Northwestern Ontario mayors seek province’s help with high policing costs

By CityNews Staff

The mayors of three communities in northwestern Ontario say they need immediate support from the province to deal with rising policing costs.

The mayors of Sioux Lookout, Kenora and Pickle Lake formed a coalition last year to address the issue they say is being driven by an increase in calls for service due to escalating homelessness and drug addiction.

The group met twice Monday with the solicitor general to push for a solution they want to see in place this year but said they came away disappointed. 

“Unfortunately, at this point, we’ve heard the same thing that I heard a year ago, four years ago, seven years ago,” Doug Lawrance, the mayor of Sioux Lookout, said in a phone interview.

“We let the minister and his staff know that wasn’t acceptable, that we need a solution now for our policing cost distress.”

A spokesperson for Solicitor General Michael Kerzner called Monday’s meetings “productive.” 

“As our government makes significant investments to support policing in these communities, Solicitor General Kerzner will continue to engage with these mayors to strengthen the provision of police services,” Zachary Zarnett-Klein wrote in a statement. 

The mayors’ coalition said calls to Ontario Provincial Police in their small communities have been consistently growing since at least 2019 due to increasing homelessness and drug addiction. 

The group said the cost for policing in their communities is approximately three times higher than the $300-per-household median cost for municipalities in Ontario.

Municipalities are charged a base rate per household for policing services, plus further billing based on calls for service, the mayors said. The rise in calls for service in their communities has created a financial burden they need help with, they said. 

“Our calls for service are in up to 20,000 per year for a population of 15,000 and about 7,800 households,” said Kenora Mayor Andrew Poirier.

“So it’s almost three calls for service per household per year, which is way above the norm. We’re looking for some relief right now.”

Any savings the municipalities see could be directed toward tackling the root causes behind the calls for service,  Poirier said. 

“We need more space to deal with mental health issues, to deal with addiction issues that just aren’t there right now. The policing cost is just one piece of it for us so we can reinvest,” Poirier said.

The mayors’ coalition said in a written statement later Monday that it and the province agreed to continue discussions over the next three weeks “to find some temporary resolution of this issue, especially for 2023.”

The municipalities have been seeking the province’s help on policing costs for years, Poirier said, with the financial strain becoming an escalating issue.

“I’m the third mayor talking about this for the City of Kenora,” he said. “It’s something that we have to really deal with.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 23, 2023.

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

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