Hamilton

Staffers for MPP Sam Oosterhoff call police on seniors reading in protest

Niagara police were called to PC MPP Sam Oosterhoff's Beamsville office Tuesday to remove a small group of seniors reading books.

'Old retired people with library books, what kind of a threat is that?'

Sam Oosterhoff says the group of senior citizens and retirees wouldn't leave his office. (Radio-Canada)

Niagara police were called to PC MPP Sam Oosterhoff's Beamsville office Tuesday to remove a small group of seniors reading books.

The group of 15 was holding a "read-in" — reading books in the office to protest provincial cuts to library funding. Many were members of a Wainfleet classic book club, said Janet Hodgkins, a retired librarian who organized the protest. 

Oosterhoff's staffer called police before the whole group was even in the office, Hodgkins said. The protesters carried library books with homemade covers of sayings about the value of books.

"We weren't noisy," Hodgkins said. "We were well behaved. Old retired people with library books, what kind of a threat is that?"

Oosterhoff confirmed on Twitter that his staff called the police.

"We deal with sensitive subject matter and constituents deserve privacy when in my office," he tweeted. "After the individuals would not leave my office following their protest, in order to protect individuals coming in for private meetings, the staff needed assistance to clear the office."

Niagara Regional Police Service was called to the Beamsville office for "a disturbance" around 2:30 p.m., said Const. Phil Gavin.

"Three officers attended the scene," he said. "The group left on their own accord following a brief sit down. Our officers remained on scene for approximately 45 minutes to ensure the public peace."

The Southern Ontario Library Service (SOLS) announced last month that it was ending its interlibrary loan service because of a 50 per cent cut in provincial funding. In the April 11 budget, the province reduced funding to the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, which funds SOLS, from 1.55 billion to $1.49 billion.

Rural and small-town libraries say they're particularly affected. The lack of interlibrary loan threatens the very existence of Hodgkins's book club, since they need nine copies of any book they read.

Right now, Hodgkins said, "we're reading 1984, which is kind of appropriate."

Oosterhoff wasn't in the constituency office at the time. Hodgkins said the retirees had already left the office when police arrived.

"They were very pleasant," she said. "They assured us we had done nothing wrong. They stayed and talked with us with a great deal of interest. They talked to us longer and with more interest than the woman in Sam Oosterhoff's office."

In a statement to CBC News last month, Brett Weltman, press secretary for the minister, said the PC government "recognizes the importance of libraries to Ontario communities across the province."

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

With files from Dan Taekema

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