London, Ont., among several Canadian cities to see ‘defund the police’ rallies Saturday

Thousands of Londoners came out in support of the Black Lives Matter rally in Victoria Park in London, Ont., on June 6, 2020. Sawyer Bogdan / Global News

A cross-Canada day of action in support of the movement to defund the police and reinvest those funds into the community will include a protest in London, Ont., on Saturday.

Gatherings are also planned in several other Canadian cities, including: Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, Fredericton, Moncton, and Ottawa.

Read more: What does ‘defund the police’ really mean? Experts say confusion harming progress

“This event, it’s been organized by groups and organizations from all across the country. We all got together and decided we needed to stage something bigger to get more people’s attention and to try and get people to understand that we’re not just going to take this lying down,” Gal Harper, member, organizer, and lead activist with Black Lives Matter London told Global News.

“Things need to change and it needs to happen now.”

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The specific message of the event in Victoria Park, Harper says, is to educate the public about defunding police. Harper says he understands that the term can be divisive, but he believes much of the criticism is due to a lack of understanding.

“I’ve had conversations with some who suggest alternative wording — perhaps using the word ‘reform’ would be easier for people to get on board with. But we need to do this. The terminology and language is accurate, we do need to defund the police, so this event is about education,” he said.

“Defunding police will make communities safer for everyone.”

The police force makes up the largest portion of the city’s budget, by far. The amount of funding allocated to police has gone from $79,932,000 in the 2010 council-approved budget to $107,935,000 in the 2019 council-approved budget update — a roughly 35 per cent increase.

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In that same time frame, the entirety of the city’s operating budget grew from $829,400,000 in the council-approved budget for 2010 to $949,352,000 in the 2019 council-approved budget update, which marks a roughly 14 per cent increase.

Click to play video 'Canadians evenly split on whether to defund police: Ipsos poll' Canadians evenly split on whether to defund police: Ipsos poll
Canadians evenly split on whether to defund police: Ipsos poll – Jul 27, 2020

However, London’s police chief said this June that “it’s not as simple as just defunding police because we provide a valuable service to the community which people expect.”

Chief Steve Williams noted that much of what police do is not what would be considered “traditional police work.”

“There’s a number of social issues, particularly in this city but not just in London, revolving around homelessness, addiction, mental health and all that,” Williams said. “We are still the only 24-7 service that responds to these complaints. We are the 911 for these problems.”

Read more: Anti-Black racism is here: London, Ont., councillor says we can no longer allow excuses for inaction

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Harper argues that police should not be responding to the social issues described by Williams.

“Sending armed police officers to these calls is not something that’s showing results. That’s what we want to change, we want to start investing in mental health services, public housing,” he explained.

“There’s a wide variety of different avenues that we can explore to really get rid of the crime that comes rooted in poverty and mental health issues.”

Click to play video 'Jacob Blake protests: Milwaukee Bucks boycott game following shooting' Jacob Blake protests: Milwaukee Bucks boycott game following shooting
Jacob Blake protests: Milwaukee Bucks boycott game following shooting – Aug 26, 2020

Saturday’s event will come less than a week after yet another high-profile act of violence against a BIPOC individual by police in North America.

Jacob Blake, 29, was shot in the back seven times by police on Aug. 23 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Blake’s father has since said his son is paralyzed from the waist down.

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Two people were fatally shot and another injured Tuesday night during resulting protests in Kenosha. A 17-year-old, Kyle Rittenhouse, was arrested in Antioch, Ill., on Wednesday, Reuters reports. He was listed as a fugitive in local court records filed in Lake County. He was wanted for first-degree intentional homicide, according to a court filing obtained by The Daily Dot.

Videos from Kenosha show a young white man firing at protesters during an encounter late Tuesday. The suspect appeared to be carrying an AR-15-style rifle and standing guard with a militia group earlier in the night, multiple videos show.

Read more: Suspected gunman, 17, charged in fatal shooting at Jacob Blake protests in Kenosha, Wisc.

All three NBA playoff games scheduled for Wednesday were postponed, with players around the league choosing to boycott in their strongest statement yet against racial injustice. The NBA said all three games would be rescheduled, but did not say when.

The reverberations quickly moved into Major League Baseball and the WNBA. The Milwaukee Brewers’ home game with the Cincinnati Reds was called off, by player decision, and other MLB teams were considering similar moves. WNBA players did not play their three regular-season games scheduled for Wednesday in Bradenton, Florida.

Click to play video 'Lawyer for Regis Korchinski-Paquet family says SIU report ‘disappointing’' Lawyer for Regis Korchinski-Paquet family says SIU report ‘disappointing’
Lawyer for Regis Korchinski-Paquet family says SIU report ‘disappointing’ – Aug 26, 2020

Also on Wednesday, in Canada, officers who were in the home of Regis Korchinksi-Paquet when she fell to her death from a Toronto balcony were cleared of wrongdoing by Ontario’s police watchdog, bringing to a close what the woman’s family called a flawed investigation.

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The lengthy report from the Special Investigations Unit found Korchinski-Paquet fell to her death while trying to sidestep onto a neighbour’s balcony on the evening of May 27, after she, her brother and her mother each called 911 over an argument that had turned physical.

SIU Director Joseph Martino said the officers tried to de-escalate the situation and “though their efforts were unsuccessful,” none of them broke the law.

Korchinski-Paquet’s sister said Wednesday that their family is “disgusted” by the SIU’s findings.

“We’re not OK with the way the system works. We’re not OK with it — nobody is,” Renee Korchinski told a news conference outside the apartment building where her sister died.

“It seems like nobody’s getting justice or what they deserve. What happened to my sister shouldn’t have happened to her, but it did, so people need to be held accountable for their actions.”

Korchinski-Paquet’s death sparked protests in the city and calls to change the way police deal with people experiencing mental health crises.

Beginning Oct. 1, the SIU will start collecting data on race as part of its investigations, but only on a voluntary basis. The move was announced earlier this month as the Ontario Human Rights Commission released a second report that found Black people in Toronto are “disproportionately” arrested, charged and subjected to use of force by the city’s police service.

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Read more: A closer look at Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit, how it operates, and the data it collects

The SIU has also faced concerns over transparency and the delayed release of information.

In a one-on-one interview with Global News anchor Farah Nasser in early July, SIU director Joseph Martino was asked about the ability for “subject officers” (the officer or officers whose actions may have resulted in a person’s serious injury or death) to withhold their notes and to refuse being interviewed by the SIU versus “witness officers” (an officer or officers who responded to the call but wasn’t determined to have been involved in a person’s serious injury or death) who are required under law to be interviewed by SIU investigators and to submit their notes.

Martino said at the time that, under the law, “subject officers” have the same legal protections as civilians.

“We do have the right to remain silent as the focus of that investigation, the right not to have to incriminate ourselves, so that right has carried over into the sphere of a civilian investigation of police,” he said.

Locally, the upcoming day of action in London, co-hosted by Black Lives Matter London and the Coalition for BIPOC Liberation, is scheduled to begin 2 p.m. Saturday in Victoria Park, which was also the location of a Black Lives Matter rally on June 6 that saw 10,000 people marching in solidarity.

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Just days after that rally, London’s city council passed anti-racism motions aimed at city hall itself, as well as local school boards, the London Police Service and the Middlesex-London Health Unit.

At the June 18 London Police Services Board (LBSP) meeting, board chair Dr. Javeed Sukhera presented a letter of 12 proposed actions for the board and police administration to address racism in policing, including consultation on the role of school resource officers and the creation of a race-based data collection, analysis, and reporting policy.

Also at the June 18 meeting, Sukhera raised concerns with the province about police access to the COVID-19 database, which has since been revoked. In a letter to the government, Sukhera outlined concerns about community members who could be “disproportionately impacted,” such those who are Black, Indigenous and people of colour, as well as those who work as sex workers.

Read more: Police board wants info on London police’s ‘abnormally high’ use of COVID-19 database

Earlier this month, it was revealed that the London Police Service accessed that database more than 10,000 times between April 17 and July 20 — the fifth-highest rate of use on a per capita basis.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association — writing on behalf of itself, Aboriginal Legal Services, Black Legal Action Centre, and HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario — wrote a letter to the LPSB calling on it to request an audit into what the CCLA described as the “abnormally high” rate which London police had been accessing the database.

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More information about the LPS use of the COVID-19 database and on the next steps to implementing the 12 proposed actions to address racism in policing are both expected at the September 17 LPSB meeting.

— with files from Global News’ Chris Jancelewicz, Nick Westoll, and Josh K. Elliott; The Associated Press’ Brian Mahoney and Tim Reynolds; and The Canadian Press’ Nicole Thompson.