New members take Calgary Police Commission in anti-racism direction

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article identified Tongjie Zhang’s term as ending on Oct. 31. Zhang was reappointed to the commission. We regret this error.

The Calgary Police Commission is taking a new direction with the naming of two Calgary city councillors and the co-chair of Alberta’s Anti-Racism Advisory Council.

At Wednesday afternoon’s city council meeting, Mayor Naheed Nenshi announced Ward 5 Coun. George Chahal and Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra were appointed as the new council members to sit on the commission.

Carra — chair of the committee that undertook the inquiry into systemic racism in early July — said the appointment of he and Chahal — who chairs the community-based public safety task force — wasn’t random.

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“This is a deliberate move by city council to put two of the councilors who are at the forefront of [anti-racism] work in the city, as the liaisons with the police service — as they do that work, too — so we can maximize coordination,” Carra told Global News.

Ward 3 Coun. Jyoti Gondek announced her resignation on Oct. 26, and Ward 11 Coun. Jeromy Farkas’ term ended on Oct. 31. Citizen member Richard Sigurson also had his term end on Oct. 31.

Chahal said his new role on the commission dovetails nicely with the work he’s been doing on the task force.

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“I think the commission’s mandate was a bit different than the work we started with in the public safety task force,” Chahal said Thursday. “The task force was really about engaging community members in our city, various ethno-cultural groups, community associations, many people affected that have been affected by violence throughout their lives and in our community, and looking at new ideas for innovation and opportunity and a new model that we could bring forward to deal with violence in our community.”

Click to play video: 'LGBTQ, BIPOC in Calgary march to defund police'
LGBTQ, BIPOC in Calgary march to defund police

Chahal said Calgary Police Service Chief Mark Neufeld has shown “tremendous leadership” in his anti-racism commitment presented to city council on Sep. 10.

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“I’m looking forward to bring insights from an individual who’s grown up and faced many of those issues and how we can do better and be better,” Chahal told Global News.

“This is really focusing on a model of community policing and finding a way to ensure all Calgarians are treated in an equal and fair manner and well represented, whether it’s on the force and and appropriately when they come to deal with police.”

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Thursday, Heather Campbell, a professional engineer, tweeted she was appointed to the commission, saying she was dedicated to “providing civilian oversight of the Calgary Police Service & developing policies for effective policing, all with a clear anti-racism lens.”

In Feb. 2019, Campbell was appointed to the provincial Anti-Racism Advisory Council. Campbell also submitted a three page letter to a committee’s July 7 meeting that heard from hundreds of Calgarians about racism in the city. In the letter, Campbell challenged council to “not waste this historic moment.”

Former Carya CEO Susan Mallon was also named as a citizen member.

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The organizations that work to make communities better are heavily involved with the public safety task force. 

Chahal is concerned for the future of those programs given what the mayor described Wednesday as another “austerity budget” coming this month.

“I do have a concern because what we’ve seen through the presentations at our task force is a lot of these prevention programs that provide tremendous value and support for those in need — those children and young adults — are underfunded,” Chahal said.

Click to play video: 'Calgary police chief addresses systemic racism at city hall'
Calgary police chief addresses systemic racism at city hall

Council passes motion to explore police budget reallocation

Late Tuesday, council passed a notice of motion to explore reallocating CPS funds to “develop a Community Safety Investment Framework that addresses gaps in: crisis services for individuals, their families and support networks; outreach services; and the emergency response system in Calgary; including any gaps in racially and culturally appropriate services.” As part of this month’s budget deliberations, council could reallocate $10 million in each of the next 2 years to that framework.

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Council voted 9-5 in favour, with Councillors Sean Chu, Joe Magliocca, Jeromy Farkas, Dianne Colley-Urquhart and Peter Demong voting in opposition.

Carra said the proposed $10 million per year is a lot of money.

“And that’s why we’re doing scoping work — because you don’t want to take $10 million out of policing and not have an effective place to put it, right?,” Carra said, referring to the community safety investment framework.

“You want to be able to land it and coordinate its landing extremely well with the police service. You want to do it hand in glove with the police.”

CPS Chief Mark Neufeld said he supports work to reduce calls for over-stretched CPS members who aren’t always the most appropriate responders to calls involving citizens in crisis.

“An evidence-based reallocation of some of the CPS budget makes sense, but only if it achieves two main objectives: better outcomes for members of public in crisis, and a reduction in the calls that we are currently required to attend that may not fit the community needs and expectations and our expertise as police officer,” Neufeld said in a statement to Global News.

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“Finally, it is critical to have a strong evaluation process in place to ensure alternative response models actually work and that necessary adjustments can be made to ensure success into the future.”

Ward 4 Coun. Sean Chu, formerly a 21-year member of CPS, said reallocating funds from the police service is another way of defunding the police completely.

“Do a Google search about defunding the police,” Chu told Danielle Smith on Global News Radio 770 CHQR. “[Alternative response models] is not their angle and this is not their goal and their goal is take out the police.”

But the Defund2Fund coalition — a local group of diverse organizations and individuals — say that’s not what they’re calling on city council to do.

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“The goal of Defund2Fund is not to abolish the police, but to find ways to have them better serve and protect the community as they’re meant to do,” coalition member Taylor McNallie told Global News.

“The goal is to be able to move some funds from the CPS budget and move it into our community and support community and the way that people need to be actually protected,” McNallie said.

Defund2Fund is calling on city hall to reallocate 30 per cent of the CPS budget to community supports, but they aren’t expecting it all in one fell swoop.

Instead, the coalition sees the proposed $10 million a year, representing 2.5 per cent of the CPS budget, as a first step.

“Of course we would like to see a lot more. Maybe that’s something that happens after time, after we are able to begin seeing how we can all work together,” McNallie said.

“Once we kind of find our groove in how this works, the police won’t need that big of a budget because we will be funding the areas that do the work that we need done.”

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