The 11 people facing trespassing charges for refusing to leave Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci’s office will be back in court Jan. 21 for a pretrial hearing.
Provincial offences court was packed for the Dec. 17 hearing, as most of the 11 who are facing charges showed up, along with their lawyer, Donald Kuyek. All will be tried at the same time, and for the same charge, Kuyek said.
“It’s under the Trespass Act,” he said outside the provincial offences courtroom at the Sudbury Courthouse on Dec. 17. “It’s failing to leave the premises.”
Those facing charges are all members of the Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty who, on Nov. 9, occupied the waiting room in the office of Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci. They refused to leave when asked, saying they were making the waiting room an emergency homeless shelter to protest cuts to funding for homeless people in Ontario.
That prompted Bartolucci to summon police, who arrested the protesters and laid trespassing charges.
Clarissa Lassaline, a member of the group, insisted she face the same charges as everyone else, a request that was granted on Monday. When asked why she originally faced different charges, she replied, “Because I’m in a wheelchair.”
“Now she’s part of the 11 people who were charged,” said Gary Kinsman, a leader of the group and a professor at Laurentian University.
Speaking at a press conference after the court proceedings, Kinsman said the group’s actions in Sudbury have inspired similar groups across Ontario. He said he attended a recent rally outside Community and Social Services Minister John Milloy’s office in Kitchener, where the Sudbury action was well known.
“The level of support for what we did — in terms of going into Bartolucci’s office and converting it into an emergency homeless shelter – was overwhelming,” Kinsman said. “I talked to people from Kitchener, I talked to people from Hamilton, I talked to people from Guelph, I talked to people from Toronto, who all said this really inspired us, provincewide.”
Sudbury was also on everyone’s lips at a recent meeting of the Ontario Common Front, a coalition of unions and anti-poverty groups.
“It was surprising how much they got energy and support from what we have done here in Sudbury,” Kinsman said.
“It gave them a lot of inspiration and energy to the struggle against the cuts to the Community Start-up and Maintenance Benefit.
“So this hasn’t just been a local Sudbury situation. This has had an effect across the province, as well.”
In response to the protests, Bartolucci has said no cuts to services for homeless people are taking place. Instead, he has said that separate programs are being combined and municipalities will be given more control over how the funding is being spent.
So while there is less money, it’s being delivered more efficiently, which should allow for the same level of services.
However, in a resolution passed Dec. 11, Greater Sudbury city council passed a motion calling on the province to reverse the funding cut, identifying a $1.6-million reduction in provincial money they say will directly impact homeless people in Sudbury.
Lassaline said it has now become obvious to everyone in Sudbury that Bartolucci was not correct.
“He was telling us things were going to be improved with this new system, not cut,” she said. “But it is a fact there are going to be cuts – huge cuts.”
At a rally outside the courthouse, reporters were given a letter from Janet Gasparini, the executive director of the Social Planning Council, in which she said the cut will have a far-reaching effect in Sudbury.
“The cost of all of this will certainly be more than the $1.6 million that the government is ‘saving’ by cutting these funds,” Gasparini writes.
Kinsman said his group is encouraged that other voices are being added to their protest.
“What the city has done is state clearly that this cut is wrong,” he said. “So what Bartolucci has said, that this cut is going to be better for people, is clearly incorrect. There’s no possible way that there’s not going to be a reduction in services.”
Kinsman said they tried to talk to Bartolucci before the November incident, without success. They only resorted to the sit-in when other means failed.
“One of the reasons we’re fighting this is to establish the fact we think we have the right to go into our MPP’s office and raise our concerns,” he said. “It was his decision to get us thrown out of his office and charged. It was his decision that he clearly did not want to talk with people living in poverty or poverty activists in Sudbury.
“We think we did nothing wrong, so obviously we’re surprised these charges are being proceeded with.”
Kinsman said while the group refused to leave, they made it clear they wanted to stay only until 4 p.m., when Bartolucci’s office closed.
“We started to be arrested at 3:15,” he said. “No one did any damage — we were simply making it into an emergency homeless shelter to dramatize what’s going to happen if the cuts to the Community Start-up and Maintenance Benefit go through.
“We think that’s part of our democratic right.”