“The families of those who have been killed by the Toronto Police Service are outside right now,” a community member told the City of Toronto’s Budget Committee at a meeting Tuesday, before being kicked out by security.

Outside, the group who had disrupted the meeting was welcomed by hundreds of supporters. We gathered at City Hall to oppose Mayor John Tory’s $50-million police budget increase and to demand that the city instead reallocate half of the force’s budget to urgently needed community support. 

The Toronto Police Service (TPS) budget is the largest line item in the city’s budget—double the combined funds allocated to libraries, public health, the conservation authority, community housing agencies, and the Association of Community Centres. 

Speakers at the protest demanded a city that prioritizes real safety for our communities, condemned the unacceptable levels of police surveillance, harassment, and violence, and articulated a need for police-free futures, and racial, gender and economic justice for all Torontonians.

The action was jointly organized by the No Pride in Policing Coalition, Showing Up for Racial Justice Toronto, No More Silence, Toronto Indigenous Harm Reduction, Jane Finch Action Against Poverty, Doctors for Defunding Police, Policing-Free Schools, Bloordale Community Response, and No One Is Illegal Toronto. 

Hundreds of Torontonians showed opposition to the city’s planned $50-million increase to the police budget on Tuesday. Credit: Daniel Tseghay

Rejecting the expansion of colonial policing 

Elder Wanda Whitebird, Mi’kmaq from Paqtnkek-Niktuek First Nation and community knowledge keeper with No More Silence, opened the gathering with welcome, thanks, and prayers. 

“The reason why I wanted to come out is that it’s a debate for $50 million,” she said, “And I don’t think the police department in Toronto needs another $50 million.” 

Whitebird led a smudge while Indigenous community members drummed and danced to open the gathering.

Brianna Olson-Pitawanakwat, Anishnawbek from Wikwemikong and co-founder of Toronto Indigenous Harm Reduction, spoke to the relationship between policing and ongoing colonial violence and denounced the allocation of funds to the police. 

Police have played a huge role in the destabilization of our communities, historically and today. Every day in our communities, we are burying our loved ones.  If you look to the reports––The Royal Commission on Indigenous Peoples, the Truth and Reconciliation report, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report––every single one names police as willing participants in the brutal colonization and genocide of our people. The over-representation of Indigenous women in prisons is an international human rights crisis. The relationship is one that we cannot reconcile as Indigenous people. … Please stand with us as we denounce this funding increase and the Toronto police.

Brianna Olson-Pitawanakwat
Indigenous community members opened a gathering outside a meeting of the city’s Budget Committee with drumming and dancing. Credit: Daniel Tseghay

Families of police victims speak out

In the summer of 2020, after the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet during a police response to a mental health crisis, over 10,000 people took to the streets in Toronto in defence of Black lives, demanding the city defund police and invest in communities. 

Regis’s mother, Claudette Beals-Clayton, made clear that her daughter’s death was preventable and that Tory’s police budget increase showed he had no respect for the families of people in crisis. She said:

My daughter had a problem, and I called for help. She died. They were in my apartment for exactly one minute with her, and she was over the balcony. They backed her over the balcony. Our children should be alive. These people were supposed to protect and serve us. She’s the child that we don’t get to talk to anymore. She’s gone. And these guys want to give the police $50 million?

Claudette Beals-Clayton speaks about the death of her daughter, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, as Toronto plans to increase funding for the police in 2023. Credit: Daniel Tseghay

Since the 2020 protests, the city allocated some funding to alternative response methods for mental health crises, but they did not meet the widespread call—supported by the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH)—to end the practice of police responding to mental health calls. As more than $1.1 billion is allocated for police in 2023, necessary life-saving services are underfunded. 

The result has been more tragic and preventable deaths. In October, a beloved member of the Jane-Finch community, 32-year-old Taresh Bobby Ramroop, died in a police encounter during a mental health crisis. 

In the words of his mother: 

My son Bobby died during a mental health crisis, when he needed his family. He was loved by his aunties in Guyana. He loved Jane and Finch.  He loved my cooking…I’m grieving. I lost my son so suddenly by the hands of Toronto police.  The police came to the door.  I told them I was alright. They insisted they needed to enter my home and they would get the super to open the door if I didn’t…I didn’t need police, I needed a mental health worker. Why didn’t they let us help my son when he was in crisis: his family, the community, us?…The Toronto police are responsible for my son’s death.” 

Debbie Indal

She and Kevenie, Bobby’s sister, highlighted that their community has real needs, but that instead the city continued to prioritize police funding. 

Kevenie said: “Instead of funding the police, we should be funding after-school programs, boys’ and girls’ clubs. My brother Bob didn’t need the SWAT team, he needed mental health workers.” 

The Toronto police budget is too big and they are killing our community. And they are taking innocent lives. Instead of putting dollars into their budget, put them into mental health services, our community, our neighbours, before- and after- school programs, hospital beds. Help people find homes so they don’t have to live on the streets and in shelters. The cost of living is going up and people are struggling. The city needs to do better and stop funding the police. So many people in the city tell you where the money needs to go. Listen to us. Listen to the people. Defund the police. 

Debbie Indal
The family of Taresh Bobby Ramroop, a 32-year-old member of the Jane-Finch community who died during an encounter with police in October, speak to supporters. Credit: Daniel Tseghay

John Tory’s cynical narrative

Mayor John Tory is exploiting the real and important issue of violence on public transit to drum up support for increased policing yet again. Police have said they will increase their presence on the TTC after multiple people were stabbed in the same week.

The severity of crime in Toronto has significantly decreased since 2000, but leaders like Mayor John Tory continue to use crime to drum up support for increased police budgets. Credit: Another Toronto is Possible/Statistics Canada

But police funding is not the same as working to end violence. The Roots of Youth Violence report commissioned by the Ontario government in 2008 concluded that increased community support—not more police funding—are required to prevent violence.

One of our co-authors, Robyn Maynard, spoke to this at the event. She said that while the recent violence is alarming, and preventing violence is a priority, we shouldn’t let Tory or the police dominate the conversation to justify their ever-expanding demands for funding, power, and resources. She pointed to data that demonstrates a general decrease in violence compared to 20 years ago, and that just as importantly, police do not prevent violence but often exacerbate it.

Shelagh Pizey-Allen from TTC Riders, a grassroots transit user advocacy group, addressed concerns about violence experienced by transit users and workers. 

I want to talk about safety, because safety is very important and we are seeing a rise in documented violence on the TTC. If we need a safer TTC, why is the mayor cutting service late at night? If we need a safer TTC, why is the mayor cutting service at all times of day across the system? This is a safety issue for people who use wheelchairs…If we need a safer TTC, where are the resources to combat racism and sexual violence on the TTC? … if we need a safer TTC, why are the frontline staff on the TTC being phased out? … and if we need a safer TTC, why are there zero resources going to mental health supports?” 

Shelagh Pizey-Allen

Instead of investing in more special constables–who enforce fares and harass poor people–the city needs to ensure that our public transit system is well-staffed, well-funded, accessible, and reliable.

What does real community safety look like? 

Organizations from across the city spoke to the ways that they are already meaningfully working to prevent and respond to harm in their communities. Representatives made it clear that police–far from keeping us safe–only increase violence, and spoke powerfully to evidence-based pathways towards actual safety and wellbeing for all Torontonians. 

Suzanne Narain, a member of Jane Finch Action Against Poverty, condemned Tory’s status-quo vision for the city. 

Let it be known that if this budget passes, it will mean more police violence to mainly Black, racialized and Indigenous folks. It will mean more homelessness, more pain and suffering for low-income, hardworking, and beautiful communities like ours. There are too many deaths, injuries, and tragedies at the hands of the police. More police is never the answer.” 

Suzanne Narain

Narain reminded us that communities already have the answers, and require more resources and support from the city. 

“More community investment, more hiring of community workers, social workers, and youth workers is crucial, more investments in housing, enhancement of our public education, public health, social employment services. … We have to work and build a city together that works better for more of us.”

Speakers from Butterfly: Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network emphasized how policing and criminalization increases workers’ experiences of harm, and compromises their own community-led efforts to meaningfully protect each other from violence. “Our community consistently confronts laws that criminalize our work and our status, leaving us more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse,” one speaker said, “It is because the police do not keep us safe that we must creatively support one another and continue to advocate…We demand rights, not rescue.”

Sean Ihn from Students Mobilizing Against Systemic Hardship (SMACH), a student collective at the University of Toronto, raised the alarm about police violence on campus: “Our own students are being brutalized by the police, harassed by the police, handcuffed by the police, all for what? For having a mental health crisis.” 

The city must put “people over profit,” Ihn said, and called for housing, education, and healthcare to be prioritized.

Community members opposed to the police’s proposed $50-million budget increase called for the funding to be spent on housing, education and health care. Credit: Daniel Tseghay

Housing instead of harassment 

Toronto is in a housing crisis. Rent prices soared 20 per cent from 2021 to 2022, the cost of living is climbing, and residents are increasingly unable to cover their basic costs. 

More and more of our neighbours are living on the streets, facing an under-resourced shelter system that turns away over a hundred people a day, and inadequate basic services. Instead of prioritizing investment in much-needed affordable housing and other long-term solutions, the city is spending millions of dollars to violently evict people from parks and tents.

Jordn Geldart, a representative from the Encampment Support Network Parkdale, spoke to the crowd about his experience being targeted and harassed as an unhoused Indigenous man. 

In his words, “Last summer, I got taken on a Starlight Tour, well-known on the West Coast for making ‘problematic Indigenous men’ go missing. They brought me to the Trenton military base. I have no need to be at a military base just for being homeless.” 

Speaking to Tory’s new “strong mayor” powers, he added, “These extra powers should be going toward helping people, not criminalizing them and arresting them for being homeless.”

Fighting for abolitionist futures

A statement from Desmond Cole and Beverley Bain, written on behalf of the No Pride in Policing Coalition, was read to the crowd:

We protest for Indigenous peoples, for their sovereignty, land back, and the fulfillment of treaties long denied. We protest for Black people harmed by the state for generations. We protest for those without a safe place to use drugs, or a safe supply. We protest for queer and trans people who don’t report violence because they fear the police. We protest for people who don’t know where they will sleep tonight. We protest for every person who needed mental health supports and got the cops instead. We won’t stop!  We will keep up the fight for sustainable livable communities. We will keep doing this till we are free!

Ever since Tory announced his intention to give even more money to TPS, residents have been expressing their outrage, online and in-person, about these troubling priorities. Across the two days of public hearings at the city’s Budget Committee last week, the major theme that emerged was widespread anger over the proposed increase to the police budget, and the urgent need to reallocate funds away from policing and towards the services and supports that communities actually need. 

At the Police Services Board meeting the week prior, over 50 Torontonians submitted deputations opposing the budget increase. Only four people—all of whom represented business groups concerned about property damage—were in favour. Tory claims that Torontonians want this increase in policing—we must continue to make it clear that his status quo agenda is widely rejected, and that communities know that another Toronto is possible.

If you want to take further action around the city budget and help build an abolitionist future in which our communities all have the resources and support to thrive, you can check out the rest of our Month of Action and sign up for updates at AnotherToronto.ca

The article was written by Rania El Mugammar, Robyn Maynard, and Johanna Lewis on behalf of the community groups organizing the Another Toronto Is Possible campaign.

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