Fractious finance committee meeting reveals doubts over Winnipeg police oversight

An often tense discussion at the city’s finance committee over a request to approve millions of dollars in extra policing costs revealed deep confusion among council members and the Winnipeg Police Board over who has authority over the city’s police force. 

Winnipeg Police Board says there's no way service can find $5.7 million in savings

The Winnipeg Police Board says there are no viable options to cut $5.7 million from the police service's 2021 budget. Members of the finance committee argued over who should have the final say over what is viable. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

A tense discussion at the city's finance committee revealed deep confusion among council members and the Winnipeg Police Board about who has authority over the city's police force. 

The discussion was over a request to approve millions of dollars in extra policing costs. The committee eventually voted three to one to approve up to $7.3 million in over-expenditures for the 2021 budget. To get there, councillors argued among themselves and with police board members about who has the authority to scrutinize the expenses of the Winnipeg Police Service.

"I think that this meeting will go down as the moment when we ceased to have civilian oversight on the Winnipeg Police Service," said Coun. Sherri Rollins. 

Rollins made a motion in October asking the Winnipeg Police Service to present options in order to find $5.7 million in savings by the end of the year. 

She also cast the lone vote against approving the funding.

WPS, police board say there aren't saving options

On Friday, WPS Chief Danny Smyth, along with board chair Coun. Markus Chambers and secretary Shauna Curtin, appeared before the committee to say they had looked at all options and found there were none that would not jeopardize the police service. 

"It's almost the end of the year. The funds are expended," said Curtin, who said that the police service was not mandated to respond to the committee's request for options. 

Committee members Rollins and Coun. John Orlikow questioned why the police board was there, responding to questions that had been posed directly to the police service.

"I don't even know who I'm talking to," said Orlikow.

"It's showing the public how confusing the relationship we have — through the Winnipeg Police Board and the Winnipeg Police Service. Are we just a cheque-writing machine or what other roles do we have?"

Chambers said the board has the authority to review budgetary matters relating to the police service, as well as the impacts budget cuts have on the service.

"So the assertion that there has to be additional oversight, I believe, impugns the integrity of the Winnipeg Police Board, who is duly charged with assessing the risks that are brought forward to us based on budgetary pressures," he said.

Given the fact that 86 per cent of the police budget consists of salaries which are largely covered by collective agreements, there was limited room for additional cuts within this fiscal year, Curtin said.

Rollins made two motions at the meeting.

She asked that the committee explore whether it can get more authority to oversee police funding. That motion was passed.

A second motion, to dole out the police budget in quarterly installments, with an option to withhold funding if questions weren't answered in a satisfactory way, was voted down.


Cameron MacLean is a journalist for CBC Manitoba living in Winnipeg, where he was born and raised. He has more than a decade of experience reporting in the city and across Manitoba, covering a wide range of topics, including courts, politics, housing, arts, health and breaking news. Email story tips to

With files from Bartley Kives