Defunding police – The horrific murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer sparked the Black Live Matter protests and a subsequent cry against police brutality all over the world. Here in Montreal, reports and shocking video footage of violent police actions began to surface daily, awakening us to a very serious problem. SPVM police officers have been accused of racial profiling before, but it has been brought to the surface in an unprecedented way. In Montreal, many of our police officers are empathic to the needs of our communities, however there are far too many who are not – and it can no longer be ignored.
‘Defunding police’ has become a rallying cry across the country. It must be taken seriously and thought out properly. Voices have been rising in Montreal to defund our police and redirect the public funds towards programs and organizations who understand the city’s diversity. They would be more equipped and experienced in areas like mental health and education – with a goal to significantly decrease inequality and address our social problems.
Should governments cities be defunding Police?
A motion put forth by the City of Toronto, ‘The Toronto Police Budget: Defund, Rebalance and Invest in a New Approach’ will be debated on June 29th. A copy of it was forwarded to the media in Montreal by Marvin Rotrand, an independent City Councillor, representing the district of Snowdon. Rotrand states in his message, “I will be asking the August City Council meeting to debate whether we are over policed. I will ask colleagues to decide whether they wish to reduce the budget and spend elsewhere in the municipal budget as the Toronto motion proposes or reallocate funds within the police budget to rebuilding community policing and moving from crime repression back to preventionâ€¦ I will definitely propose the establishment of an Accountability Table. My effort to move in that direction in May was blocked by Projet Montreal.”
Mayor Valerie Plante has since said that she has been talking with other mayors in the province about how public funds are distributed to law enforcement and the possibility of reforming Montreal’s police department – “This is a big, big conversation… I think at this point there are a lot of good ideas coming.” Rotrand is also asking for input from over 100 community organizations, asking them what they think should be done in Montreal.
Toronto’s motion was put forth by Councillor Josh Matlow and seconded by Councillor Kristen Wong-Tam. Here are a just a few of the recommendations:
1. City Council request the Province of Ontario to amend the Police Services Act, 1990 to allow for the City of Toronto to have direct oversight over the Toronto Police Services Budget by creating a clause in sec 39(4) that removes the word “not” as it pertains to the City of Toronto as follows: In establishing an overall budget for the board, the Toronto City council does (“Xnot”) have the authority to approve or disapprove specific items in the estimates.
2. City Council request the Toronto Police Services Board to provide a 2021 Budget request that is a minimum of 10 percent lower than the 2020 approved Budget.
3. City Council request the Toronto Police Services Board to provide a line-by-line accounting of their 2021 Budget request.
4. City Council direct the City Manager to consult with the People and Equity Division, Social Development, Finance, and Administration, the Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit and the Anti-Black Racism Partnership and Accountability Circle and to report to the Budget Committee in the fourth quarter of 2020 on recommended investments that enhance resiliency in marginalized communities, to be provided with the savings that would be realized by reallocating the funds from the 10 percent reduction in the Toronto Police Services Budget as described in Recommendation 2 above, potentially including:
a. Community-led alternatives to policing and the criminal justice system.
b. Anti-racism education.
c. Programs identified in the Toronto Youth Equity Strategy.
e. Affordable housing.
f. Tenants’ Defence Fund.
g. Skills training and Employment counselling; and
h. Food security.
5. City Council direct the City Manager to work with Black, Indigenous and People of Colour community-led organizations, mental health, restorative justice and legal experts to identify alternative 911 and other emergency responses to replace armed police officers with mobile, community-based crisis programs as first responders to de-escalate and triage non-criminal incidents of crisis involving mental health and addictions, the homeless, school discipline and neighbour disputes and to report back to the September 2020 meeting of the Executive Committee with the findings and recommendations, along with costing, source of funding and all other pertinent information.
6. City Council request the Toronto Police Service Board to establish an explicit policy to immediately ban the use of deadly force and military-style weapons against unarmed civilians, including but not limited to firearms, chemical weapons, including tear gas or armoured vehicles, and to dispose of all such weapons by no later than one year by June 30, 2021.
Should Montreal follow Toronto’s initiative and move forward in defunding our police – and reappropriate the public funds towards programs and organizations better equipped and experienced in addressing the issues at hand? Or is there another option? Your insights and opinions are welcome.