By ALI RAZA, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
East Toronto councillors were among the few in council supporting a reduced police budget.
Beaches-East York Councillor Brad Bradford and Toronto-Danforth Councillor Paula Fletcher were two of just eight Toronto city councillors that voted yes on requesting the Toronto Police Services Board to provide a 2021 budget request of less than 10 per cent.
The board is a seven-member civilian body that oversees Toronto Police Service – and it is responsible for requests and approvals regarding the police budget. Among the members are Mayor John Tory, Etobicoke North Councillor Michael Ford, and York South Weston Councillor Frances Nunziata
“People are concerned and there’s a real recognition that systemic racism is real,” Bradford said. “It’s really embedded in every aspect of our institutions and agencies.”
Bradford said he voted yes as a “recognition that we need institutional, systemic change.” But has added there’s “a lot of misunderstanding.”
The motion included three items, and was just one of many agenda items on changes to policing discussed in at a council meeting on June 29. But it was this particular vote that got public attention, evident by the feedback councillors have received since the vote.
The first item was a request to amend the provincial Police Services Act to allow the city to have direct oversight over the police budget and exempt city council from a subsection of the act that would allow Toronto to approve or disapprove items in the police budget estimates.
“City council does not have authority to cut and redirect funding for police,” Bradford said in clarification of perceived misunderstandings.
The second was a request to the Toronto Police Services Board to “provide a 2021 budget request that is a minimum of 10 per cent lower than the 2020 Approved Budget,” the item read.
The third was a direction to the city manager to consult with city departments and various diversity and inclusion groups to find “recommended investments that enhance resiliency in marginalized communities” to be provided from the 10 per cent budget savings mentioned in the second item.
Those investments include community-led alternatives to policing, anti-racism education, youth equity programs, childcare, affordable housing, a tenants’ defence fund, skills training and employment counselling, and food security.
The first item carried with 22 councillors voting yes and two voting no. The remaining two, however, lost.
The 10 per cent request failed with eight councillors voting yes, and sixteen voting no. So failed the resiliency investment direction, with nine councillors voting yes, and fifteen voting no.
Despite the loss, Bradford said the motion was significant as a first step to “re-imagining what policing looks like in the city of Toronto.”
After speaking with members of Toronto Police Service, Bradford believes “they’re not best equipped” to deliver services involving mental health crises, or domestic counselling.
“Far too long there’s been the burden on frontline officers,” he said. “We’re routinely asking them to be mental health crisis responders, marriage counsellors, provide support to sexual assault victims, and the list goes on.”
“There are agencies that are better equipped for this, we need to think what that looks like,” he added.
While he agrees “there were a lot of different views of what defunding meant” he said it’s important to strike a balance between policing and community support.
“Folks are frustrated, hurt, and angry,” he said. “There’s been so many reports, so much dialogue, but not enough action.”
- Ali Raza is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.