I watched the video of George Floyd being murdered by a Minneapolis police officer with horror, sadness and anger. I watched the video of Amy Cooper in New York weaponizing white privilege by calling the police on a Black person who was birding in Central Park. I’ve seen citizens peacefully protesting police brutality met with grievous and indefensible displays of police brutality in cities across America over the past week.
These disturbing and unacceptable exhibits of police misconduct and systemic racism have rightly captured our attention, but it is critical that we recognize that they are not new, isolated, or confined to the United States.
Racialized Torontonians 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.
That’s because systemic racism in the Toronto Police Service has deep impacts on Black, Indigenous and People of Color.
That’s because systemic racism in the City of Toronto’s budget, and society at large, has deep impacts on Black, Indigenous and People of Color.
These facts must be accepted if we are to adequately address these problems and correct these injustices. As a white person, I cannot understand what it’s like to be oppressed by a society that excludes me from opportunity because of the color of my skin and unjustly criminalizes my body. However, as a City Councillor, it is my responsibility to listen to racialized communities and use my privilege and power to act on their advice.
In 2013 I listened to the experts, including Dr. Alvin Curling, who wrote the provincial Roots of Youth Violence Report. The report, and many other studies, have concluded that police enforcement is less effective than community supports at curbing violent crime. Experts cite inequality, poverty, mental health, systemic racism, and a lack of opportunity as primary factors influencing the path a teen chooses in life.
That’s why I requested that the City of Toronto implement a strategy based on the Roots of Youth Violence Report. This resulted in the Youth Equity Strategy which, after several years of community organizing, resulted in several initiative Youth Hubs. These Hubs are safe spaces in community centres and libraries that provide employment counselling, access to mental health supports, skills training and other assistance for vulnerable young people. Youth Hubs support families, create safer communities, and save lives.
Despite advocacy from organizations representing racialized Torontonians, many of the other recommendations in the Youth Equity Strategy, including community alternatives to policing, have not been funded and acted on.
The focus on policing Black, Indigenous and People of Color instead of providing proven supports is a systemic and pervasive issue. For instance, last year I moved a motion in Council to defund unnecessary and unproven, multi-million dollar police technology in favor of additional community supports. Unfortunately, the mayor and a majority on Council voted instead to increase the police budget.
The path forward to supporting Black, Indigenous and People of Color has been made clear by those advocacy groups. We have to choose to listen:
• Major reforms to police procedures and conduct, including an end to racial profiling, trained crisis intervention teams involved in responses to those experiencing mental health distress, de-escalation, SIU accountability, and mandatory body cameras.
• Alternatives to the criminal justice system for vulnerable communities including pre-charge diversion, trauma counselling, and skills training.
• Social supports for vulnerable residents including affordable housing, increased access to mental health supports, universal basic income, universal childcare, anti-racism programs in education and workplace settings, recreation and mentorship opportunities for youth, and much more.
There are actual barriers to this way forward at the municipal level in Toronto, unlike cities in other jurisdictions. Under Ontario provincial statute, City Council does not have direct control of the police budget. While City Councillors have the ability to set the overall police budget, we cannot decide exactly how the money is spent. The Toronto Police Service, for example, could unilaterally cut road safety enforcement or community policing initiatives if their budget is reduced.
Moreover, the Toronto Police Services Board is a provincial oversight body, made up of provincial appointees along with city representation. However, the mayor does sit on the board and has significant influence over its decisions. I encourage you to contact Mayor Tory to let him know your priorities.
The long-term strategy is to wrest control of the police budget. As the principal funding body, the City of Toronto should have much greater oversight of how our residents’ money is spent and how our communities are policed.
It is incumbent upon decision-makers, including myself, to ensure that necessary resources and supports are provided to Black, Indigenous and People of Color. We can no longer allow the police budget to stand in the way of equity for racialized Torontonians.
You have my commitment to fight for justice and equity for Black, Indigenous and People of Color.
You have my support for an independent and transparent investigation into the tragic death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet so that her family knows the facts.
You have my commitment to fight for funds budgeted for policing measures, such as CCTVs and ShotSpotter, to be redirected to proven community supports.
Ultimately, you have my commitment to continue listening – and acting on what I learn.
To reflect on what I’ve been hearing from thousands of community members, I’ve submitted a motion, which was seconded by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, for the next City Council meeting. Please make your voice heard by requesting the Mayor and Council to approve this motion without any excuses or delays.
Thank you for your advocacy and an opportunity to learn from you. I wish you, and those you care about, good health.