politicians.”
Lawrence summed up the discussion: “The bottom line is we’ve complained before in the past, in the present, and probably in the future. We need change and we need to change how we’re receiving our law enforcement. Hopefully our solicitor will have some ideas in moving forward but there has to be a change here, that’s the bottom line so we can stop beating this horse continuously.”