Toronto Police Services Budget Needs to be Slashed not Increased
Toronto Police Services Budget Needs to be Slashed not Increased
7 min. read | By Daniel Tarade
On the first Monday of 2023, Jan. 9, the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) held a special meeting to discuss and vote upon a proposed $48.3 million CAD increase to the Toronto Police Services (TPS) operating budget in 2023, which represents a 4.3% increase over the bloated 2022 operating budget.
Like in most Canadian cities, TPS takes up the biggest slice of the annual city budget at 22%. But by pushing a narrative that the city is increasingly beset by violent crime AND that the best solution is more police, Mayor John Tory and the City of Toronto keep throwing more at TPS instead of putting money towards our schools, public transit, daycare, and more. The TPSB ultimately (and unanimously) approved this budget increase, which now goes to city council for approval as part of the overall city budget.
The Farce of “Civilian Oversight” at the TPSB
The TPSB ostensibly functions as a civilian oversight mechanism and “after consultation with the Chief of Police, [provides] overall objectives and priorities for the provision of police services.” This seven-person body comprises two city councilors, three members of the public appointed by the province of Ontario, one appointed by city council, and the mayor of Toronto or their designate. Mayor John Tory served on this board between December 2, 2014 and November 23, 2022.
Despite the recent absence of Mayor John Tory from the TPSB, he still steers the ship. At a press conference on Jan. 3, 2022, John Tory announced the “investments we will be making.”[emphasis mine] Among these investments? A $48.3 million increase in the TPS operating budget.
John Tory clearly embraces the “strong mayor” powers bestowed by Premier Doug Ford and Bill 3 (“Strong Mayors, Building Homes Act, 2022”). Not only does John Tory now possess powers to veto a city council majority or empower a city council minority, as denounced in a recent MSA press release, he also dictates the TPS budget despite no longer sitting on its “oversight” board.
Public Consultation Just a Formality at the TPSB
The public is told that the TPSB provides public accountability over the TPS, but that cannot be further from the truth. The one opportunity for public feedback on this proposed budget hike (as opposed to anecdotal stories supposedly shared with the mayor and city councilors behind closed doors by residents demanding more police) came at a special TPSB meeting on Monday, Jan. 9 at 9:30 a.m.
By design, this special meeting excluded the masses of workers and oppressed people.
In discussing the proposed 2023 budget at a special meeting, the TPSB skirted its own procedural by-laws, particularly section 8.6, which states that the “main public agenda for regular board meetings will be posted on the Board’s website no later than five (5) clear Business Days prior to the Board meeting.” With John Tory’s budget announcement coming on Jan. 3, the TPSB only provided three clear business days, but procedural by-laws designed to increase public participation do not apply to special meetings, which members of the TPSB can call at any time on 24-hour’s notice.
Watch a deputant lead off this special meeting by criticizing this intentional move to block public intervention. [time-stamped video of TPSB special meeting]
The TPSB holds its meetings at the TPS headquarters (40 College Street), despite being tasked with oversight of the police and despite this location representing another barrier to participation by the most victimized people, including those attacked by the police themselves.
Attending TPSB meetings requires passing through security, possessions checked and body frisked. Speaking with other members of the public present on Jan. 9, profiling during these security checks is rampant. Not surprising given the TPS itself released a report this summer that concluded it operates in a systematically racist manner with racialized people being the victims of police violence more often than white people living in the city.
The TPSB structurally disempowers the public in other ways too.
The special meeting of the TPSB took place at the same time that the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) Board held a special meeting to adopt their 2023 budget, which included money for twenty-five new Special Constables. Special Constables also patrol university campuses (University of Toronto recently rebranded its Special Constables as “campus safety”) and Toronto Community Housing (TCH). The TBSP grants these Special Constables are granted enhanced authority equivalent to TPS officers while not being counted as such. Remember this when the TPS argues the ratio of police to civilians is too low.
Workers and Oppressed Peoples Fight Back against the Capitalist Class
The TBSP went through the motions and listened to dozens of deputations given by workers and oppressed people living in Toronto, who demanded that the police not receive a budget increase and that the money instead be put towards the root of violence — poverty and underfunded communities.
Demond Cole, a prominent abolitionist activist, set the tone for the public deputations, by speaking the name of Taresh Bobby Ramroop, whose death in Oct. 2022 was caused by TPS. Rather than give the police more money, Desmond Cole argued that “[the TPS} are already doing too much…killing too many people” before concluding that the police should be defunded and abolished.
Dr. Suzanne Shoush pointed out that the city’s budget is a zero-sum game — if you give the police $48 million in new funding, that money must be taken from somewhere else. This money could instead go towards our schools, public transportation, daycare, and housing, which keep our communities safer than police.
Butterfly GoPaul, an organizer with Jane Finch Action Against Poverty (JFAAP), criticized copaganda (cop propaganda) that says giving the police more money will make our communities safer as “police don’t serve and protect black communities” but instead “criminalize vulnerable groups while protecting the rich and carrying out racist, white-supremacist policies and practices.”
And Sean Ihn, member of the Municipal Socialist Alliance (MSA) and organizer with Students Mobilizing Against Systemic Hardship (SMASH) UofT, concluded public deputations by arguing that the increased violence in schools, which John Tory exploits as justification for more cops, instead stems from years of underfunding and cannot be remedied by increased police surveillance.
Indeed, the only four deputants who spoke in favour of the proposed TPS budget increase represented downtown Business Improvement Areas (BIAs). Instead of protecting lives, these representatives of the capitalist class decried damage to their private property and an increase in graffiti tags and public urination. They demanded more police to maintain “business continuity” and profit accumulation in their private hands without giving a care to the continued defunding of crucial public services like public housing, public transportation, libraries, and schools.
The question of police funding is a question of class. They exist to “serve and protect” the wealthy and powerful on the one hand and criminalize workers and the oppressed on the other hand. Workers and oppressed people must organize to abolish the police.
“Decorum over Lives”
Despite this special meeting being the only opportunity for the public to voice their opinion, the TPSB ignored any input. And when this fact became obvious, a restless public was silenced and threatened with eviction.
Of the dozens of deputants opposing a TPS budget increase, only one received a question from a member of the TPSB. Newly-appointed to the board, Councillor Lily Cheng asked Desmond Cole about what kind of mental health services TPS should provide. It seems that Lily Cheng was told by others that asking questions isn’t necessary because every following deputant was quickly ushered away.
When in turn the TPSB began lobbing soft-ball questions to the police about how this money will make Toronto safer, the public began decrying the TPSB for the farce that it is. In response, the board took an emergency recess and sent armed police officers to threaten the remaining public with eviction.
A full picture of the power imbalance in society was on display. Workers and oppressed people are forced to pass through metal detectors and security while police, acting as security for the rich and powerful, brandish weapons. When the remaining public left the TPSB meeting, which went on to adopt the $48.3 million TPS budget increase, they faced dozens of idling police, ready to carry out an eviction of people daring to be heard by their so-called political representatives.
And the threat of eviction and arrest for civic participation is no joke. Desmond Cole himself was arrested in 2017 at a TPSB meeting for supposedly not speaking to the appropriate agenda item.
The TPSB, called by some the “administration of death,” punishes workers and oppressed peoples for not following decorum and being “respectful” while they further empower and militarize a systemicly-racist police force, who kill with impunity. We live under a liberal democracy that caters to the wealthy elite, and we must expose it for the sham that it is.
Defund, Disarm, Disband the Police! For Abolition!
The police exist to protect the dominant class in society and represent a barrier to equity and justice for the masses. The MSA demands an immediate 50% cut to the police budget. That money would be much better spent on funding our schools, public transportation, parks, cycling infrastructure, daycare services, rent-geared-to-income housing, and other socially-constructive projects. And rather than the city’s budget being undemocratically decided by a strong mayor elected under a first-past-the-post electoral system, the people should have a direct say in a participatory budgeting system.
Notwithstanding the immediate demand to defund the police by 50%, the MSA remains committed to the ultimate goal of defunding, disarming, and disbanding the police in favour of community-led initiatives. We keep us safe!