Civil rights group urges Toronto to reallocate more than $250M spent on police

Michael Bryant

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), in a new report on Monday, called attention to the over-policing of Black, racialized, and Indigenous people in Toronto and urged the city to reallocate more than $250 million in funding away from its police service.

The CCLA is also proposing what it calls “concrete, proven alternatives” that would help to keep those communities safer, at a far lower cost to the city.

According to the CCLA, over-policing people who are currently homeless costs Toronto $100 million every year, while interactions with people facing mental health challenges uses up $150 million in policing resources — even though officers are often not the best qualified people to address these situations. It’s calling for that money to be spent elsewhere.

“Unfortunately, police have become a default response for people experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis,” said Susan Davis, executive director of the Gerstein Crisis Centre, in the report.

“It is time that we directed resources to more effective responses like community-based crisis responses with trained crisis workers and peer interventions that offer better results.”

Davis said she’d prefer to see the city develop health-focused responses that provide quick and easy access to mental health treatment, supports and services.

Toronto police respond to more than 30,000 calls for service specifically relating to mental health crises. This represents three per cent of police calls, but those incidents account for 11 per cent of use of force incidents, the CCLA says.

Additionally, the CCLA says an estimated five per cent of police interactions are dedicated to nonviolent, non-criminal policing of youth.

It says recent research shows that young people were more likely to have had negative interactions with police, and as a result they are more likely to have negative views of police, and more likely to feel unsafe with increased police presence.

“Right now, we criminalize youth who are in crisis, creating a pipeline to prison, especially for Black youth,” said Ginelle Skerritt, of The Neighbourhood Group, a local charity.

“Programs that steer youth away from that life do far more to create safety, but we aren’t expanding them the way we have expanded policing, and we aren’t resourcing them the way we have resourced policing.”

The report recommends the immediate implementation of non-policing alternatives in four key areas: homelessness, mental health, youth, and gender-based violence.

It also calls for the rethinking of police control over the 911 system since the vast majority of emergency calls do not involve violent situations.

The CCLA is further recommending:

The city reaffirm its commitment to models of community safety that increase the safety of all Toronto’s diverse communities.

Reallocation of approximately $100 million in funds currently used to police people experiencing homelessness and invest those funds in civilian interventions including homeless out reach, drop-ins, safe consumption sites, and transitions to supportive and affordable housing.

Reallocation of approximately $150 million in funds currently used to police people with mental health challenges and invest those funds in the expansion of civilian crisis response programs and services.

Initiate the necessary processes to plan and implement the reallocation of approximately $65 million in funds currently used to police youth and instead spend those funds on youth hubs and outreach workers. The city should also work toward providing peer mediation and alternative conflict-resolution supports in all secondary schools, the CCLA says.

Initiate the necessary processes to plan and implement the reallocation of approximately $25 million in funds from criminal justice interventions in gender-based violence to programs that support survivors.

The CCLA report, which is backed by dozens of community service organizations in Toronto who would likely benefit from the redistribution of funding, concludes that in a broad range of settings, policing is the wrong tool for improving safety.

All too often, policing has deepened systemic injustices, harmed Black, racialized, and Indigenous communities, and failed to make communities safer, it says.

“We need to focus our resources on the most appropriate interventions that have the best outcomes,” Skerritt said.

At a new conference on Monday, Toronto Mayor John Tory was asked if he sees defunding as something that will ever happen.

Tory says while he agrees directionally with what ‘advocates’ are trying to achieve — to find better ways in which to address the needs of people in crises due to mental health issues — the process cannot be rushed.

“We’re looking at every task carried out by police, we’re looking for areas in which those same tasks might be better carried out by other kinds of professionals including mental health professionals for example, and then, and only then, once we’ve identified a better way to do this, will we reduce the police budget,” Tory said.

“I think that’s the thoughtful, practical, careful way to go about this. We’re doing it with as much speed as we can, but carefully, and that is the approach we will continue to take.”