Alberta justice minister writes to mayors, calls defund-the-police approach ‘misguided’

Click to play video: 'Alberta justice minister says defund-the-police approach ‘misguided’'
Alberta justice minister says defund-the-police approach ‘misguided’
Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu has sent a letter to the mayors of Edmonton and Calgary, asking them not to defund their police forces. Tom Vernon reports. – Sep 10, 2020

Alberta’s new justice minister, Kaycee Madu, has written letters to the mayors of Edmonton and Calgary, stressing the importance of police funding.

The letters, dated Sept. 9 and sent to both Don Iveson and Naheed Nenshi, address recent calls to defund the police.

Madu writes that police in Alberta are essential in protecting communities and that the province provides “substantial funding for policing” to keep Albertans safe.

“Some municipalities have reduced, or are contemplating reducing, funding to police in light of calls to ‘defund the police.’

“Frankly, this approach is misguided, as an adequately funded police service is essential to ensure that all citizens are able to live safe and secure lives in our communities, wherever they may call home.

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“This is particularly true of racialized members of our communities, including Indigenous Albertans, who are often over-represented as victims of crime,” Madu wrote in his letters.

Click to play video: 'Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu speaks about addressing crime and racism'
Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu speaks about addressing crime and racism

“An adequately funded police service is essential to ensuring these individuals are protected and are provided assistance, such as when police are called for help or to investigate. So, in contrast with what some are claiming, reduced police funding poses risks — not benefits — to those groups.”

In July, Edmonton city council voted to reduce its police budget by $11 million over two years. The money will be redirected to community resources and initiatives.

“While no final budgetary decisions were made today, we did signal ultimately, an intent to redirect $11 million starting next year from policing and into housing and other prevention and community safety initiatives,” Iveson said on June 30.

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“The final word on the details of this redirection of funding will come in the fall when council discusses the fall budget amendments.”

Click to play video: 'Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson on city’s difficult finances, cutting police budget by $11M'
Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson on city’s difficult finances, cutting police budget by $11M

EPS Chief Dale McFee said “there’s 100 per cent support from police” for council looking at ways to deliver supports better. McFee said:

“This is much bigger than moving money around,” McFee added, saying it’s really about being part of larger systemic change, breaking down silos and doing things differently.

Calgary’s mayor has also expressed support for re-examining that city’s police budget. On Sept. 6, Nenshi said he’d like to see more resources dedicated to mental health response, and he’d like to have a more in-depth conversation with police officials about redirecting some of those resources from the CPS budget.

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In his Sept. 9 letters, the justice minister writes that police reform should be the approach, rather than reducing funding.

“In terms of reform and increased accountability, we have heard these calls and responded by expediting work to review the Police Act with a broad engagement this fall and by accelerating initial changes such as guidelines surrounding carding and street checks, police training, and police recruitment,” Madu wrote.

“What we hear will chart the future of policing in this province for years to come — but one thing is certain: the police will remain an essential part of maintaining a safe and functioning society for all Albertans. Police reform, not defunding, is the priority.”

Click to play video: 'Thousands gather for Black Lives Matter vigil at Olympic Plaza in Calgary'
Thousands gather for Black Lives Matter vigil at Olympic Plaza in Calgary

Adora Nwofor, president Black Lives Matter Calgary, says defunding the police should have happened a long time ago.

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“We’ve been reforming the police for a long time. We keep giving them money for reform, but we’re not feeling the impact — positively — of that reform. We continue to rename harmful policies and practices.

“Police continue to police themselves and it is not going well for Black, Indigenous and people of colour. It is also not going well for other marginalized communities. We are here to defund the police for all people being harmed by the police,” she said.

BLM has three main objectives, Nwofor said, to defund to rebuild, defund to reform, and defund to invest.

“We’re not saying defund the police, just throw them away. They are humans. We are humans. That’s not what Black Lives Matter is about.

“What we’re talking about is having policing not continue its foundation and history of violence in the community and we need these things to change that.

“When we say defund to reform, we mean that there needs to be more education from outside the police service,” Nwofor said. “Defund to rebuild is really talking about how people look at policing in general, how police officers are doing their job and what other organizations within the community can come and take some of those stresses off, do things differently.”

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

In his letters, Madu pointed out the $90 million the province is providing municipalities this year through two grants: the Municipal Policing Assistance Grant (MPAG) and the Police Officer Grant (POG).

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“They each have their own formulas and eligibility requirements, but they have a common purpose: to help municipalities fund the essential service of policing,” he wrote.

“The Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General transfers these grants to municipalities with the intent that the municipality uses these funds for policing purposes, and not for other municipal priorities. The MPAG and POG agreements will soon expire,” he wrote.

“In preparation for our policing grant agreements for 2021-2022, Alberta’s government will closely monitor how municipalities are managing their police budgets as well as responding to calls to ‘defund the police.'”

“It should be clear that any substantial changes may lead us to explore options to ensure we maintain adequate funding for critical law enforcement for Alberta’s citizens.”

Calgary city council spent Thursday meeting with the Calgary Police Service and the Calgary Police Commission for a discussion about their commitment to anti-racism, equity and inclusion. After the meeting, Nenshi addressed Madu’s letter.

“We’re having incredibly critical, incredibly important, nuanced conversations with the grownups in the room about really important things, about how people run their life,” the mayor said.

“To time a ridiculous letter with ridiculous slogans in it while we’re having this little conversation just shows you’re not really interested in being part of that conversation.

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“So it doesn’t make any difference to me. Calgarians will continue to have that conversation.

“I will say, however, I am very excited about this real shift in the thinking of the province and their policy that they no longer wish to defund the police, given that they cut Calgary police’s budget last year by 13 per cent, approximately a three-and-a-half per cent cut that we had to make up here at the City of Calgary. I look forward to receiving a cheque.

Click to play video: 'CPS and the Calgary Police Commission attend special meeting of council'
CPS and the Calgary Police Commission attend special meeting of council

“Now, in reality, I’ll say one other thing. In reality, the minister really has to prove himself worthy of the most consequential and important aspect of this, which is the most important and consequential changes to the Police Act, which is fully in his purview,” Nenshi added.

“And certainly he has not set himself off on a good foot by… trying to reduce this to slogans. But I have much faith that he will be able to actually face the incredibly difficult job ahead of him and that he’s able to do that.”

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On Thursday, Iveson described the minister’s stance as ironic.

“As minister of municipal affairs, the minister was very keen on us scrubbing down our budgets and reducing our costs as a way to address pressure around taxes, which we’ve certainly been doing. Now, as minister of justice, to suggest that we should not be looking at our largest cost centre — which is policing — seems a bit ironic to me, particularly given that the government of Alberta reduced their commitment to policing by $5 million last year,” the mayor said.

“First of all, I’d like to ask whether we can have the $5 million back if defunding police is not to be encouraged, but if that’s not going to happen — and we can all guess the likelihood of that — what I’d like to see is if the government of Alberta is ready to spend that $5 million on the very housing actions we’re asking for that will improve community safety, reduce demand for policing, reduce demand for the minister’s own jails and reduce the province’s principal cost pressure area, which is health care.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta justice minister’s call not to defund the police is ‘ironic’: Edmonton mayor'
Alberta justice minister’s call not to defund the police is ‘ironic’: Edmonton mayor

In an interview on the Danielle Smith Show, Madu said he’s certainly not opposed to cities looking for efficiencies, even within police forces.

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“But … I don’t believe that taking funds away on the basis, on the call to defund the police is the right path.”

He said these demonstrations, these calls, should not be used by municipalities as “an excuse” to cut police funding.

“If that is the path they decide to take, … it signals to myself that, in fact, those police grants that we give them are not required,” Madu said.

He added he believes that additional supports for mental health and addictions would be a positive step. Madu said he wants to speak with city leaders about this to “align our priorities.”

READ MORE: More than defunding police needed to fix ‘broken’ mental health system: experts

The Opposition NDP called the letters a threat.

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“As a society, we must address systemic racism,” Kathleen Ganley said in a statement to Global News. “This is not an easy task. It will take many difficult conversations with the communities affected, and all Albertans, on the path forward.

“The minister should stop threatening more cuts and let municipalities consult with their communities to do what’s best for them, so we can address the root causes of systemic racism while balancing public health and safety.”

Iveson said he’s open to more discussion with Madu on complex issues like police funding.

“What Edmontonians expect of all of their elected officials is for us to work together respectfully to solve complex problems in our community rather than oversimplifying issues,” he said Thursday.

An important point in this matter, he said, is that Edmonton and Calgary already receive the least on a per-capita basis from the province for policing. Many other communities have their policing costs covered through the RCMP contract.

“Edmontonians and Calgarians are carrying the freight. And we’re policing northern Alberta and southern Alberta’s inner cities respectively. And so, if anything, there should be a conversation about provincial support for the load that we carry in these larger cities,” Iveson said.

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Click to play video: 'Social services as part of supportive housing cheaper in the long run: Iveson'
Social services as part of supportive housing cheaper in the long run: Iveson

“I would be very happy to see those dollars effectively invested in community supports, mental health programs for people and housing — again, repeatedly, our most urgent call for systemic change that would help improve community safety and well-being outcomes and would lower government costs for all orders of government — so if there’s a better investment strategy and the province is willing to come to the table … That would be the level of debate I would like to have with this minister about systemic change to policing and community safety and well-being.

“I’m willing to go there,” Iveson said. “I hope the minister will too.”

Click to play video: 'Black Lives Matter petition calls on Edmonton to defund police service'
Black Lives Matter petition calls on Edmonton to defund police service

Nwofor hopes the minister will listen.

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“The minister is there because the people put him in to government and I think that it’s his job to listen to the people.

“I think that’s the government’s job in general,” she said. “We are working to organize to ensure people’s voices are heard.”

Madu, a former lawyer who grew up in Nigeria, became Canada’s first Black justice minister when Alberta Premier Jason Kenney shuffled his cabinet. On Aug. 26, Madu was moved from the Municipal Affairs portfolio to Justice and Solicitor General.

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Min. Madu letter to Mayor Iveson by Emily Mertz on Scribd

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