Year of calls to ‘defund the police’ in Canada remain largely unanswered: activist

A year after calls to defund the police echoed through streets across Canada, we show you if those calls have been heeded.

By Stefanie Lasuik

WINNIPEG (CityNews) — As protesters across the country took to the streets following George Floyd’s death last summer, many Canadians began wondering if funds dedicated to police departments could be better spent elsewhere.

Calls to reallocate or completely withdraw funding from police forces gained impetus in the months following Floyd’s death — a movement that rippled across Canada and the United States.

“Take some of the funds away from that kind of programming and re-invest it into programs in the community that we know work,” said Syrus Marcus Ware, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto. “Housing works. Food works. Shelter works. Making sure that there are community centres and places for young people to go to.

“Those programs work. We know these things work, so why not re-invest in them.”

READ: Defund the police demonstrations being held across Canada (Aug. 29, 2020)

Advocates for defunding the police have asked for anywhere between 10 to 50 per cent of police budgets to be refunnelled into social programs.

One year later, they say their calls remain largely unanswered.

Police forces in Montreal, Edmonton and Winnipeg each received just over two per cent increases this year, with the latter two projecting about the same for 2022.

Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary froze their budgets, but Vancouver’s police board is now appealing that decision. They’re also asking for an annual three per cent increase for the following four years.

And the City of Toronto is projecting a five per cent increase for 2022.

WATCH: Calgary Police Service offers to defund itself (Sept. 10, 2020)

Ware says it’s a trick in optics, and a costly one.

“It’s outrageous when we think about the way our police budget goes,” he said. “It’s almost a guarantee that they’re going to get an increase every year, despite whether or not they’ve earned the so-called increase. This is not a merit increase. This is just a guaranteed increase every year.”

Winnipeg police chief Danny Smyth says he is open to some defunding, but not right away. Smyth says the city is far from stable and it would leave a gap in services.

“If we can get to a stable place where police aren’t required, absolutely,” said Smyth.
“But in the interim, I see it about partnerships and partnering with the service providers out there so they can do what they do safely and we can ensure a safe environment.”

READ: The truth about being a Black police officer

Earlier this year, in a CityNews exclusive collaboration, Sportsnet’s Donnovan Bennett sat down with three Black police officers. They said, ironically, that police leadership has been calling for more social service support for years because officers have involuntarily become the go-to for everything.

“Homelessness, drug addiction, unknown problems, everything defaults to the police service,” said Marc Andrews, deputy chief of the Peel Regional Police Service. “That’s because all the social service agencies have not been strengthened and given the capacity and capability to respond appropriately in our communities.”

WATCH: Black officers discuss defunding the police (Feb. 25, 2021)

According to a survey conducted last summer, 51 per cent of Canadians support the refunnelling of police funding while 49 per cent opposed it.

Ware believes the ‘defund the police’ movement’s momentum — in full force last year — hasn’t stopped since then.

“We are now officially in a revolutionary moment,” he said. “It’s not a one-time event. It’s a process. And so those uprisings are part of a series of uprisings that are going to continue, I think, until change is made, because people are ready right now for something different in their communities.”

He expects it to be a hot-button issue in the next federal election.

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