Cut Toronto police funding, or reform the force? Toronto council debates future of policing

Toronto city council is debating the future of its police service, including the possibility of a 10 per cent budget reduction and the creation of a new non-police mental health response team.

Council is meeting virtually on Monday and Tuesday, starting at 9:30 a.m. ET. You can see the agenda here and watch the entire meeting online.

Councillors Josh Matlow and Kristyn Wong-Tam revealed a member motion in early June to cut 10 per cent of the police budget. They argue the money could be put to better use by investing in community programs.

Mayor John Tory, meanwhile, laid out his own plan to reform the force while avoiding an outright budget cut.

Tory’s proposal includes several initiatives intended to eliminate systemic racism in policing and would stop police from responding to mental health calls that do not involve weapons or violence.

10% equals $150 million

Demands for that change come after the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who fell from her balcony after police responded to a call at her home. Police in Peel Region are also facing scrutiny after the death of Ejaz Choudry, who was fatally shot by officers while experiencing a mental health crisis.

City staff confirmed during Monday’s meeting that a 10 per cent cut would amount to about $150 million.

Chief Mark Saunders said a cut of that magnitude would mean the loss of some 1,000 officers and civilian employees, though he said “it would take quite some time” before those jobs would disappear due to collective agreements and other legal hurdles.

Asked if the cut would jeopardize community safety, Saunders said it “absolutely” would.

“Right now there are a lot of things that need to be done first in order to start reducing what our roles and responsibilities need to be, “Saunders said.

Councillors want millions spent elsewhere

At the start of Monday’s council meeting, Matlow withdrew his motion and signalled a plan to amend Tory’s motion with his proposed changes, including the 10 per cent budget cut.

The last-minute change means Matlow and Wong-Tam’s proposals stand a better chance of being debated. If their proposals had remained in the original member motion, two-thirds of council would have had to vote to hear the plan.

The money saved in the proposed budget cut would be reinvested into “community-led alternatives to policing,” which includes everything from youth programs to skills training to food security programs to child care.

Tory’s motion does not set a target for reducing Toronto’s police budget, but if passed, Tory said it would lead to “greater scrutiny” of how the force spends taxpayer money and an eventual reduction of the budget.

Line-by-line breakdown

Protesters and health experts have called for police to stop responding to mental health calls.

Both Tory and Matlow are calling for the force to provide council with a line-by-line breakdown of spending.

The mayor’s motion also calls for the police to equip all officers with body-worn cameras by the beginning of 2021.

Scarborough Coun. Paul Ainslie, meanwhile, has a motion calling for Toronto police to make more of its information available on the city’s open data portal.


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