Waterloo passes motion to ask region, police to reallocate money for Black, Indigenous upstream programs

Waterloo has passed a motion that asks the region and police services board to look at reallocating money to fund Black, Indigenous and people of colour-led upstream programs for prevention. As well, the motion calls on the city to self-reflect on what its doing for anti-racism and reconciliation.

Move is a first step and no time for a 'self-celebratory dance,' says social work prof. Funke Oba

Thousands of people rallied in downtown Kitchener in June after the death of George Floyd in the United States sparked protests over how police handle cases with Black people. The organizers of the Black Lives Matter rally also called on Waterloo regional police to be defunding, with money going to preventative programs. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

A motion that asks the Region of Waterloo and the Waterloo Regional Police Services board to look at reallocating money in the police budget to support Black and Indigenous-led upstream prevention programs.

The motion passed unanimously.

Coun. Jen Vasic worked on the motion for about three months before bringing it forward on Monday. She says she was inspired by the work she used to do with people who faced barriers to getting their high school diploma, as well as calls from the Black and Indigenous communities in Waterloo region to defund the police.

"There's a huge community push to do this, so it's time," she said during an interview on CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's The Morning Edition on Monday before the council meeting.

"We're not blaming the region, we're not blaming the police services board, we want all of you guys to work together in your respective jurisdictions to move this work forward and we hope we can work on this with you," she said. 

Vasic says she plans to talk to other local politicians about what more she can do — both as a politician and as a resident in the region — to support anti-racism initiatives, but the motion "is a formal channel to advocate" for change.

She also asked the city to look internally and report on where it's at with anti-racism and reconciliation.

Coun. Jen Vasic worked on the motion for four months before the final version was brought to council on Monday. ( of Waterloo)

First steps

Coin. Tenille Bonoguore seconded the motion.

"I just think that this sends a strong request to other levels of government to please reassess where we're putting our community resources and to try to find ways where we can better allocate things so that we're supporting the people who need it most in the ways in which they need the help," she said.

Mayor Dave Jaworsky also supported the motion, saying it calls on upper levels of government to make change.

"We're making the call, but they need to start the ball rolling," he said.

Funke Oba, a social worker who teaches at the University of Waterloo and Ryerson University in Toronto, spoke to councillors and said this is just the start of the work they need to do.

"We must interrogate, for instance, why it's taken this council this long to recognize this issue and to think about creating these positions. We're glad it's happening given all that has transpired in 2020, but it shows that we have been blind to some of these things," she said.

"We must therefore interrogate what else we remain blind to because racism is not unconscious," she added.

"It is not random that Black youth in Waterloo region are stopped and profiled four to five times more than their non-Black peers. It is not unconscious. It is not random. It is not accidental."

'We need to walk the talk'

Oba also warned that councillors should continue the work and not do a "self-celebratory dance that will only distress the Black and Indigenous and people of colour in the community."

"We need to put our money, our resources, where our mouth is. We need to walk the talk. We need to go through all police procedures, language, practices, evaluations with a fine tooth comb. Walk with the local communities. Don't just celebrate what we have, but see what it might be like from the perspective of these people we purport to serve," she said.

Teneile Warren, a member of the African, Caribbean and Black (ACB) Network of Waterloo Region and a local activist who has called for the reallocation of police funding, says council passing the motion "sends a very strong message."

"As Coun. Vasic pointed out, it's listening to the voices of her constituents, listening to the community and recognizing what she could do and the council, by extension, recognizing what they could do to support and advocate for the cause of the community," Warren said Tuesday morning after the vote.

"I think it sends a strong message to the region, to the other city councils, including the township councils, that you have an impact."

Townships should take note

She said every area in the region has Black, Indigenous and racialized residents — not just the three cities. 

"There are Black residents in all of the townships and they are continuing to also need to be heard and what we're seeing in Wilmot is a recognition of that, that we are also here and we have a voice," she said.

Warren says there's only so much Waterloo council can do to influence the police budget, but the portion of the motion that called for internal reviews is also important and something the community can hold council to account on.

"As community leaders, we will keep an eye on that," she said.