defund the police

Here's why Black Lives Matter wants to defund the police in Canada and what that means

Defunding the police in Canada is one of the things that activists across the country have been calling for as rallies against police brutality and anti-Black racism continue to erupt continent-wide in the wake of the untimely deaths of people of colour during encounters with authorities.

But some people may be a little taken aback by the concept of defunding a service that is designed to keep citizens (and their property) safe.

The idea behind the movement isn't as drastic as it sounds, and does not necessarily entail completely getting rid of law enforcement, but instead simply reducing bloated police budgets and using that money to help communities in other, more effective ways.

Those in favour of defunding advocate for governments to instead allocate funds to non-police frontline personnel who can help in crisis situations or confrontations. 

The divested monies could alternatively be used for social workers, preventive anti-violence measures, after school programming, counselling and other mental health services, and infrastructure upgrades in poor neighbourhoods, among other things.

Studies show that certain types of community supports are often more successful at lowering rates of violent crime than police enforcement, and by virtue of improving the circumstances for vulnerable residents, may help curb instances of the mental health crises that police end up responding to (such as Korchinski-Paquet's).

As journalist and activist Desmond Cole told the CBC this week, "Policing is violence, it's legalized right to use as much force as you want, up to taking someone's life, and then there being no legal consequences."

"We're sending people with a gun to somebody who is in crisis. The answer for the police is to stop policing and to start supporting and caring."

In a city like Toronto, nearly a quarter of the amount that residents pay in property taxes goes toward policing, whereas only 15 per cent finances something like public transit in the city.

The Toronto Police Service's gross operating budget request for 2020 was a whopping $1.2 billion, while in Vancouver, the annual cost of law enforcement this year will eat up a whole 20 per cent of the city's overall budget.

In Winnipeg, this number is even higher, at 26.6 per cent of the city's yearly budget.

Many feel that at least a portion of these amounts could be redistributed to better benefit the public.

Even though the above numbers make a good argument for defunding police in and of themselves, they don't take into account the truths that have come to light more than ever over the past week and a half: the fact that for racialized residents, police not only often fail to fulfill their purpose of serving and protecting, but can harm and kill — and it's not just an American issue.

(The irony of incidents of police bruality at the recent protests against police brutality is glaring, though demonstrations in Canada have been largely peaceful.)

This is why some are also calling for disarming of police, which could have prevented the hundreds of deaths that have happened at the hands of Canadian officers over the past 10 years.

In her call for the cause, Black Lives Matter Toronto co-founder Sandy Hudson calls such action "the only option," asking how residents can expect "an institution that has failed all attempts at reform to suddenly refrain from targeting, maiming and killing Black people."

"I am asking you to refuse an approach to safety that is simply good enough for you, and absolutely unjust to me," she writes.

Moving forward, many combinations of options are on the table, such as providing authorities with additional racism and mental health training, substantially decreasing the funds going to police services and using these means in other ways, and complementing officer presence with other types of frontline workers for more effective harm reduction.

Only time will tell what results increasing social pressure on the topic — and about other deep systemic issues that have arisen amid the pandemic — will yield long-term.

Lead photo by

Fareen Karim

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