Yesterday at City Council, we had a long and spirited debate about policing, the need to change the way services are provided, systemic anti-Black racism, and racism in all forms as well as how we use our resources as a City for the better good. What emerged was a clear commitment that change needed to occur but there were two very distinct approaches to achieve the change we all know we need.
Many of you contacted me on this matter and expressed differing approaches. Some of you maintained that the police budget should be cut by 50%, others favoured 10% in cuts and others looked at no specific amounts. However, in general there was a consensus of opinion that was consistent, we need to divest funds from the police budget and reallocate and assign them to non-policing forms of public safety and community support.
As noted, two different approaches emerged during yesterday's debate, although there was consensus on the fact that things had to change. One was to have City Council request the Toronto Police Services Board to provide a 2021 budget request that is a minimum of 10 percent lower than the 2020 Approved Budget (Councillor Matlow's motion). This arbitrary cut would have, most likely, resulted in an appeal to the Ontario Civilian Police Commission, a provincial agency that has the authority under provincial law to adjudicate budget disputes. This would have resulted in months maybe years of stagnation while the OCPC reviewed the matter before issuing a ruling, the result of which would be far from certain and potentially could have resulted in an order to increase police budgets. The process would have resulted in a protracted period where the culture shift we all want to achieve would simply have sat in abeyance.
The other option was to first and foremost create the non-policing response. This approach which focuses on de-tasking the police service, reallocating funds from the budget, addressing systemic racism and creating distinct and separate response mechanisms for those with mental health issues quite simply ensures we end up where we all want to be more quickly and with a more defensible position if the OCPC is ever asked to intervene. To be clear, this approach will reduce the police budget and reallocate these funds to community services. It is for these reasons that I chose this approach.
I believe that yesterday we succeeded in approving extremely important changes to how we respond to emergencies. In our City, we will develop a community safety response unit that will lead non-police responses to individuals in crises. This unit will be created with input from community organizations, social service agencies, and mental health workers.
We will look to successful transformative changes such as the CAHOOTS program, which deploys unarmed, medically trained crisis intervention assistance personnel to deal with a range of community challenges including homelessness, intoxication, substance abuse, mental illness, dispute resolution, and basic medical emergency care.
The close scrutiny of how this new unit is implemented and managed will be of maximum importance and a full report and update was requested to come to Council in January 2021.
I also supported increased accountability and transparency from the Toronto Police Services Board and the Province of Ontario when it comes to policing in our City. This included the adoption of requests to the provincial government to reinstate important reforms to the Police Services Act recommended by Justice Tulloch that would enhance the independence and notification requirements relating to the Special Investigations Unit which investigates police conduct and measures that would provide greater control to City Council to manage the Toronto Police budget, powers which we do not have now.
A motion that I also supported but was not approved was the request to the Toronto Police Services Board to establish an explicit policy for all police officers, excluding the Emergency Task Force, to immediately ban the use of deadly force and military-style weapons against civilians.
The inclusion in the item adopted of the Toronto Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism, as per Councillor Thompson's direction, was approved by Council along with the direction that its recommendations be expedited. This is an extremely important and meaningful step. The Plan had a five year implementation period beginning in 2018 and being fully implemented by 2022 but the motion directs that this process be expedited. The plan has 22 recommendations and 80 actions focusing on five areas; a). children and youth development, b). health and community services, c). job and income supports, d). policing and the justice system and e). community engagement and Black leadership.The creation of the Plan was the result of extensive participation and consultation with members of the community over a period of time and reflects the priorities and recommendations that emerged as part of this process. As noted, its inclusion in the motion approved by Council on Monday is an important step in terms of the expedited implementation of the recommendations and actions outlined in the Plan.
Like cities around the world, our reliance on enforcement as a solution has been used too readily. It is clear that this approach does not serve the wellbeing of all of our neighbours, has contributed to inequality for racialized individuals, and is an ill-suited response to deal with mental health crises.
My decisions around the various motions brought forward before and during the Council meeting were aimed at taking the most effective and rapid actions possible to address these issues, as well as to take the steps needed to create long-term change, including increasing accountability and transparency and transitioning funding to programs that address the root cause of inequality and violence.
The steps we have taken at City Council will require in some instances, action by the provincial government, as it is their legislation that dictates how we manage many aspects of policing and police budgets. I hope you can join me in insisting that the province makes the necessary changes and we as a City will be diligently advocating for these amendments.
While many may not have agreed on the approach that was decided upon on Monday, I truly believe we share a common goal. We all want to adopt a very different approach to policing and community public services. My commitment in this regard will be unwavering and focused in the days ahead.
I would like to let you know that I am having a small surgery at the end of this week and as a result will be taking a few days to recover, but I will be organizing a virtual town hall on this topic as soon as possible so we can continue this conversation.
Thank you again to all of you and I look forward to working with you as we move forward.