I am heartened by the thousands of emails I have gotten about the Toronto Police Service, and their sizable impact on the City budget, and continue to get about these important matters.
Like you I recognize that many of the impediments to community safety will not be solved by the police. Too many people are unable to access the life-saving resources they need to thrive, while growing affordability, mental health and addictions crises are having massive health and safety impacts.
As a part of our planning and recovery from the pandemic, Toronto City Council will be undergoing a full review of its operating expenses, including our largest budget item - the Toronto Police Service. I fully support the call for a comprehensive review of the Police budget. It is important to invest limited funds into other priority areas such as housing, youth and recreation programming and employment services - key services that are critical for sustaining healthy and safe communities for all.
In 2016, in response to growing pressure from community members and activists, the Provincial government established the Anti-Racism Directorate. The Directorate is tasked with applying an anti-racism lens to government policies, programs, and services. Shortly after the formation of the Directorate, City Council supported a motion by Councillors Mike Layton, Gord Perks and I, calling on the province to conduct a full review of the mandate, procedures and outcomes of the Special Investigations Unit with respect to the treatment of cases that involve Black and racialized individuals. Further to this, City Council supported recommendations from the Toronto Accessibility Advisory Committee which I chair, asking that people living with mental illness or experiencing a mental health crisis, including those who live with communication differences, and other forms of disabilities under the Human Rights Code also be considered.
Since then, Premier Doug Ford has demoted the position of Minister Responsible for Anti-Racism, to associate Minister, cut the budget of the Anti-Racism Directorate and eliminated the 4 sub-committee working groups.
If we are committed to eradicating anti-Black racism, this commitment needs to be demonstrated across the board, funding for anti-racism work must be restored, and the province must commit to a full review of the mandate, procedures and outcomes of the Special Investigations Unit.
There have been limited attempts to reduce the police budget, most recently in 2016, after the Police budget passed the $1 billion mark. The Toronto Police Service board commissioned a task force to look at modernizing the service to significantly reduce the cost of policing in the City of Toronto, but also to review the mandates and the needs of policing in our city. The report, which was adopted by City Council in 2017 and supported by Chief Saunders contained a number of recommendations from community groups which include ones you are raising, specifically a $100 million dollar budget reduction representing approximately 10% of the Toronto Police budget. It also cited the need to improve police accountability through the use of body-worn cameras and managing officer performance to deal with inappropriate behaviours and actions. As I have said before, this report can not be left unattended on a shelf but rather the recommendations should be actioned upon urgently without any further delay.
I am committed to working with my colleagues at City Council to get a full update on the status of those recommendations and policing reforms.
Any significant reduction in the police budget will require a deep rethinking of what constitutes essential policing and how communities define safety. This is a conversation I am eager to have and look forward to having with you.
Please stay in touch as your advocacy is important. If the City of Toronto is to truly reform policing and budget outcomes, then I implore you to stay involved in this critical conversation as we move through the process at the Police Service Board and City Council.
Thank you for your resilience and taking the time to share your thoughts with me.