By Doug Draper
The Niagara Parks Police – one of the oldest police forces in Ontario and a force responsible for policing 36 miles of Niagara River corridor on the province’s side of the Canada/U.S border – is now fighting for its very existence.
If the provincial government doesn’t soon step in and make some amendments to its Police Services Act and/or any other legislation, making it possible for the Niagara Parks Police to share the same rights to bear arms and perform their duties as other police forces in Ontario, the 123-year-old Parks Police force could be staring its own obituary in the face by the end of this year.
The Niagara Parks Police’s lawyer, Stuart Ellis, made a plea to Niagara, Ontario’s regional council this April 22 to support the force in appealing to Premier Dalton McGuinty and his government to do whatever it can, including amending the province’s police act.
“Time is short,” stressed Ellis as he appealed to the regional council to do what it can to press the province to save the police force. “Time is short,” Ellis warned as dozens of Niagara Parks officers and members of their families filled the council’s public gallery. “A year and a half has gone by (since the Niagara Parks police began making a case for status that would keep the force alive) and nothing, nothing has happened, and there isn’t much time left.”
Fortunately, for the Niagara Parks force, the region’s council voted unanimously this April 22 to join it in making a case to the province for keeping the force alive.
For Niagara’s property taxpayers it is also a crucial issue, if for no other reason than the disbanding of the Niagara Parks Police force would mean the Niagara Regional Police taking over responsibility for patrolling the Niagara River corridor, at a cost of at least $3 million more a year to everyone who pays property taxes across the region.
Not only that, this Niagara Parks Police force – in no due disrespect to the Niagara Regional Police, RCMP or any other enforcement agency – has recorded special knowledge and experience around dealing with a Niagara River corridor that draws millions of visitors each year, and around daredevil or suicide acts around the Falls and river, people attempting to cross the border illegally, the needs of visitors to our region, and so on.
That is on top of operating as a police force that has just as much training, including training in the use of handguns, as any other police force in the province.
So the question is this. Why would McGuinty, his Niagara area cabinet minister Jim Bradley (who was, by the way, a tourism minister for the McGuinty government a few years ago who had some say over Niagara Parks Police and the Niagara Parks Commission they work for) and others not step up to the plate and give this time-honoured police force the respect it deserves.
Where, for that matter, are our other Niagara provincial members of parliament on this, including Niagara Falls Liberal MPP Kim Craitor, Niagara Centre MPP Peter Kormos, and Tim Hudak, another Niagara MPP who just happens to be leader of the province’s opposition Conservative government, Tim Hudak?
Why aren’t Hudak and other MPPs in this region making the case for keeping the Niagara Parks Police alive when they know – and they do know – that the demise of this police force means downloading millions of dollars of more in property taxes on residents across all of Niagara for extra policing by our regional police force of Niagara Parks Commission Lands.
If you believe that it makes more sense to have a tried and true police agency – paid for through the revenue the Niagara Parks Commission collects through its tourist operations – look after one of Niagara’s and the world’s most precious natural resources, then go out of your way to contact your provincial members of parliament – especially cabinet minister and St. Catharines MPP Jim Bradley – and ask them why they will not act now to stop a time-honoured police force like the Niagara Parks Police from dying.
In that spirit, shoot off emails or write letters to your MPPs, the premier, Bradley and others now!
Time for this police force – paid for, not by taxes, but by the revenues coming in through the Niagara Parks Commission through revenues from visitors to the Falls’ and Niagara River’s attractions – is running short. Save it.
Niagara At Large supports this historic police force and will continue to keep readers up to date on the force’s status.
(Click on www.niagaraatlarge.com for Niagara At Large and more news and commentary on matters of interest and concern to residents in our greater binational Niagara region.)