As a long-time advocate for reducing and reallocating the police budget towards social and community programs and mental health, of course I am planning to support the proposed Matlow/Wong-Tam motion that has been circulating online. I want to make this very clear as I have been hearing from a number of people who are uncertain about my position. I have always voted and worked to address the longstanding issues with police accountability and spending in our city.
It’s important to understand that the motion coming to City Council does not actually reduce the police budget, but instead asks the Toronto Police Services Board to do so. This is because as of now, City Council does not have actual control over the police budget. Provincial legislation keeps the city from being able to do a line-by-line financial review of the annual police budget. Only the Chief of Police and the Police Services Board can decide how the over $1 billion budget can actually be spent. And unlike any other City of Toronto body, the City's Auditor General cannot initiate a review of police finances. This needs to change.
Currently, by law, the Police Service cannot be held accountable to the city it serves. This is unacceptable. I will also be voting in support of other changes which are long overdue and must be made by the provincial government.
Re-direction of funding is critical but cannot bring all of the substantive transformation in policing that is needed. From selecting a new Chief to demilitarizing the police, prioritizing de-escalation and addressing systemic discrimination within the organization, as well as creating new systems of community safety in conjunction with Black, Indigenous and other racialized communities and rooted in principles of justice - the changes in our city must be far-reaching and permanent.
In 2016, I was proud to vote for Councillor Thompson's motion along with my colleagues Councillors Cressy, Layton, Perks and Wong-Tam, but the motion lost. In some e-mails I have received, the motion has been attributed to Councillor Michael Ford, who had not yet been elected in 2016 and does not support the calls to defund the police. It was actually Councillor Michael Thompson, the only Black member of City Council, who moved this motion. I am pleased to see this has finally been corrected online.
As we approach the City Council meeting on June 29th, I thank you for taking action and urge you to keep up the pressure. I am heartened and strengthened to know that so many of you care so deeply about this issue. By standing together and refusing to give up, we can build a better, more just society - not only when it comes to policing, but in all that we do.
Paula Fletcher City Councillor Ward 14, Toronto-Danforth