Are cities listening to their citizens? BLM and Canadian Police Budgets

Updated: Mar 29

Policy Brief by Annabelle Linders

This piece is part of Kroeger Policy Review's first issue on Race, Religion, and Culture. The full issue is available here.


Introduction

Since the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in June of 2020, many Canadian cities have been called upon to reevaluate their large police budgets. Activists have made demands in relation to reducing pay for police chiefs, demilitarizing civil police forces, and allocating funds away from police and toward community-led initiatives to help vulnerable populations. So, how have Canadian cities adjusted their budgets in response to their constituents’ concerns? Have they changed their budgets at all? This article will be looking at the police forces of Toronto, Ottawa, Halifax, and Vancouver to see how well they have listened to their constituents since June.


Toronto

The Toronto Police Service’s budget has been steadily increasing over recent years, surpassing $1 billion in 2019 and with a budget of $1.076 billion for 2020 (1). Because of this massive budget, activists from Black Lives Matter Toronto have asked for budget reductions of up to 50 per cent (2). One motion was put forward by city councilor Josh Matlow to ask Toronto Police to cut their budget by 10 per cent, but this motion failed with 16 counsellors against and eight counsellors for (3). A different motion to require body worn cameras by all officers by 2021 passed in a vote of 17 to seven. There is currently no public plan to reduce the police budget for 2021 or beyond.


There has, however, been one significant change to the Toronto Police Service’s mental health response protocol that has started to be implemented. Their MCIT (Mobile Crisis Intervention Team), which pairs officers with trained nurses when responding to mental health crises, will be expanding to 16 teams from the existing 10 (4). Restructuring and decentralizing mental health emergency services has been a priority for many activists, as the CBC’s data showed that in Canada, “68 per cent of people killed in police encounters were suffering with some kind of mental illness, addiction or both” (5). This can also intersect with the disproportionate violence against racialized communities, and the MCIT unit’s training has been expanded to have a “major focus on anti-Black racism and Indigenous and racialized communities,” with all changes scheduled to be in place by March 2021 (6). These changes have not been stated to be in response to or in solidarity with Black Lives Matter or any other activist movements, but they are still a step towards their goals of creating safer and more collaborative policing.


Ottawa

The Ottawa Police Service had an increase of just over four per cent from 2019 to 2020, with an operational budget of $319.2 million this year (7). This is almost identical to the increase between this year’s budget and the draft 2021 budget, proposed on Nov. 4, which shows an operational budget of $332.5 million (8). Most of this budget will be for hiring 30 new officers, but $1.5 million will be allocated towards creating a new mental health crisis response strategy with Ottawa Public Health and other community organizations. Similar to Toronto, this is a step towards reducing police dominance in all aspects of public safety and incorporating community members with relevant expertise into their organization. Despite this change, however, the Ottawa Police Service has not acknowledged Black Lives Matter in their budget or in a public statement. Ottawa activists Leila Moumouni-Tchouassi and Shanese Steele from the Ottawa Black Diaspora Coalition feel that Ottawa has underperformed for its Black citizens (9). They argue that Mayor Jim Watson should not be praised for attending the city’s Black Lives Matter protest in June because he has not held the Ottawa Police Service accountable, and that city council has not been proactive enough in enacting change.


Halifax

Halifax is policed by both their municipal police force, the Halifax Regional Police, and the RCMP. The Halifax Regional Police has experienced a growing budget within the last few years, growing from $76.2 million in 2017-18 to just under $90 million in 2019-20 (10). The RCMP budget has stayed stable around $26 million annually. This year, there will be a decreased police budget by approximately $5 million, but this decrease was announced in mid-May and is because of COVID-19 rather than as a response to Black Lives Matter (11).


However, Halifax city councilors passed a motion to defund the armored police vehicle which had been approved in May, 2019, and budgeted to cost up to $500,000 (12). The money will be reallocated towards other areas of the city budget, with “$36,000 to the public safety office; $53,500 for the office of diversity and inclusion; and a rounded-up $300,000 to fund the fight against anti-Black racism in HRM” (13). It has not been specified if the anti-racism programs will be run internal or external to the police department.


Although there have been no concrete plans to defund or restructure policing, the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners has appointed community organizer, professor, and Black activist El Jones to define “defunding the police,” (14) which may lead to possible changes in the future. Jones was chosen because of her longstanding relationships within the Halifax community. Due to varying definitions of what defunding looks like, the commission aimed to find a definition that was most appropriate for Halifax’s particular circumstances. Jones stated that she is only interested in this position if public hearings are involved to hear from a diversity of community members and groups.


Vancouver

Unlike the cities mentioned above, Vancouver has not made any public efforts to respond to Black Lives Matter in one way or another. The Vancouver Police Department’s budget made up 21 per cent of Vancouver’s total city budget in 2020, with an approved operating budget of $314,000 (15). Their proposed city budget for 2021, which was published in July, 2020, does not include any reference to reducing police budget, reallocating funds to other community services, or implementing mental health supports in a way that moves crisis response away from police (16).


Despite reluctance to make changes through their own budget, as of October, 2020, the Vancouver Police Department will be participating in a pilot program funded by grants from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (17). This program, similar to the MCIT unit in Toronto, will bring three trained mental health responders onto their team “in an on-call capacity” (18). Once again, this initiative is not a response to Black Lives Matter and the Vancouver Police Department has not made a statement to stand in solidarity with the movement, so although it is a step towards safer policing, it is not an indicator of the city listening to its citizens’ concerns.

  1. “Get to Know Your 2020 Toronto Police Service Budget,” Toronto Police Service, August 18, 2020, http://www.torontopolice.on.ca/budget/.

  2. Jennifer Pagliaro, “Toronto Council Votes against Cutting 2021 Police Budget, Votes for Mayor's Reform Plan,” Toronto Star, June 29, 2020, https://www.thestar.com/news/city_hall/2020/06/29/toronto-city-council-votes-against-cutting-2 021-police-budget-by-10-per-cent.html.

  3. Ibid.

  4. Farrah Merali, “Toronto Police Pushing to Expand Mobile Crisis Team to Respond to Mental Health Calls,” CBC News, September 17, 2020, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/toronto-police-set-to-expand-mobile-crisis-intervention -team-1.5726548.

  5. Inayat Singh, “Deadly Force,” CBC News, July 23, 2020, https://newsinteractives.cbc.ca/fatalpoliceencounters/.

  6. Farrah Merali, “Toronto Police Pushing to Expand Mobile Crisis Team to Respond to Mental Health Calls,” CBC News, September 17, 2020, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/toronto-police-set-to-expand-mobile-crisis-intervention -team-1.5726548.

  7. Peter Sloly, “2020 Draft Budget,” Ottawa Police Service, November 6, 2019, https://www.ottawapolice.ca/en/news-and-community/resources/2020-draft-budget-book.pdf.

  8. Kate Porter, “Ottawa Police Chief Presents 'Change Budget' for 2021,” CBC News, November 4, 2020, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/police-change-draft-budget-2021-1.5788918.

  9. Craig Lord, “Proposed Anti-Racism Role on Ottawa Council Doesn't Go Far Enough, Black Activists Say,” Global News, June 2, 2020, https://globalnews.ca/news/7018797/proposed-anti-racism-role-ottawa-black-activists/.

  10. Steve Craig, “Proposed 2019/20 Multi-year Halifax Regional Police Budget and Business Plan,” Halifax Board of Police Commissioners, February 13, 2019, https://www.halifax.ca/sites/default/files/documents/city-hall/regional-council/190215bc3.pdf.

  11. Natalie Borden, “2020/2021 Halifax Regional Police Budget,” Halifax Board of Police Commissioners, May 14, 2020, https://www.halifax.ca/sites/default/files/documents/city-hall/regional-council/200520bc4.pdf.

  12. Caora McKenna, “Halifax Settles on a Budget, Lets Go of Its Big Truck Energy,” The Coast, June 10, 2020, https://www.thecoast.ca/halifax/halifax-settles-on-a-budget-lets-go-of-its-big-truck-energy/Conte nt?oid=24208788.

  13. Ibid.

  14. Nicole Munro, “Halifax Police Commission Appoints El Jones to Define Defunding the Police,” The Chronicle Herald, September 21, 2020, https://www.thechronicleherald.ca/news/local/halifax-police-commission-appoints-el-jones-to-de fine-defunding-the-police-499956/.

  15. “Vancouver Budget 2020 and Five-Year Financial Plan,” City of Vancouver, 2019, https://vancouver.ca/files/cov/2020-budget-book.PDF.

  16. Colin Knight, “2021-2025 Budget Outlook,” City of Vancouver, July 8, 2020, https://council.vancouver.ca/20200708/documents/cfsc2.pdf?_ga=2.140468081.35707766.16042 84884-1995789999.1604284884.

  17. Jerzy Shedlock, “Vancouver Police in Pilot Program That Aims to Address Mental Health Crises,” The Columbian, October 11, 2020, https://www.columbian.com/news/2020/oct/11/vancouver-police-in-pilot-program-that-aims-to-a ddress-mental-health-crises/.

Resources on this subject: