Hess police court case unresolved as patio season kicks into gear

Police will patrol Hess Village this weekend for one of the first busy long weekend parties of the spring — but a legal battle is still brewing between the city and club owners over paid duty policing costs in the downtown entertainment district.
The court case over hundreds of thousands of dollars in paid duty police fees in Hess Village still isn't resolved, one year on. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Police will patrol Hess Village over the Victoria Day weekend as the summer party and patio season launches but it's still not clear who will be paying them to keep the peace.

A legal battle launched last year between club owners and the city over tens of thousands of dollars in paid duty policing costs for the downtown entertainment district remains unresolved.

After the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old David Periera in the area last September and a brawl sent five people to hospital with knife wounds in March, the debate soldiers on about who should pay for the extra officers that patrol the streets when the weather gets warmer and crowds swell. Right now, a bylaw places the responsibility on Hess club owners – but Sizzle/Koi and Diavolo owner Dean Collett is fighting it in court.

He was preparing to escalate the fight and had prepared an injunction blocking the city from forcing him to pay, but last week withdrew the application, leaving the fight in limbo and existing rules still in place.

Collett attests that his businesses alone have paid in $226,000 for paid duty police in Hess since 2000. “These unmanageable costs are crippling progress, leading to job loss for some of the hundreds of folks the Village hires in the service industry, leading to early closures of establishments seeking to avoid these excessive costs which only makes the costs much higher for those who stay open,” Ward 2 Coun. Jason Farr told CBC Hamilton.

But the court case is not moving forward quickly. In the meantime, Hess businesses are still paying into the fund that pays for police, and will continue to until a decision is made in the court case, city solicitor Janice Atwood-Petkovski told CBC Hamilton. As per a temporary arrangement with the city's licencing committee, Collett’s fees have been paid “in trust” to signify payment under protest, Atwood-Petkovski says, pending the court decision. Until a judge says otherwise, paid duty officers will continue to be assigned to Hess Village. “The situation for paid duty officers being assigned to Hess is status quo,” she said.

Neither Collett nor his lawyer Michael Puskas responded to requests for comment for this story.

Farr says there is no other place with an entertainment district that has a bylaw remotely similar to what Hamilton has. “I had long ago challenged staff to prove this information wrong and both the Hamilton police services and City Staff have yet to do so,” he said.

CBC Hamilton contacted entertainment districts of a similar size and scope and asked them if they use mandatory paid duty officers in the same way Hess Village does. Here's what they had to say:

  • "There is no cost to any bars or anything like that here. Police just do routine walkthroughs. [Paid duty] isn't good for business. We don't think it's necessary." – Seamus O'Keefe, executive director of the George Street Association, Newfoundland.
  • "Ottawa Police don't want to go the paid duty route. We're already paying for it by being here. We generate an awful lot of income and sales taxes." – Jasna Jennings, executive director of the Byward Market Business Improvement Area, Ottawa.
  • "We really don't do anything like that. The costs are all covered by the city. These places generate so much revenue — so that's what we tell the city to justify the policing costs." – Murray Davison, executive director, Old Strathcona Business Improvement Area, Edmonton.

Hamilton police say policing a high-traffic, alcohol-fueled area like Hess Village can often be a strain on normal duty officers, and that the extra officers are necessary.