'They're rabble-rousers,' Bartolucci says
UPDATED Nov. 10 at 8:45 a.m.
Eleven of the 12 people arrested at Sudbury MPP and Minister of Northern Development and Mines Rick Bartolucci's office Nov. 9 have been charged with fail to leave premise when directed under the Trespass to Property Act by Greater Sudbury Police.
One of the protesters was wheelchair-bound. She was processed outside of the building, and released on a summons to attend court.
The other protesters, as well as local reporter Carol Mulligan, who was also arrested at the scene, were transported to police headquarters.
The protesters, “after a subsequent investigation and consideration of all available options to be utilized to prevent such actions in the future,” were charged and released pending an upcoming court date.
Mulligan was released unconditionally.
Upwards of a dozen people were arrested Nov. 9 after those involved in a Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty protest refused to leave Sudbury MPP and Minister of Northern Development and Mines Rick Bartolucci's office.
Among those arrested were Laurentian University sociology professor Gary Kinsman and local reporter Carol Mulligan.
The group had set up what they'd called an “emergency homeless shelter” in the office's waiting room. They had laid out sleeping bags and were playing cards.
They were protesting cuts to a provincial program called the Community Maintenance and Startup Fund.
The benefits program gives $1,500 every two years to families facing eviction and those in danger of having their utilities cut off or fleeing domestic violence, among other uses.
The group said they were planning to stay until the office closed at 4 p.m. However, shortly after 3 p.m., officers from the Greater Sudbury Police were called and, upon arrival, told the group they had five minutes to pack up, or they'd start arresting people.
Media were included in this order.
“The police have basically told us that Bartolucci has decided that this public space has been declared private space, and that we'll be charged with trespassing if we stay here,” Kinsman told Northern Life shortly before the arrests began.
“We are challenging an unjust law, and in the spirit of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Ghandi, there are people here who are willing to engage in civil disobedience to make our point as strongly as possible.”
Bartolucci spoke to Northern Life in his office during the protest.
“In my estimation, they're rabble-rousers,” he said. “In a democracy, you have a right to be rabble-rouser. In a democracy, governments have a right to make decisions we believe to be in the right interests of the people involved.”
He also said the protesters had “made their point, and now they should be leaving the constituency office.”
Kinsman said the Community Maintenance and Startup Fund is being cut by 50 per cent, and that money is going towards affordable housing initiatives.
“It's the basic benefit that provides for people on social assistance being able to move and being able to get what they need to set up their homes,” he said.
“Without that, they basically cannot move, and they can't set up their homes. It's also the fund that is accessed when people are in jeopardy of becoming homeless.”
With less access to the benefits program, people are going to end up on the streets, and thus more homeless shelters will be needed, Kinsman said.
“Rick Bartolucci is part of cutting that fund for everybody,” he said. “We're here to protest that, and we're here to say he's going to be held accountable for it.”
Bartolucci said what actually happened was that several programs previously administered by several ministries were combined for “streamlined delivery of service.”
“There is no reduction in services,” he said.
“There is an enhancement of services. With that enhancement of services, there comes reallocation of dollars. We're moving them from one program to another program. By combining the programs, you get more effectiveness. You get more bang for your buck, so to speak.”
Thomas Sutton, a fourth-year Laurentian University political science student, was one of those arrested during the protest.
Before the arrests started, he told Northern Life he participated in the protest because he thinks politicians should be held accountable for their actions.
“I don't believe it's right for people to make decisions that affect so many people, especially the most vulnerable people in society without being answerable to them,” he said.
“People that are homeless or are in poverty have some of the weakest voices in Ontario and the country, and pretty much in the world.”
Another protester, Christie Knocklbey, said she's disillusioned about the state of the country's social welfare system.
“As I've got involved with the Coalition (Against Povery), it's astonished me the stories that I've heard about people who have been turned down for the assistance they're legally entitled to,” she said.
“They can't access it. They're told come back another time. Instead of making it easier, our politicians are making it harder and harder. They're cutting the money.”