Canadians are divided on the question of whether to defund police agencies, according to a new Ipsos poll conducted on behalf of Global News.
The poll found 51 per cent of Canadians support the idea of defunding the police and reallocating those funds to other services, like housing or mental health, while 49 per cent of respondents oppose the idea.
The poll also revealed stark divisions along generational lines with Gen Z and Millenials, people under the age of 38, strongly supportive of defunding the police, with 77 per cent and 63 per cent approval rates respectively.
Older Canadians in the “boomer” category, people over the age of 55, were less supportive at 40 per cent approval. Gen Xers, people between the ages of 39 and 54, were more evenly split, with 47 per cent supportive of the idea.
Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs, said there is a clear generational divide on the issue across the country.
“It seems that the older you get the less likely you are to think it’s a good idea.”
The poll also shows there is an urban-rural divide, with 51 per cent of urban Canadians supporting a move to defund the police, while only 40 per cent of rural respondents feel the same way.
A previously controversial idea that existed in the realm of researchers and activists, “defund the police” became a household term after the killing of George Floyd in May, which sparked protests around the world.
Bricker said reducing police budgets could garner more support if the focus is more on redirecting funds to social services and less about taking resources away from front-line officers.
“If this is seen as an attack on police and mechanisms in society that protect people the reaction could be a lot more negative,” he said.
If the debate becomes more about reinvesting funding in other programs and crime prevention techniques, the public reaction becomes more positive, according to Bricker.
Protests across Canada that called for greater police accountability have resulted in motions to cut police budgets.
In June, Toronto city council rejected a motion to ask the Toronto police to reduce its budget by at least 10 per cent in 2021, following weeks of protests.
Council, instead, voted in favour of a series of reforms that included the creation of a non-police response team for mental health calls and a mandate to require all officers to have body-worn cameras by 2021.
Kwame McKenzie, a psychiatry professor at the University of Toronto, said calls from groups like Black Lives Matter for cuts to police funding are largely addressing how police respond to mental health crises.
The deaths of more than seven people during so-called wellness checks in recent months in Canada have sparked sharp criticism about how law enforcement handles mental health crises, especially among people of colour and marginalized communities.
McKenzie, who is also the director of health equity at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, said that even with the proposed cuts to police budgets, it will only free up a fraction of what’s needed to resolve chronic underfunding of Canada’s mental health-care system.
“Everybody talks (about) mental health, everybody says it’s important, but when it comes down to it, we don’t pay for it. And you get what you pay for,” McKenzie told Global News in a recent interview.
Sandy Hudson, a founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto and UCLA law student, has been one of the most active proponents of the defunding movement and said the continued killings of Black people in North America have sparked resistance “from Whitehorse to Miami.”
“If we truly want to effect change that could stop police killings of Black people, we must have a conversation about defunding the police,” she wrote in a recent op-ed in June for HuffPost Canada. “We are experts in the ways that police can brutalize and inflict violence upon us.”
—With files from Brian Hill
The Ipsos poll conducted between July 8 and 10, 2020, on behalf of Global News. For this survey, a sample of 1,000 Canadians aged 18+ was interviewed online. Quotas and weighting were employed to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the Canadian population according to census parameters. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within ± 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadians aged 18+ been polled. The credibility interval will be wider among subsets of the population. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to, coverage error and measurement error.