Huntsville Mayor Scott Aitchison promised to dig deeper when it comes to how the people of Huntsville and Muskoka are policed.
He was referring specifically to a Globe and Mail investigation published February 3, 2017. The report found that 55 per cent of all sexual assault allegations brought to the attention of the Huntsville OPP Detachment between 2010 and 2014 were deemed as unfounded, ranking Huntsville fifth for dismissing such allegations across the country and Bracebridge fared no better.
Aitchison told those present at Huntsville Council’s February 27 meeting that he was shocked when learning of the statistics, as were many of his colleagues. Bracebridge Councillor Don Smith has since asked that representatives of Muskoka’s OPP detachments resume the practise of reporting to District Council on a quarterly basis. His request was unanimously approved by District Council at its February 21 meeting.
The reporting was a customary practise at the District Corporate and Emergency Services Committee – made up of all of Muskoka’s mayors – but it was discontinued during the previous term of council “in part because they felt it was becoming a bit tedious just hearing stats from the detachment commanders and not really asking many questions. They figured if they needed them to come and talk to an issue they could just summon them to come to talk to an issue,” said Aitchison.
He said bringing the reporting back is a good first step, “in what we ultimately need to do to change our relationship with those who police us in Muskoka.”
Aitchison said there is really no forum for members of the public to be engaged on how police do their jobs “and I firmly believe that that needs to change. I pointed out that since becoming mayor it is very easy for me as an individual now, or my office, to get ahold of the chief of police. He’s on speed dial. I call him and he answers the phone but not everybody has that ability and for me to be able to talk to the detachment commander and allay my concerns isn’t enough.”
Aitchison, who chairs the District Corporate and Emergency Services Committee, said the committee will endeavour to pursue the issue and discuss the possibility of forming a police services board “or some version thereof whereby we can have a more meaningful dialogue with the OPP on how they deliver a service that we currently pay for, but have no say in.”
The District pays roughly $16 million for policing per year “and it’s gone up dramatically in the last few years,” said Aitchison.
In terms of the Globe and Mail article and the issue of sexual violence and violence in general, Aitchison reminded those present that the number of cases that get reported to police don’t come close to actually reflecting the number of violent instances that take place in the community.
There is too much violence in our community and it is something that we all need to be aware of. And we all need to be aware in a way that we’re not just sort of accepting that it happens but our entire community needs to be engaged and seized in the matter and know that violence of any kind is not acceptable and we all need to be aware of it. And we all need to be part of the solution and we all need to be part of the dialogue. It’s not just about the police. It’s about all of us. Huntsvile Mayor Scott Aitchison
Aitchison said he’s participated in various meetings on the issue to date. He said discussions will continue on what steps to take next to raise awareness and change the statistics reported by the Globe.
“The Chief Superintendent of the OPP was very much seized of the issue as well and ordered a review of all cases between 2010 and 2014. He gave the OPP a week to do it.” Aitchison said he thought that was shockingly fast “and sure enough it hasn’t been completed yet.”
Aitchison said Huntsville Detachment Commander John Graham has been very helpful in keeping him updated and has assured him that once the report is complete he would be sharing it with council.
I just want to make sure that everyone is really clear that just getting a report that says ‘oh everything’s OK,’ that will not cut it. We will continue this dialogue and not just dialogue but dialogue with a goal to changing what’s happening in our community. Aitchison
He said it’s easy to forget that statistics on a sheet of paper represent “real people in real trauma who have been devastated in some way. That’s a horrible, horrible thing… I don’t want us to lose sight of the fact that it’s not just a bunch of numbers on the paper. It’s not just a report in The Globe and Mail that‘s embarrassing to our community. It’s real people who have had horrifying, devastating things done to them and we need to change that in our community.”
Doppler broke the story locally on February 8, 2017. You can find that story here.
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