City council’s decision to add two bylaw officers to police the Westdale/Ainslie Wood area is a surprise, but only if you have not been paying attention.
At the Dec. 14 Hamilton city council meeting, the group approved a motion submitted by Ward 1 councillor Aidan Johnson that will see two Mohawk co-op students patrol the neighbourhoods surrounding McMaster. This decision is the latest in a series of events that have deepened the divide between McMaster students and residents.
In the late 2000s, some Westdale residents turned into vigilantes, literally hid in the bushes to film the behaviour of intoxicated students leaving the campus bars. When the Phoenix moved to its new location, a community group claimed that the new restaurant would create a “1,000 seat capacity student bar complex” when combined with TwelvEighty, even though they were in different buildings.
When a house on Winston Avenue looked to convert into a rental property for seven students in 2015, Johnson attempted to prevent this from happening.
He said it was “a classic case of over-studentification,” and while he has since said he regrets the choice of words, it hints at the belief that there can be too many people from a certain demographic in one area.
Johnson, elected in 2014, also spoke against a five-storey student-housing complex on Leland Avenue this past summer.
It was a bizarre stance; Johnson has consistently been against the increase in single-family homes being converted in to student housing. Johnson said the proper place for these buildings would be on Main Street West, but residents have complained about those locations too. The Leland development was approved despite some objections from city council.
And now, thanks to our city councillor, we have more bylaw officers to hand out tickets. Yes, property standards and maintenance are important issues.
But so are absentee landlords, who continue to neglect their properties and tenants with very little recourse for students. The McMaster Students Union has consistently asked for the landlord issue to be addressed, but city council has dragged its heels.
It is clear that the Westdale/Ainslie Wood area would prefer students get lost, but they also need the money that students contribute. In fact, councillor Johnson wants more of it.
He asked McMaster to help fund the new bylaw officers, which would mean that the university is paying other people to hand out fines to its students. That’s a great look.
Johnson suggested the university contribute money to purchase the iconic Westdale Theatre because it could be used as a lecture hall. Westdale Theatre is a 15-minute walk from the student centre and most lecture halls are further from the venue than that.
Students would be late to any class before or after a Westdale lecture. Sure, we could take the bus to Westdale, but those busses are already full. Mac rejected both of these requests.
Moving forward, students need to learn how to become better advocates. We need to vote in municipal elections and support a councillor who understands, engages and supports us. Students are not a well of cash that council can go to when it needs something, we are a significant group in this community and our existence has real benefits.
The next election is in 2018, but for now, make your voice heard by electing student representatives who care about municipal issues. Students are not perfect neighbours, but we are not villains either. It is time that we pushed city council to reflect that.
And Aidan Johnson, I challenge you to reevaluate the way you consult students. Asking the student union to support your motion for more bylaw officers is not consultation.
The Westdale Theatre lecture hall suggestion was an insult to students: it is unfeasible and if you talked to any of us, you would have known that. If you’re going to suggest our money be spent on something, talk to us about it.
As individuals, students come and go. But as a group, we are here to stay. Stop fighting our existence and embrace it.