By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express
The hiring of a private security company to monitor downtown Oshawa has sparked outrage by some local residents, plus allegations of intimidation and racism.
Since council approved the hiring of CDN Protection at a cost of $100,000, a senior official with the company has come under fire for alleged racist and derogatory posts on social media and text messages.
A member of the public contacted The Oshawa Express with his concerns, sighting electronic exchanges he claims to have had with a company official, and about photos that claim to show an association with known white supremacists.
Justin Long says he knew the company official but broke ties after he was offended by a photo he was sent of a homeless person lying on the ground near a needle that included derogatory comments.
Long says he is a recovering addict and a veteran who served in Afghanistan.
Since they stopped talking, Long says he reached out to the senior company official after finding out the company was awarded the contract by the city for security downtown.
Long says that as a taxpayer in Oshawa, public money should not be put towards private police forces.
Adrian Betts, the executive director of the AIDS Committee of Durham, attended a recent rally at city hall protesting the deployment of CDN in Oshawa’s downtown.
Betts tells The Express he was pleased with the turnout of between 60-80 people but had hoped that more would turn out.
“It’s about making a point,” says Betts.
Betts spoke about respect and dignity, and the problems he’s had with CDN, stating his belief the organization has been overstepping.
“Not only did they say in the city contract, ‘no dogs,’ but they have dogs, and they have Kevlar… they’re incredibly intimidating,” he says.
The AIDS Committee of Durham has remained open despite the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Betts, and has done so while social distancing. This means between appointments, clients need to wait in the parking lot.
“These people started harassing my clients in the parking lot, asking who they are, why they’re there, and telling them to move on,” says Betts.
“Now, if you’re a person with HIV, and you’re approached by someone who looks like a cop… it makes it very uncomfortable.”
He notes a number of their clients come from parts of the world where police are feared.
“The second they start messing with my clients, I start to lose it,” says Betts. “It’s tough enough to live with HIV, and the stigma that goes with it… to get hassled when you’re going to the AIDS committee is ridiculous.”
Mayor Dan Carter tells The Express that he was made aware of the photos and texts and while he voted against the motion to hire CDN, he says the company can speak for itself.
“I’m not going to speak about the documents that have been presented both to myself and our staff from different sources,” says Carter.
“What I can say is I’ve seen the documents, I’ve seen the posts, and my vote at the June 22 council meeting reflected that I was concerned in regards to those comments, and I voted accordingly.”
However, the mayor reiterates his belief there is a need for security in downtown Oshawa.
“Do I believe that security and different initiatives are necessary in regards to meeting the challenges in the downtown core? Absolutely,” says Carter.
He expresses his belief that Oshawa’s bylaw officers are not equipped to handle what’s going on in Oshawa’s downtown, and notes security in downtown Oshawa is nothing new.
“We’ve had security in the downtown for 15 years. So we’ve always had security downtown, and this is just an enhanced security system that has different skills.”
He explains CDN’s team has medical training, as well as de-escalation training, and the organization has been working with local social agencies to “navigate the system.”
“Our bylaw and our security teams, they don’t have those skills. So I believe they play an important role,” he says.
Carter says he was aware there was a rally outside of city hall recently, but notes he wasn’t invited.
“I don’t usually go places where I’m not invited. It’s kind of rude,” he quips. However, he says these residents can express their beliefs in regards to their concerns.
Ward 4 City Councillor Derek Giberson, whose ward contains Oshawa’s downtown, did vote in favour of the decision to hire CDN.
“I think that there was a lot of very inflated allegations that came out at the outset of this campaign that some people have mounted against the company and the decision,” says Giberson.
He believes it’s fair for people to discuss different views on using security in Oshawa’s downtown as one “small part” of the response to the challenges facing the downtown core.
“I think that’s been one of the frustrations for some of us, is that this has become one part of a much larger strategy and resources that have been directed towards these challenges that’s been zoomed in on to the omission of all of the other things that are being done to face these very complex challenges,” he says.
Giberson believes what people need to understand is that security is not the only response that is “being marshalled,” and also isn’t the biggest resource that’s being used in response to the issues facing the homeless downtown.
“But if you were to listen to some people talking about it, you would think it’s the only thing being applied to these issues,” he says.
Carter and Giberson note there’s been a number of initiatives, with the mayor pointing out this is the latest item in a long list to help the homeless in Oshawa.
“We have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars locally in regards to our outreach program,” says Carter.
This includes programs such as Welcoming Streets, which Carter says has been taken out of taxpayers dollars, as well as the On Point program with the John Howard Society, and more.
The Express reached out to CDN for comment but the company failed to respond before press time.