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Meeting Mel Athulathmudali — the newest member of the Hamilton Police Services Board

Meeting Mel Athulathmudali — the newest member of the Hamilton Police Services Board

At the last Hamilton Police Services Board meeting Mel Athulathmudali was welcomed as a new member to the Board. Mr. Athulathmudali was appointed to the Hamilton Police Services Board on September 10, 2020 and his term will be effective for a period of three years. He holds one of three spots on the Board that are appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council.

Mel Athulathmudali is a long-time resident of Hamilton. He was born in Sri Lanka, and after his parents immigrated to Canada, spent his childhood and most of his adulthood in the area.

His professional life is varied and diverse, and includes 25 years at Air Transat as a Flight Director in addition to working in the Cabin Safety & Training, and Catering & Commissary departments. He runs a catering company and recently has worked as an educator at Strata Montessori School.

He attended Hillfield-Strathallan College, McMaster University and The Stratford Chef’s School, and is currently an Alumni Class representative for HSC and on the Alumni Board of the Chef’s School.

He has been actively involved with many local non-profit organizations, including St Joseph’s Villa, Centre3 and the Well, Hamilton’s LGTBQ Wellness Centre. He currently lives in Hamilton with his partner, Philip and Stuart the Airedale.

He was interviewed by CBC Conrad Collaco of Hamilton   and the interview started with  a question about how he was received by the other members of the Hamilton Police Services Board.

Mel: I was made to feel very comfortable, very welcome by the members, they offered me any kind of help I might need. I was really grateful for that.

Asked what kind of training he had in LGBQT or racial issues.

To be very honest I don’t have a lot of training in that area but I do have I lifetime of living in these two communities. And I know going forward there will be a lot of programs to bring that knowledge back into the forefront of the Board and to make the board more aware of those kinds of issues.

Did you seek to get on this board because you had concerns about identity and inclusion?

I felt it was important for me to offer myself to an area where I could effect some positive change.

Do you agree with Bergman’s report on 2019 Pride?

Speaking as a person, I think there is definitely some work that needs to be done. And I think there needs to be a clearer communication channel opened up between the Police Services and the LBGQT+ community.

How can one person affect change in an institution like the PSB especially inside a group of people whose perspectives on race and sexuality may be different from yours how do you take on that challenge.

My appointment to the board is a start. I am going to be as vocal about the issues that are important to me and to the other members of the greater community. If you look at it as one voice then it looks like a small ineffective thing; but then if you look at it as the tip of the iceberg, I hope that once people see that you can be a member of these communities . you can actually make your voice heard more and more persons will start to put their voices foreword, put their efforts forward and come forward and help bring their voices to the city and to the police services—once there’s more people, lots of stuff can get done.

After the Black Lives Matter demonstrations after the death of George Floyd a lot of people started calling for the defunding of police. In Hamilton about 1 in 5 tax dollars goes to policing. Is that too much?

Speaking not as a member of the police board but as myself. That’s a tough call because you don’t know where it goes. As opposed to defunding, I think reallocation is the process you need to do. I think there are some programs that are amazing like the COAST program, the school liaison program are great; but perhaps they could be reworked in order to have a police service that is a little more approachable. There is a program in Vancouver where they pair officers with the children of new immigrants  from countries where the police were more militaristic. And the police in Vancouver do things with the kids—they do social things, they have all sorts of different experiences with the kids and that lowers the kids apprehension when dealing with the police, and I’ve been looking at that a lot, which I think is a great program.

Any thoughts on deescalating situations where the use of force might be more common now?

There’s got to be more emphasis on training officers on how not to use force as a first step—how to maybe use that as a last resort==and there some programs in the UK where they are training police services to deescalate without the use of force and it is working very well so there’s all sorts of things you can look at.

Mel was asked to comment on a situation where a group of Black runners were stopped outside the Police Station for taking a picture. There group of black runners who were sopped outside the police station for suspicious activity

As members of those communities We have force those people to confront those stereotypes I think that by working within the community officers will gain more knowledge about the specific communities and be less apt to jump to those conclusions. That’s what we need, more exposure, more knowledge, more communication—that’s the key.

You’re on Instagram and that means people can contact you and that means you are not just a voice that has an email address, one whose life they can see, at least in pictures on Instagram and Twitter, and I don’t know if too many of the other have that so that access is something people will be glad to have.

My life is pretty open and I share a lot of things—we were talking about how many pictures of food I put on my account and pictures of my dog. I am very open and I hope that people will see that and respond to that and bring their concerns to me and then I can hopefully address a lot of that and help to open those lines of communication. That’s probably my biggest goal is to have this whole shift in mentality where communication is the most important factor as opposed to punishment and marginalization. I think communication in any form works wonders.

The full CBC Hamilton interview can be found here.

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  • I think (hope) his life experience proves to be of benefit to us all, he certainly gets checks on a couple of key boxes for those who believe our Police Service has lost it’s way.
    I recall a situation several years ago where an individual had suffered a psychotic episode and was running amok in an apartment building. Many officers had the scene under control, and it was determined that they were going to attempt to use non-lethal intervention-rubber bullets-to subdue him.

    They had to wait almost an hour for an officer who had been trained to employ non lethal weaponry. to arrive on scene.
    Every officer available was trained to shoot to kill. But they needed a “specially trained” officer to fire rubber bullets.

    We have to change this culture. For everyone-including our Police.

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