More from Beaconsfield – by Albert Kramberger, The Gazette, May 20, 2013.
It seems not everyone is pleased Montreal police have been keeping watch over Beaconsfield council meetings, though the mayor says public proceedings are proving to be more civil.
Last week, Mayor David Pollock confirmed that at the city’s request Montreal police from Station 1 dispatched two patrol officers to the council meeting because of unruly and unacceptable behaviour at previous meetings, adding it is a shame it had to come to this in order to have respectful public discourse.
However, the Beaconsfield Citizens Association has come out blasting the initiative as has councillor Rhonda Massad, who has already declared she plans to run for mayor in the upcoming fall municipal election.
“Diverting police from their regular duties is compromising public safety by reducing the number of police staff and vehicles on the road available to respond rapidly to calls,” charged BCA president Greg Stienstra. “The council is setting a tone of intimidation at public council meetings by putting the police officers in a highly visible location.”
Considering the city usually has one or two municipal public security guards on hand at each meeting, it is unnecessary to request police to attend as well, Stienstra noted, adding the police have better things to do that keep watch at council meetings as they have at the two most recent ones. If council cannot run a meeting without the presence of police officers, they are failing in their role as elected representatives, he said. He also wondered if there are any extra cost associated with this request, such as overtime for the police officers being dispatched to the meetings, which often last about two hours.
Pollock said he has no regrets about requesting police attendance, adding the past two meetings have been more civil in nature.
“Part of the unruliness at the meetings has been fostered by the BCA,” Pollock told The Gazette. “They often make statements without fact and get people excited and it creates a climate at council meetings. They contribute to people getting quite emotional and excited at council meetings without knowing all the facts.”
Pollock said the continued presence of police will be a month-to-month decision, adding the issue will be discussed in caucus prior to the June 17 council meeting.
“It’s regrettable some people can’t conduct themselves at a public meeting with more maturity,” he said. “Certainly the last two meetings people have been much more civil and respectful to everyone in the room.
“Three meetings ago some people got far too carried away. If it takes (police) to show up at a couple of meetings to realize they should be more mature, more respectful and more civil, then (so be it),” he continued.
Richard Thouin, the commander at Station 1, said the officers dispatched to the council meetings are on regular duty and are not racking up overtime. He added if a call of a more serious nature occurs, they will be summoned. “They are available for any call if there were an emergency,” he said.
As for the fact the patrol officers carry sidearms and wear bullet-proof vests, that is standard equipment for Montreal police. “Any routine call can go bad,” Thouin said. “We have to be ready with our vest on.”
Thouin said officers are meant as a preventative measure and it is not unusual for civic officials to request police attend a public event.
“We answer their request and if we are available, we will be there but these officers are on call. We don’t call in police officers. It’s on their shift,” he said, adding normally two patrol officers will attend a meeting but a supervisory sergeant may also show up for a period.
Thouin said citizens shouldn’t feel intimated if police are at a public function. “Some people have the wrong perception. We are there to work with the community and I emphasize a lot that it is a partnership between the citizens and the police department.
Meanwhile, Massad said the request to ask police to attend council meetings is symptomatic of a larger problem and it isn’t a suitable solution. She said the mayor’s responses during question period are infuriating residents who may feel brushed off. “Responses are vague and incomplete. Leaving people frustrated and out of sorts. This is now being reflected in more aggressive behaviour than we have ever seen,” she stated.
Although Pollock didn’t pinpoint a particular incident that sparked the city’s request for police presence, the mayor had threatened to have former mayoral candidate Hela Labene ejected during the March 25 meeting after a heated exchange with councillor Karin Essen on whether she still resided in the city and if she should remain on council. At the time, the mayor called on a municipal public security officer, normally in attendance at each meeting, to eject Labene when she refused step down from the microphone during question period. While Labene, at the time, challenged the mayor to call the police on her, she finally returned to her seat and remained for the entirety of the meeting. In March, Pollock pleaded with residents to be more respectful.