Hamilton councillor leaves police board amid budget process complaints

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Published March 11, 2024 at 2:52 pm

Hamilton councillor Cameron Kroetsch
Hamilton councillor Cameron Kroetsch has been ousted from the Hamilton Police Services Board.

A Hamilton city councillor, Cameron Kroetsch, has had to step down from the city’s police board after complaints regarding his comments about the police budget.

The Hamilton Police Service budget has been controversial throughout the annual city budget meetings. The service has requested a record-breaking $206.9 million budget in a year already expected to see high tax hikes.

The proposed hike, which would be $20 million more than in 2023, comes after another $12 million increase that year.

The police budget was sent back to the board for review after nearly a hundred delegates showed up in the council chambers earlier this year demanding the money be allocated elsewhere, such as towards affordable housing initiatives.

Last month, Kroetsch and Dr. Anjali Menezes proposed cutting close to $5 million from the budget. The motion, which came before the board on Feb. 13, was ultimately defeated.

The motion suggested that costs associated with hiring, cable TV, events, website maintenance, public outreach, office supplies and more could be eliminated or deferred until 2025.

Following the defeat of Kroetsch’s motion, police board Chair Pat Mandy, who was appointed to the role by the Ontario government, filed a complaint with the Ontario Civilian Police Commission against the councillor, alleging he “contravened the board code of conduct.”

Mandy also presided over the process and voted to pursue her own complaint, Kroetsch said in a statement.

The complaint was two-pronged, claiming Kroetsch’s motion to use other budget surpluses and “critical” comments on social media breached the code.

Kroetsch said the complaint did not claim his comments, critical as they were, were untrue or disparaged the police service.

“The facts are not in dispute,” he wrote, “just whether or not I’m allowed to comment on the budgetary process in public.”

“I consider the board’s actions to be procedurally unfair, an abuse of process, biased and personally motivated,” he continued, noting he’s filed for a judicial review of the complaint.

Due to the complaint, Kroetsch has had to step down from the board until the investigation is concluded. In a statement, he says he believes Mandy’s complaint was designed to remove him from the board.

Police budgets have come under close scrutiny in Hamilton and other municipalities in recent years, with leaders disagreeing on how to fund the police.

While Mayor Andrea Horwath called the police budget “necessary,” other experts say money used for policing can be more effectively spent elsewhere–especially in the wake of high-profile cases involving police violence. In 2020, calls to “defund the police” became common in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in the U.S. and Cst. Brian Wren’s brutal assault of Patrick Tomchuk, an Indigenous man. Wren pled guilty to the assault around the same time as the budget process and resulting protests.

Dr. Emily Scherzinger, a faculty member at McMaster, said in a public meeting the “best solution” to the homelessness and opioid crisis facing Hamilton is to “provide people support” instead of raiding encampments.

“The Hamilton Police does not deserve a budget increase,” she said.

Recently, the University of Toronto published a study of 16 Ontario municipalities (including Hamilton) and found no correlation between higher police budgets and lower crime rates.

Other community leaders have voiced support for Kroetsch, including MPP Sarah Jama.

My personal opinion is that this behaviour from the Police Board seems petty and vindictive,” Jama wrote on X.

“I hope that Cameron Kroetsch is reinstated soon so that he may continue to do the much-needed work of asking hard, community-driven questions regarding the HPS police budget.”

Meanwhile, Ward 13 councillor Alex Wilson said Kroetsch “meets his responsibilities in good faith and with a resolute work ethic.” He compared the investigation to the 2019 Pride festival violence.

“When demands for accountability were brought forward then, our community was blamed for the violence, for not being more ‘collaborative.’

(An independent investigation into the 2019 Pride celebrations found police were not prepared and their responses “before, during and after the event” were inadequate. A Hamilton police internal review found no wrongdoing.)

“I was elected on a platform focused on transparency and accountability and I promised to do things differently. Different means speaking out when I see budget processes that are not rigorous and when I have serious questions about how the police are spending public money,” Kroetsch concluded.

Hamilton Police Services Board Administrative Director Kirsten Stevenson told insauga.com that the commission told the board not to comment on the investigations.

“The board received correspondence from the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) Friday afternoon, March 8, 2024 confirming they will be proceeding with a formal investigation into the conduct of member Kroetsch,” she wrote via email.

“The OCPC has requested the following of the board: ‘To protect the integrity of the investigation, the Commission asks that you do not communicate anything publicly about the investigation at this time so that the investigation continues to remain confidential.’

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