Yet year in and year out, the police continue to gobble up budget money, continue to be plagued with scandals, and continue to prove themselves to be hostile to anyone standing up and challenging the corrupt status quo.
By Rick Wyman
Published June 17, 2020
Each year, the Hamilton Police Services (HPS) 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 organize 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 seriously considered reducing 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 percent 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 three in Winnipeg in the span of ten days, Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Toronto, Chantel Moore (26) in New Brunswick and most recently, Rodney Levy (48) also 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 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. Defending its use of racist carding programs and 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 its 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, HPS and the Police Services Board deny wrongdoing despite all evidence to the contrary. They rely on Police-friendly institutions such as the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) and the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (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 issue a few mea culpas, write some new policy papers and sweep it all 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?
In 2019, it was common knowledge that far-right activists and religious bigots were planning to show up to the Pride celebration at Gage Park, and Pride organizers tied to communicate this to the police. This was not a new issue, as Pride was also attacked the previous year and even had to move the event from in front of City Hall. Despite this, the police refused to have enough officers on hand to protect the event. The reason, given by chief of police Eric Girt, was that the police were not invited to have a recruiting booth.
When the far-right extremists did attack, the police stood aside and refused to get involved. Later, they arrested and targeted the people 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, the 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+ people in danger in this city and creates a sense of confidence among bigots that the police and City tolerate hatred.
In yet another glaring example of what is wrong with the HPS, the HPS and Chief Girt denied any wrongdoing and then doubled down with homophobic commentary about gay men and public washrooms.
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 independent report 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.
Pride 2018 attendees counter religious bigots (in background). The same bigots returned the next year, and again the police stood by.
Hamilton police have selectively refused to enforce laws and secure the safety of the public by routinely allowing far-right organizations 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. It also occurred not long after the misogynist van attack in Toronto that killed ten pedestrians and injured scores more.
The driver of the bus, 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.
At the same event, however, HPS went on to arrest an anti-racist protestor who was opposing the 'hate bus'.
Police calmly negotiate with the 'hate bus' driver (Image Credit: Cameron Kroetsch)
Several police officers arresting a peaceful anti-hate protestor (Image Credit: Graham Crawford)
In 2018, when a group of Islamophobes and bigots tried to hold a march on Locke Street, 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 Street. The HPS did, however, provide an escort for the Islamophobes to stroll around on Locke Street 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 neo-Nazi organizer into the city's IT department.
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 percent 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 organizations. When that review was done, it was found the HPS's numbers were way off. Of the cases that were dismissed, a staggering 70 percent 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 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 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.
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 ten years ago, despite crime going down. In 2018, Hamilton police drew their gun on someone once every three days.
Since 2011, Hamilton Police Services employees have killed seven people in the City: Andreas Chinnery, James Kiteley, Phonesay Chanthachak, Steve Mesic, Anthony "Tony" Divers, Quinn MacDougall and Robyn Garlow.
Several of these cases are incidents where the person killed actually called HPS for help (Quinn MacDougall and Robyn Garlow), while others involved persons who were clearly distressed and suffering mental illness (Steve Mesic).
In all of them, the HPS allege they were 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.
The SIU routinely clear officers of wrongdoing, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Quin MacDougall - killed by HPS in 2018
Steve Mesic - member of USWA 7135 - killed by police 2013
The scandal engulfing the HPS Guns and Gangs squad exposed how deep the rot of corruption is in HPS. One officer 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 the officer 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 was a decorated 25-year veteran of the HPS. That officer, 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 the Chief at the time, Glen DeCaire (now the highly-paid security chief at McMaster).
The officer 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. He 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 he 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 thisall of 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 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.
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 24, 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 thousands 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 their fear of citizens rallying at meetings and denouncing council led 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 1930s and into the '40s, the Hamilton police routinely spied on 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 the behest of the company, arresting many and injuring others.
In the 1970s, 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 1980s, 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 that hold vehicles up or shut 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.
On several occasions, the police have raided the picket line to arrest union and strike leaders. They have mobilized paramilitary equipment to ensure the refinery kept 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.
Hamilton Cops attack postal worker picket line to let scabs in.
Hamilton cops push back picket line to let scabs in during strike by mainly women workers at a cotton mill.
The Mayor, the Police board, the media and most of the HPS will argue that this just a few bad apples. But what kind of tree keeps growing such rotten fruit?
The HPS has routinely refused to acknowledge any error or problem until public pressure forces them to. One chief after another ignores, deflects and then, under pressure, launches a task force or a new policy.
Yet year in and year out, the police continue to gobble up budget money, continue to be plagued with scandals, and continue to prove themselves to be hostile to anyone standing up and challenging the status quo.
Recently, the HPS attempted to placate many of the calls for reform coming out of the Pride and yellow vest events. The HPS made a big display about hiring a "Community liaison" officer. The hope was to have someone to "engage" communities and youth and listen to their concerns (as if the concerns weren't already known to the HPS).
The HPS hired Jasbir Dhillon, whose previous career had been the spokesperson for the Special Investigations Unit. The SIU is a provincial body assigned to investigate situations involving police forces. It is notorious for almost never finding officers at fault, despite how clear the evidence is. So, the HPS decided its liaison person would be a person who built their career as an apologist for police brutality and killings.
It should be clear from the above that the police in Hamilton are not reformable. They are a corrupt institution that is hostile to change and will defend itself by what ever means it feels necessary.
The debate about police forces isn't about whether the officer who lives down the street is nice, goes to church or helps a local charity. It isn't even about whether they "joined the force" to do good. It is a debate about the role of police in our society and the rampant, systemic corruption, racism, sexism and brutality in the force.
Their role is based on defending and enforcing laws, which they do selectively, that are passed by politicians and backed up by judges and courts. These laws are designed to protect the wealthy and ruling class and their views of what "law and order" should look like.
It is a system that says George Floyd in the US can be shoot for questioning police about arresting him for allegedly forging a check. But that very same system will carefully and calmly arrest a racist islamophobia who massacres people at a Mosque.
It is a world that jails a poor person for stealing bread but allows companies and banks to pillage workers pensions. It is a system that will spend millions to stop demonstrations against world leaders at summits, but cares little about the murder of indigenous women.
The HPS serve only to defend that system, the system of the rich, capitalism. That's why they are so mired in defending bigots and attacking those fighting for change, and why they themselves are so corrupt.
This is why everyone should support the call in Hamilton to defund the Police. But we need to go beyond that to disarm and disband the police. To do that we also need to start to dismantle the system that needs police and build a world where the billionaires don't profit from Covid while millions lose their jobs.
We will need to fight against the system as a whole and build one where working people determine and make the priorities.
This article was first published in socialist.ca.
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