The year is not yet over, and Calgary has already recorded more than 26 homicides, after 20 in 2019. Edmonton has witnessed a 90 per cent spike in assaults with weapons or causing bodily harm. Unbelievably, rather than tackling this escalating violence head-on, officials have joined a utopian crusade against police.
Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi both support the “defund the police” movement. They are a reminder of how, mimicking radicals in the United States, Canadian activists have succeeded in taking a once marginal idea to the mainstream.
These days, it seems restating the obvious is not redundant but urgent: defunding the police is a distraction from the real security problems affecting Albertan cities, such as the growth of gangs and rural crimes.
In late May, shortly after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the ensuing turmoil, a black woman, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, fell to her death from an apartment balcony in Toronto. The incident garnered national attention and brought thousands to the streets. Protesters, including Black Lives Matter Canada, blamed her death on police intervention.
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A subsequent detailed report by Ontario’s cop-watchdog Special Investigations Unit exonerated the Toronto police. The inquiry pointed out officers even tried to de-escalate the situation with an emergency responder.
The finding, however, didn’t halt the anti-police movement, which was well underway with political support. Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democratic Party, continued to fan the flames tweeting, “Regis Korchinski-Paquet died because of police intervention. She needed help, and her life was taken instead.”
Defunding the police is not a literal demand, save for the more radical factions. Most Canadians would actually like to reallocate police funds to prevention, mental health, public transit, education and other public services.
In July, an Ipsos poll found that 51 per cent of Canadians polled support the reallocation of police funds. Those under the age of 38 are more supportive of defunding the police, with an approval rate ranging from 63 per cent for generation Z to 77 per cent for millennials. In contrast, only 40 per cent of Canadians over the age of 55 favour the movement.
Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alberta’s unemployment rate had been worrisome for years. Difficult conditions in the oil and gas industry, upon which the province’s economy heavily depends, have underpinned an increase in overall crime since 2018.
The Edmonton and Calgary mayors won’t address that. Paying lip service to austerity, Nenshi argues the police are the highest cost of Calgary’s budget, amounting to nearly $400 million per year.
The Calgary Police released a document explaining how the city plans to approach policing reform. It includes allocating more resources to anti-racism training, disaggregating data per race, and reviewing the use-of-force policies.
Edmonton city council, in turn, approved 20 police-reform initiatives and voted to slash $11 million from the 2021 police budget of $389 million.
Black Lives Matter Edmonton revealed that the police disproportionately stop black and Indigenous individuals. The city is, therefore, reconsidering street checks and carding – the practice of stopping individuals for intelligence-gathering purposes.
In contrast, Alberta’s recently-appointed Justice Minister Kaycee Madu, a Nigerian-Canadian lawyer, stresses most police officers put their lives at risk to protect citizens. On Sept. 9, he sent both mayors a letter opposing cuts to their police budgets.
Madu asserted that if “municipalities, mayors and council, are playing politics with this, I am going to explore every possible option to make sure that that money goes directly to law enforcement.”
The justice minister favours a more sensible approach: working alongside cities to address mental-health and substance-abuse issues, emphasizing that “police reform, not defunding, is the priority.” Madu is primarily concerned with reforming Alberta’s Police Act and improving how authorities handle complaints from black and Indigenous communities.
“Defund the police” is the rallying cry of a movement concerned with brutality and racial discrimination. Even if participants have good intentions, though, they can’t wish away the need for law enforcement.
What’s worse, it provides opportunistic politicians with a moral high ground while doing nothing to address the root causes of criminality.
Copping out from the responsibility of guaranteeing citizen protection isn’t going to lessen crime perpetration in Canadian cities. Measures inspired by the anti-police narrative will undermine law enforcement and fuel ideological division.
Canada, as a country that has historically used moral persuasion to fuel reforms, should stay away from ideas that claim to be against violence but are defended with vandalism and needless confrontation.
Paz Gomez is a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. Caitlin Morgante contributed to this article.
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