Having worked on Parliament Hill for close to a decade, one thing that I gained a huge appreciation for is people who work in the constituency offices of elected officials. Being in Ottawa, you’re not on the front line, dealing with constituents everyday and usually when something from a constituent lands on your desk in Ottawa, it’s being escalated because the situation requires more help.
But my true appreciation for those staff came from having lived through the experiences of dealing with highly controversial issues. I knew how rough some of those experiences were for me, and that was usually with my bosses riding being hours and hours away. But for my constituency colleagues, many of those people walked into their offices. So for those staff, they had special needs to help with that and had to be very good dealing with the public. And if things ever got out of hand, there were security measures that were in place just in case. But I would point out, in my decade working in politics, it almost never got to that point of needing those measures.
So why come back later at night to write this piece? Well while checking in on my Twitter feed tonight I came across a story that left me gobsmacked and shaking my head, with a headline that completely speaks for itself and says it all:
Yes folks, you read that right: MPP Sam Oosterhoff’s office calls cops on library-loving seniors. Surely this must have been a violent group of seniors uttering threats and being all menacing, right? I mean, there must be a rationale, reasonable reason for calling the cops on them, right? You be the judge:
Police were called to MPP Sam Oosterhoff’s riding office Tuesday after a group of older adults clutching books showed up to stage a “read in” over provincial library cuts.https://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/news-story/9342729-mpp-sam-oosterhoff-s-office-calls-cops-on-library-loving-seniors/
The group of about 15 retirees and seniors, some of whom are members of a classic book club in Wainfleet, had planned to read their books in the Niagara West Tory MPP’s Beamsville office in silent protest.
“I don’t think we looked threatening,” said Janet Hodgkins, a book club member and a retired librarian who worked at Welland Public Library for 28 years.
Each member of the group carried a book, some with homemade brown paper covers displaying quotes about the importance of libraries. They walked into Oosterhoff’s King Street office in a plaza just after 2 p.m. and were told by a staff member that they couldn’t hold a sit-in because the building is owned by someone else.
The staff member said she would call police if the group didn’t leave and when a man said they just wanted to read, she did. Two members of the group then left, but others asked if they could make an appointment to meet with Oosterhoff.
They were told Oosterhoff is only in the riding on Fridays and is booking two months in advance. He will only meet with constituents who live in his riding because he is so busy with appointments.
Some members of the group then asked if they could leave letters they had brought with them for Oosterhoff about why they are opposing library cuts. Nine people left letters along with the homemade book covers.
They then exited the office.
The whole interaction took about eight minutes.
While outside the office talking to The St. Catharines Standard, two Niagara Regional Police officers arrived who had been called to the office and a third followed. No arrests were made.
A group of about a dozen seniors threatened to read in silence in this MPP’s constituency office, most of them left and that was enough to call the cops on them? Seriously? I’m sorry but this is just so wrong on so many levels, especially because I know of constituency staff who have had to deal with real threats, death threats, threats of violence and alike. THAT is when you call the police. I have complete empathy for calling the police in the case of real emergencies like that. But you don’t call the police when you’re faced with citizens who are looking to raise legitimate questions with a member of the government. That’s just not right.
So in the end, what did this MPP and his staff accomplish? They brought more attention to these cuts that have people upset, and they look foolish for sending the police after these seniors. It looks like this MPP and this government can’t deal with criticism from the public that they are elected to serve. And to me calling the police for that is a waste of police resources, a waste of their time and runs the risk of sounding like “crying wolf”. Elected officials are elected to face the people and answer tough questions, and their staff are paid to do the same. If either this MPP or his staff can’t or won’t be bothered to face the public that elected them, then maybe they need to reconsider their career choices. Maybe if when faced with a group of seniors your thought is to call the police, maybe you aren’t cut out for this line of work. Maybe they should think about that next time before they reach for that phone.