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Say NO to the Criminalization of Poverty – Call your Councillor, join Monday's Rally!

Earlier this week, Councillor McCann released a "survey" (more on this below) targeting downtown safety, and has prepared a motion for Monday's General Committee meeting, which is essentially criminalizing poverty, as well as being a great overreach of municipal jurisdiction and police direction (more on this below).

Both the "survey" and motion appear to break several articles of the City's Code of Conduct – particularly for his linkage of those living in poverty to criminality, among other inflammatory and derogatory comments. At this time, however, the Integrity Commissioner is prevented from reviewing or investigating Code complaints, due to section 28 of that same Code "No Complaints or Reports Prior to Election". (Complaints can be made during the period between nominations opening and voting day, but the Integrity Commissioner may not address them until after voting day – and then, only if the respondent still holds office.)

So while there is a long wait for the results of a Code complaint, there are still some actions we'd like to encourage you to take!

Calls to Action:

  1. Contact your Councillor and ensure that on Monday night they'll vote AGAINST this dehumanizing criminalization of poverty (we've got lots of background for you below).

  2. Join Monday's Rally outside City Hall, to Say "NO" to the Criminalization of Poverty (see details below)

  3. Take the "survey" and make generous use of the "Additional Comments" section at the bottom to explain how disrespectful, dehumanizing and dangerous it is to criminalize poverty and the people struggling to get by.


The Rally:

When: Monday, May 30, 6:45pm

Where: Outside Barrie City Hall, 70 Collier Street

This event is hosted by the Simcoe Barrie Bethune Club – please ask any questions of the organizers on the event's Facebook page, We will continue to update this post, as new details become known.

From the organizers:

Councillor Mike McCann is putting forward a motion at Barrie City Council on Monday that attacks members of our community and criminalizes people in poverty. Let's come together to tell him and the rest of council that there is no place for this kind of hateful proposal in our community.

From us:

Engage Barrie Organization endorses and supports this event, as part of our mission to create an equitable community, mobilize and empower people, and build an engaged local democracy. Also in keeping with our values of accountability, collaboration, democracy, diversity, education, empowerment, equity, inclusivity, invormation and transparency. And, of course, our founding principles of local, community-based organizing, creating safe spaces, and healthy urbanism.


Further Background

Councillor McCann has had a history of degrading and vilifying statements regarding unhoused people in the city – including, recently, in fighting the Ryan's Hope Breakfast To Go program, and proposing that the decrepit Barrie Jail be turned into affordable housing.

Both the survey and Monday's motion continue in this light, and go against everything Engage Barrie and our members have always stood for.

Furthermore, they go against what experts in housing, poverty, mental health, harm reduction, social services, and even policing have stated about how to tackle the complex and multi-faceted issues affecting Barrie residents. While McCann wants to direct Barrie Police Services to enact certain changes in policing in the downtown core, Deputy Chief Rich Johnston has already spoken numerous times – including at the Downtown Barrie BIA's recent Annual General Meeting, and various Board meetings – about how best to address policing and public safety downtown. In January, Barrie Police Services recently made a presentation to City Council about their evidence-based approach to policing. And, as the President of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (and many other policing experts) have declared, "we cannot arrest and charge our way out of this crisis".

Councillor McCann's motion to direct Barrie Police Services on how to do their job flies in the face of all the work already done, their evidence-based approach to policing, and established best practises. Expecting the results of a highly biased "survey" to supersede expertise and evidence-based strategies is irresponsible.

5.12 (e) Members of Council must seek to advance the public interest with honesty and treat members of the public with dignity, understanding and respect.

20.1 All members of Council have a duty to treat members of the public, one another and staff appropriately and without abuse, bullying or intimidation.

20.3 Members shall abide by the provisions of the Human Rights Code, as amended, and, in doing so, shall treat every person, including... the public, with dignity, understanding and respect.

20.6 (a) Members shall not make inappropriate comments or gestures to or about an inividual where such conduct is known or ought reasonably to be known to be offensive to the person(s) to whom they are directed or are about

20.6 (b) Members shall not display materials or transmit communications that are inappropriate, offensive, insulting or derogatory

The "survey":

To start with, McCann released the survey invitation with a graphic that included the statement "Comments can be made on Mike McCann Facebook page" – yet, if one is to visit his Facebook page, he has limited comments on the post (i.e., no comments can be made, after all). Not a great start to a public survey.

But once we get to the questions, it is clear that this "survey" shows more interest in swaying public opinion than encouraging public engagement – as well as ignoring all the work that has already been undertaken to address public safety (including the safety of the members of the public he chooses to vilify here and in his motion)

While the title of the "survey" is "Is Downtown Barrie Safe and Inviting?", the "questions" underneath are highly biased statements disguised with question marks. All of which are highly simplistic, and already proven-ineffective, "solutions" to several complex societal issues – and which we've heard from him many times before, as he continues to ignore the expertise of those who work in the many fields working with these issues, including the very Police he's attempting to direct.

As outlined in our 2020 Position Paper on Community Engagement, surveys are meant to collect feedback from the public, not steer the conversation in a single, partisan direction. The five mistakes in SurveyMonkey's article "5 common survey question mistakes that'll ruin your data" are:

  1. leading questions

  2. loaded questions

  3. double-barrelled questions

  4. using absolutes in questions

  5. not being clear

It is quite clear that the "survey" questions are leading and loaded, and use the absolutes of yes/no choices (as well as forcing respondents to provide an absolute answer, even if their true answer were more nuanced). But the question of "Would you like to stop panhandling on our streets?" might otherwise be answered with a resounding "yes!" (because wouldn't it be wonderful if people could afford the basics of life without having to ask for it on the streets?), if it weren't already clear that the question is fishing for the criminalization of panhandling, rather than the elimination of poverty. It is a poorly designed and poorly worded survey, at best.

At worst, it's criminalizing poverty, associating those who need to ask for money with crime, and treating everyone trying to navigate poverty, housing, and their health as "lesser-than", and people to be pushed out of sight.

Now that you are aware of some of the issues, please do head over to the survey and let him know what compassionate, community-minded people feel about our downtown neighbours. And make good use of the "Additional Comments" section at the bottom to give your true, un-manipulated views!

The motion:

There are several issues with the motion being presented to General Committee on Monday (text transcript of the graphic to follow below)

Barrie Police Services Board – Pan Handling and Criminal Activity

  1. That correspondence be sent to the Barrie Police Services Board requesting that it consider and provide recommendations for a pilot program to run from July to October 2022 to:

    1. eradicate pan handling on City streets and highway ramps, including the installation of planters along medians, in consultation with the Ontario Provincial Police and Municipal Law Enforcement; and

    2. end criminal disorder/behaviour drug dealing in Downtown Barrie in order to create a safe place for residents, workers and small business owners, including alternatives to dropping off individuals from the Penetanguishene Jail in the downtown core, the use paid duty officers or a private security firm, and any financial impacts.

  2. That the Barrie Police Services Board be requested to hold special meetings, if required, to expedite a response to the City on the matters identified in paragraph 1.

  3. That if the Barrie Police Service Board provides a response recommending that the items in paragraph 1 cannot be accomplished, staff investigate the feasibility a pilot program to run from July to October 2022, to:

    1. retain a private security firm to monitor the situations of pan handling and drug dealing in the downtown area and report any concerning actions to Barrie Police to address, with the security personnel wearing attire that is non-threatening or invasive, including the costs of establishing the program and report back to General Committee prior to summer recess.

There is, of course, the obvious: Many of those sentences don't make any sense. There is no organization or corporation registered as Penetanguishene Jail. Planter installation does not fall under police jurisdiction. Highway ramps do not fall under City jurisdiction. Barrie City Council cannot direct operations of a provincially-run Correctional Centre, nor of the OPP. And "end criminal disorder/behaviour" is an impractical an unachievable goal for downtown or anywhere (unless, of course, what are currently deemed criminal behaviours become DE-criminalized).

From a purely practical standpoint, this motion is going in front of General Committee on May 30, which means that even if it were approved, it would not be finalized until June 6. Which would give all parties specified a total of three weeks to consult with one another, provide a first set of recommendations, and then if the recommendation from Police Services is to reject this overreach of Council direction, to then expect City Staff to come back with a policing plan that goes counter to the expertise of the Barrie Police Services, in time to put out an RFP for a private security firm to implement this plan starting in July. This is entirely unrealistic, and has no chance of resulting in a well-thought-out policy that would be of any benefit to anyone.

From a financial standpoint, Councillor McCann has fought nearly every motion put forward to help relieve poverty, homelessness, and the city's toxic drug supply crisis, often citing a desire to save taxpayer money. Yet he is willing to commit taxpayer money to retain a private security firm to police downtown in ways that the Police have already indicated is ineffective, and would be confirming again via step 1 of this motion? Spending taxpayers' money to counter the best advice of the Barrie Police Services and the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police – not to mention, the best advice and best practices of our local housing, health, poverty, mental health, harm reduction, and social service agencies – seems a terrible waste, and a terrible idea.

Our neighbours enduring poverty and homelessness do not need to be policed. They need better policies supporting them. They deserve a City that doesn't criminalize them for being poor.

Again, please be sure to take up these calls for action before Monday's meeting:

  1. Contact your Councillor and ensure that on Monday night they'll vote AGAINST this motion, and its dehumanizing criminalization of poverty

  2. Join Monday's Rally outside City Hall, to Say "NO" to the Criminalization of Poverty

  3. Take the "survey" and make generous use of the "Additional Comments" section at the bottom to explain how disrespectful, dehumanizing and dangerous it is to criminalize poverty and the people struggling to get by.


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