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A protest movement is forming in Gatineau against the construction of a new police headquarters (HQ) about 50 metres from a shelter and camps for the homeless. A coalition of citizens and community organizations believe that building a police headquarters in Vieux-Hull will accentuate the trend of targeting the poorest, to the benefit of a ruling class that wants to gentrify the historically working-class neighbourhood.
Gentrification in Vieux-Hull refers to the construction of luxury condos to house federal government employees and more expensive businesses, at the expense of a poor population.
After putting pressure on Gatineau City Council in November to postpone the vote on the future site of its police HQ, the Guertin Coalition organized the Guertin: Building a Caring Neighbourhood forum on January 21. More than fifty people gathered to discuss the impacts that a police HQ would have on the site of the Robert-Guertin Centre, near the Gîte Ami shelter, where the homeless population is concentrated.
The embodiment of a class struggle
Gatineau Mayor France Bélisle's desire to build a police headquarters in the historically working-class district of Vieux-Hull is part of a class struggle in the eyes of Marie-Ève Bérubé, a panelist at the forum and Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa. "There are efforts to gentrify these neighbourhoods, as elsewhere, so I don't think it's completely crazy to think that there is an element of class struggle," says the Harvard graduate.
A view shared by the Baulne brothers, co-coordinators of the Association for the Defense of Social Rights - Outaouais. "It's difficult to say that a class war is being openly launched by elected officials. But, we know that insidiously, that's how it's happening", Pier-Luc Baulne nuances. According to him, political interests are combined with dominant economic interests.
For Pier-Luc's brother and colleague, Jean-Sébastien Baulne, the police have an active role in this class struggle. "Who does it [the police] serve? Clearly, we can say that they defend a very well-to-do class. It's certain that by putting them in a working-class neighborhood, it will disturb and scare people away," he says.
A $170 million HQ
Mayor Bélisle is in favour of the $170 million HQ project on the Robert Guertin Centre site because building it on another site could cost an additional $50 million.
According to Sylvestre, some of this money could be reinvested in social and community services. "I think there is a more economical way than investing in our police system and our justice system, which are really expensive institutions and are in the business of managing rather than solving social problems," she says.
As for Pier-Luc, he questions the legitimacy of an increase in funding for the police service when crime is decreasing in the region and across the province. "This is not the Bronx! We could reinvest in services for the population," adds his brother and colleague, Jean-Sébastien Baulne.
Claudine Bérubé, a homeless woman from Vieux-Hull, says she is shocked that so much money is being injected into the police. She believes that a small part of this amount could be invested in services for homeless women, who are in need in the region.