defund the police toronto

This is why two city councillors want to defund the Toronto police

Defunding the police to reallocate funds to different community services was once a radical thought believed by only a select few, but the idea has made its way into the mainstream in recent weeks and could soon become a reality in Toronto.

One local politician submitted a motion to city council this week to defund the Toronto Police Service by 10 per cent and, if approved, it would result in about $122 million in savings to be put toward community resources. 

City councillor for Toronto-St. Paul, Josh Matlow, first introduced the motion Monday — which is being seconded by Toronto Centre councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam — and he wrote that the move is "about a necessary rebalancing to ensure that we fund alternatives to policing."

"Black, Indigenous and People of Color too often have lower incomes, poorer health outcomes and are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. That's because Black, Indigenous and People of Color face systemic racism here in Toronto every single day," he wrote.

"That's because systemic racism in the Toronto Police Service has deep impacts on Black, Indigenous and People of Color."

The new proposal comes amid protests and outrage from people all over the world following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis, as well as Regis Korchinski-Paquet's mysterious death after an interaction with police in Toronto.

These events and countless others have caused many to take a stand against anti-Black racism and demand concrete change, and this motion is just one of many ways governments are responding. 

In an interview with blogTO, Matlow said he's presenting this motion after listening to the voices of Black community members who've spoken out about systemic racism in the Toronto Police Service. 

He also said there's an obvious imbalance in Toronto's budget, as the TPS is the single largest line item in it and roughly one quarter of all property tax dollars go to police.

"I've been listening and I've been learning. And the more I listen and the more I learn, the more I'm convinced that we need to…recognize that systemic racism exists within our police but also in society at large," he said. 

"If our budgets are meant to reflect our society's priorities, then our budget needs to balance those priorties and there is an existing imbalance when it comes to Toronto's budget."

Matlow added that while he's aware many will likely be against the idea of defunding the police, others will say this motion doesn't go nearly far enough.

But he says he's had to recognize that, in dealing with a mayor and a city council that have been resistant to any reallocation of the police budget in the past, the only way to achieve success is to start small. 

"I'm frustrated by it often but I do recognize that if we don't get a motion to pass, then we're not going to open this door… I believe if we can open that door, then further change is unstoppable," he said. 

"We just need to wrest that door open, and there are people who do not want that door to open because what's behind that door has been working for them for a really long time."

He also clarified that he does not support dismantling the police service entirely — as many activists have been calling for in recent days.

But he believes armed police officers are not necessarily the right people to be deescalating certain situations such as those where individuals, especially POC, may be experiencing distress or mental health issues.

Wong-Tam, meanwhile, wrote in her most recent newsletter that "we must also recognize that the problems that plague our policing system are systemic to all our institutions."

"Our motion is just one step to get the kinds of equitable funding we need to adequately address safety in our neighbourhoods, and address the systemic racism of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour in our communities," she added.

Both councillors are encouraging Toronto residents who support defunding the police to reach out to their local councillor and Mayor Tory in support of the motion.

And beyond the change in the police budget, Matlow and Wong-Tam are also advocating for an amendment to the Police Services Act, 1990 in order to provide city council with some authority to approve how the police service spends its money.

"Under Ontario provincial statute, Toronto City Council does not have any direct control of the police budget," he wrote in the motion.

"While City Councillors have the ability to set the overall police budget, we cannot legally decide how the money is spent. The Toronto Police Service, for example, could unilaterally cut road safety enforcement or community and neighbourhood policing initiatives if their budget is reduced."

The motion also recommends that city council request that the Toronto Police Services Board provide a line-by-line accounting of their 2021 budget request, and that consultations be conducted with social development staff on recommended ways to invest the savings in areas such as community-led alternatives to policing and the criminal justice system, anti-racism education, programs identified in the Toronto Youth Equity Strategy, childcare, affordable housing, the Tenants' Defence Fund, skills training and employment counselling, and food security. 

"Ultimately, I want our professional staff, in consultation with our community, to come forward with recommendations that are informed and helpful," Matlow said. 

"I'm a city councillor, and I have the opportunity to reflect on what I'm learning and then represent those voices that I'm hearing from. But I'm also a white, straight man with privilege and it's just not for me to tell them what they need… I think it's time for us to be active listeners."

Lead photo by

George Talusan

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