“Speaker, I want to apologize. The member (Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff) had a chance to apologize on behalf of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario for the way they were treated.” – Niagara Centre MPP Jeff Burch, from a statement he made in the Ontario legislature this past Tuesday, May 14th
A Brief News Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted May 16th, 2019 on Niagara At Large
More than a week has passed since staffers in the Beamsville constituency office of Niagara West MPP and Ford government member Sam Oosterhoff called the police on a group of about 15 seniors and book club members from across the region who had come to Oosterhoff’s office to hold what they called a “read-in” to protest recent funding cuts Ford, Oosterhoff and company are making to Ontario’s public libraries.
As the seniors, holding nothing but books in their hands, began to enter the office on that May 7th afternoon, someone on the staff called the police and three officers showed up and talked to the seniors for a few minutes before coming to the obvious conclusion – that they had done “nothing wrong.”
Niagara Centre NDP MPP Jeff Burch was among the first to get up and say that Oosterhoff owed the book club members an apology but the most that came from the Ford MPP in the 24 hours following the incident was a statement that read, in part; “I agree that things could have been handled differently, but my team and I take the privacy of constituents very seriously. … Citizens are of course always allowed to protest, but not at the expense of other individuals and their privacy.”
Apparently Oosterhoff and his staff have a problem protecting private information from members of the public that might come walking in, unlike virtually any other constituency office I have walked in to during my 40 years as a report, including the Welland office of Niagara Centre MPP Jeff Burch.
This past Friday, May 10th, members of the same book club went to Burch’s office where they were greeted with coffee and donuts, and invited to share their concern about cuts the Ford government is making to library services, as well as their experience at Oosterhoff’s office.
One member of the group, Mickey Mayne from Port Colborne, read a letter she was sending to Premier Doug Ford that began with these words;
“On May 8th, 2019, MPP Sam Oosterhoff (Niagara West) was interviewed by a reporter from CHCH television. He twice referred to a group of constituents who had attempted a read-in at his office as ‘grannies’. As one of those constituents, I am deeply offended and dismayed by his use of the label ‘grannies’ …
“His unapologetic use of the pejorative term ‘granny’ in reference to a group of women and men who had come to him, in good faith, with legitimate concerns, demonstrates an unparalleled lack of sensitivity and respect which is unacceptable in a parliamentarian.”
So with no real apology coming – not one that we are aware of, anyway – from the MPP for Niagara West through the weekend and into this week, Burch rose to his feet in the Ontario legislature on May 14th and said this;
“I have a pile of letters here from a group of seniors who, last week, held a demonstration at a constituency office in Beamsville. After only eight minutes, they had the police called on them. These constituents we are from ridings all across Niagara.
“They were also referred to as “grannies” later in the news.
“Speaker, I want to apologize. The member had a chance to apologize on behalf of his government, but I would like to apologize on behalf of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario for the way that they were treated. We serve citizens. Our offices belong to the taxpayers.
“All constituents should feel free to meet and to demonstrate without having the police called on them.”
This episode caused and exacerbated by Oosterhoff and his staff were, at the very least, stupid and outrageous.
It was stupid because, like banning a song or a book then watching sales for that book or song go through the roof, the optics of police being called in to take whatever action with a group of seniors wanting to hold a “read-in” in support of library funding got province-wide attention to the fight for our public libraries and to Ford, Oosterhoff and company targeting our libraries for cuts.
And it is outrageous because of the treatment that a group of citizens received for expressing their views and staging a peaceful protest in a country that is supposed to be a full-fledged, free and open democracy.
Today’s brand of Conservatives in Ontario and Canada, like today’s brand of Republicans in the United States, seem to have more than a little trouble with citizens who their rights to protest their policies in a free and open democracy.
When I first found out about this disgraceful incident involving the book club members at Oosterhoff’s office I was part way through re-reading a book called Overlord by reporter and historian Max Hastings about the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944 that marked the beginning of the end of Second World War.
I think it is important for Oosterhoff, Ford and others of their neo-Conservative ilk to remember that 75 years ago this June 6th, thousands of Canadians joined their American, British and French allies in an assault on the shores of Normandy, France.
They fought and many of them died in a bloody conflict against fascism and for the freedoms that those book club members and all of us should continue to enjoy today without having the police called on us.
To read some of the recent news commentary Niagara At Large posted on this issue, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2019/05/08/if-you-are-a-senior-citizen-in-ontario-and-youre-holding-a-book-in-your-hand-you-better-watch-it/ .
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