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Canadian cities spend more on police than before 2020 ‘racial reckoning’
New study looks at police budgets in Canada's 10 largest municipalities, showing they've all increased to varying degrees since George Floyd protests of 2020.
After a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd in police custody in May 2020, mass protests erupted internationally, demonstrating pandemic restrictions wouldn’t inhibit social movements.
Media commentators prematurely referred to a “racial reckoning” resulting from the protest movement, while corporations rushed to issue press releases declaring “Black Lives Matter,” without any thought for what this might mean in practice.
In Canada, the prince of performativity, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, attended a BLM protest on Parliament Hill, clapping and nodding along with speakers, and at one point shouting, “Amen,” in addition to his obligatory kneeling photo op.
“Defund the Police” became a rallying cry for protestors who pointed to the fact that police budgets are constantly increasing while budgets for social services are always on the chopping block.
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Local liberal politicians responded to this frustration with proposals that would transfer portions of the police budget to social services who would be equipped to deal with people in crisis without police intervention.
Re-allocating portions of the police budget would, the thinking goes, benefit people in marginalized communities, who would less frequently have to deal with police coming in guns blazing to do “wellness checks.” It would also benefit police officers themselves, who would no longer be expected to take on tasks that are better suited to social agencies.
The problem is this didn’t occur, according to a new study from Concordia University geographer Ted Rutland.
This gap between the lofty rhetoric of progressive politicians and reality exists “across the board on any pressing social or ecological issue,” Rutland told The Orchard in an interview, whether it’s Indigenous rights, housing, the climate crisis or holding police accountable.
Rutland’s report, “Broken Promises and Missed Opportunities: Trends in Police Spending in Canada Since the 2020 Protests,” looks at police spending before and after 2020 in the following municipalities:
All of these police forces received increased funding after the protests of 2020, the report found.
“Despite significant public support, the demand to defund the police and reinvest in communities has not been implemented in any Canadian city. Indeed, police budgets have continued to increase in all major cities,” Rutland wrote in the report.
However, some cities increased their police budgets by less than they had in previous years.
As you can see in the above chart, Edmonton’s police budget, which increased 11.7% from 2018-2020, and then 2.1% from 2020-22, had the smallest increase of the municipalities surveyed.
Toronto, which increased its police budget by 11.4% from 2018-2020, and then 2.3% from 2020-22, was the second-smallest increase.
Peel Region — home to Ontario’s third-largest city, Mississauga — was third, with an increase of 11% from 2018-2020 and then 8.8% from 2020-22.
The only city that significantly increased its police budget more than it had prior to 2020 was Montreal, which almost did the opposite of Edmonton — increasing its budget by 2% from 2018-2020, and then 10% from 2020-22.
Rutland ties this budget increase with the Montreal police force’s major overspending from 2017-2021. On average, Montreal police spent $29.07 million more a year than budgeted. No other city comes close, as you can see in the chart below.
“We have a city government that just gives the police whatever money they want and then doesn't even require them to adhere to their own budget,” Montreal-based Rutland told The Orchard.
While overtime tends to be the largest source of police overspending, in Montreal’s case it makes up just $17.56 million of $29.7 million. Rutland said that it’s unclear what the other $12.14 million was spent on because Montreal police is so extraordinarily secretive.
This pattern of overspending amounts to the Montreal police “essentially setting their own spending priorities outside any democratic process,” Rutland wrote in the report.
While these results appear bleak, since not one of these municipalities actually reduced police funding, “there is a glimpse of a pathway forward,” he wrote.
Edmonton, Toronto and Calgary were able to hold the line on police funding increases because these cities at the same time invested in alternative response models for people in crisis, incorporating public health, mental health, community and social workers into emergency response.
In the report, Rutland said cities must move more “ambitiously in this direction, going much further and faster than Toronto, Calgary and Edmonton.” He cited data showing that, according to police forces themselves, anywhere from 36% to 80% of calls police handle in Canada could be diverted elsewhere.
“This will not solve all our problems and it will not respond to all the demands that people are organizing around, but it's an important step, it's a necessary step, and it's also the easiest one to do,” he elaborated to The Orchard.
But, more importantly, the root causes of these social issues must be addressed proactively, Rutland said, urging readers to think beyond the existing paradigm of crime and punishment.
“It's been 40 years now that the predominant ideology of our society has been one of individual responsibility and punishment for anything that departs from the norm,” he said.
And that clearly isn’t working.
Read the full report here.
The A/V Corner
Listen: For the latest instalment of the Forgotten Corner, Scott and I spoke to Brandon Doucet, a Halifax-based dentist who founded the Coalition for Dentalcare.
Listen: Coincidentally, Halifax funnyman Andrew Neville joined us on Big Shiny Takes to talk about Adam Zivo’s latest dispatch about crime in Vancouver from the frontlines of Odessa.
Edited by Stephen Magusiak