Mayor John Tory says he is tabling a motion to City Council on police reform on Thursday, in the wake of public calls to defund the Toronto police.
“In recent weeks, here in Toronto and around the world, people have been raising their voices and calling for an end to racism generally, to anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racism, and to racism against marginalized communities,” Tory wrote in the motion.
“As Mayor, I acknowledge that, despite our City being one of the world’s most diverse, systemic racism continues to be a real issue here in Toronto and there is much more all of us can do to confront it and to eliminate it.”
Tory’s motion calls for the city manager to “develop alternative models of community safety response,” including the creation of non-police response to calls that don’t involve violence or weapons, such as incidents involving a person suffering a mental health crises.
The mayor asks for a report to be brought back to the executive committee by January 2021, which would include the “likely reductions” to the Toronto Police Services budget.
Tory said that “tens of thousands” of Toronto residents have called and emailed asking for change.
“I want you to know that I see you, I hear you and I am listening.”
In recent weeks, hundreds and thousands have taken to the streets to peacefully protest anti-Black racism. Demonstrators have called for the defunding of police, as well.
“As a result of the changes proposed, I expect we will see an improvement in how community safety is provided to Torontonians, particularly to Indigenous, Black and marginalized communities,” Tory told council.
Anti-Black protests have swept the world after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the end of May while in police custody.
Toronto’s CAMH also issued a statement saying that police should not be the first responders to those in mental distress.
The statement came on the heels of multiple incidents involving police and a person in mental health distress that has resulted in a fatality.
In Toronto, Ontario’s police watchdog is investigating an incident involving police where a woman, who was allegedly also experiencing a mental episode, fell to her death off a 24th floor balcony after her mother called police for help on May 27.
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Regis Korchinski-Paquet’s mother, Claudette Beals-Clayton, said she called 911 as she had done in previous instances because her daughter was said to be in distress over a family conflict and also had an epileptic seizure.
The exact circumstances leading up to Korchinski-Paquet’s death haven’t been revealed by the SIU.
“This motion proposes the development of alternative service delivery models for community safety response, particularly for individuals experiencing mental health crises, which would not involve police officers attending the scene,” Tory said. “This would ensure that police are doing police work, and communities are receiving the right response for the issues they are facing.”
Furthermore, the motion asks that savings that come from police reforms to be allocated to areas of investment in Indigenous-led initiatives, poverty reduction strategy, addressing gun violence and initiatives to support mental health.
“Sensible, meaningful change in policing must happen and we have begun to lay out the steps to ensure it does happen, together with a robust engagement of the public on these issues,” Tory said.
Premier Doug Ford, however, squarely rejected the idea of cutting money for police.
“I just don’t believe in defunding the police: It’s a massive, massive error,” Ford said. “I don’t believe in cutting police budgets. Simple as that. I believe in increasing them.”
Ford said he supported giving more money to police for better training and community outreach, and to help them better deal with mental health calls. But a 10 per cent cut, he said, would mean 100 fewer frontline officers on the streets.
“You gotta be kidding me,” Ford said. “When you call 911, you expect the call to be answered, you expect the police to be there like ASAP.”
The premier did say those critical of the police response to some in crisis was valid, but insisted budget cuts were not the answer.
City Council will vote on the motion Monday.
Coun. Josh Matlow, who recently put forward a motion to defund the TPS by 10 per cent with the support of Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, told Global News Tory’s motion still gives police too much power.
Matlow said that while he is pleased to see the mayor supporting police reform, his motion doesn’t remove any money from the budget.
“It actually adds of tens of millions of dollars additionally to the police budget, which is the single largest line item in Toronto’s operating budget today,” he said.
“It essentially leaves all the power with police to make their own decisions and then ultimately doesn’t have a clear demand of what our intentions are with respect to removing funds from that budget to reinvest in our communities and it adds additional money into that budget.”
“Ultimately it won’t meet the moment that we have arrived at — that we have to fundamentally change how we keep our community safe and improve the lives of people who are marginalized throughout our city,” Matlow said.
Meanwhile, Toronto police released a video on Thursday about anti-Black racism.
“We are examining our biases and asking ourselves the difficult questions,” Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said in the description. “I want you to know that we are listening, discussing, reflecting.
“We want to learn and understand more so that we can continue to strategize on we can create meaningful and sustainable change. We need you at the table.”
—With files from Matthew Bingley and The Canadian Press