Pallister says defunding police an 'illogical step' as calls to dismantle law enforcement grow louder
Manitoba premier rejects push to cut police funding, but top cop says it's possible if other agencies funded
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says the growing push to defund local police could put the lives of the most vulnerable people at risk.
The growing frustration with police — not "necessarily here in Winnipeg exclusively, but elsewhere" — comes from a justifiable place, the premier said at a media briefing Tuesday to announce funding for non-profits and charities that hire summer students.
"I get it, but then moving to defunding police is, to me, an illogical step. Don't let your frustration lose your common sense," he said.
"There's a lot of people out there in vulnerable communities who depend on the police to protect them and make sure they're safe from the actions of criminals — and [if] you start defunding the police, you're starting to make them even more vulnerable."
Pallister's comments came after he was asked for his opinion on a petition on the website change.org calling for the "complete abolition and defunding of the Winnipeg Police Service."
As of Tuesday evening, the online petition had nearly 30,000 signatures.
Policing 'a tremendously important job'
The premier added he doesn't support measures reducing public safety. Instead, he said his Progressive Conservative government is funnelling money toward policing, while targeting the root causes of crime, such as directing more spending toward addiction and mental health programming.
"We need the police because crime is real and the actions of criminals have to be addressed, and our police do a tremendously important job."
Calls to reform — or dismantle — police forces have grown louder across North America following last month's death of George Floyd, a Black man, after a Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee on his neck for almost nine minutes.
Four police officers have since been charged in connection with Floyd's death.
Locally, the cries against anti-Black racism and police brutality hit a crescendo on June 5 when thousands crammed the Manitoba Legislature grounds at the Justice 4 Black Lives rally.
Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth said he's open to defunding the police in some areas — but only after social service agencies receive more funding to bear the duties now handled by cops.
"If you were to rip out a large segment of the budget all at once, you would be putting our environment into a more volatile place than it is now," Smyth told reporters on Monday.
Policing duties nowadays range from chasing criminals to looking for missing children and checking on people with mental health concerns, he said.
Criminal defence lawyer Zilla Jones said policing problems are felt close to home, not only in the United States. She points to the three Indigenous people who were shot and killed by Winnipeg police in the span of 10 days earlier this year.
Jones, who is calling for sweeping police reform, said she regularly meets with clients who sustain injuries while police are arresting them.
"They just accept as part of being arrested, or part of dealing with police, is that you'll take a few blows to the head or you will take a black eye, and that's kind of what happens in Winnipeg," Jones told guest host Sam Samson during a Tuesday interview on CBC Manitoba's Up to Speed.
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is asking for an overhaul of government legislation to address the underlying structure that "perpetuates and facilitates disproportionate violence and the ongoing assault and abuse of First Nations citizens within the city," Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said in a statement.
MLA Nahanni Fontaine, the justice critic for the Opposition NDP, argued the time is right to re-evaluate policing.
"What the Black Lives Matter movement, what the revolution has done is that it has put it plain in our face that we need to look at doing things differently," she said.
Fontaine said police conduct has troubled the Indigenous community, especially, for years. She noted more Indigenous people have died in encounters with police this year than from COVID-19.
Waiting on police review
Her party called Tuesday for the government to release its review of Manitoba's Police Services Act, which Fontaine said may lead to a more equitable police force.
Justice Minister Cliff Cullen had previously said the review, conducted every five years, would be ready this spring, but said Tuesday the report isn't finished because of pandemic-related delays.
He then slammed the NDP for alleging the government was hiding the report.
Fontaine later said the report should still be finished. She said the people behind the report are external to government and have had a year to work on it.
With files from Sean Kavanagh, Sam Samson