Montreal's decision to increase police funding leaves once-hopeful activists disappointed
'They clearly are not taking it seriously,' says Sandra Wesley of Defund The Police Coalition Montreal
During the summer, in the midst of a wave of protests over policing following the death of George Floyd, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said she was open to a "big conversation" about how public funds are distributed to law enforcement.
That gave hope to activists and community groups who had been calling for money normally set aside for Montreal police to be redistributed to non-violent, community-oriented services.
But the Plante administration's budget tabled Thursday included few commitments to reform and, in fact, a $15-million increase in funding for the SPVM.
The police operating budget in 2021 will be $679 million. Combined with the fire department, the cost for public security makes up the largest slice (18 per cent) of the city's budgetary pie.
"For me, during a pandemic, cutting into services is not a good idea," Plante said at a news conference, when asked about the increase, which she noted was around the level of inflation.
Plante said she remains open to a more thorough review of how police respond to crises.
The budget document says the SPVM will continue "to be a key player in the management of the crisis linked to COVID-19." It also says the police will work with partners to address the systemic factors contributing to social and racial profiling.
Sandra Wesley, the executive director of Stella, a Montreal organization for sex workers, and a member of Defund The Police Coalition Montreal, was among a small group of protesters who were at the unveiling of the budget Thursday morning.
The protesters chanted the names of men who have died in police shootings while holding signs that said "defund the police."
Wesley said her group was supposed to meet with members of Plante's executive committee on Monday, but the meeting was cancelled at the last minute.
"They clearly are not taking it seriously," she said.
She said there's still time for the city to make changes to the budget during its consultation process.
She pointed out that, earlier this month, the City of Calgary opted to re-allocate funding for police toward crisis services.
Defunding the police, she said, is not a controversial idea in the community.
"One of the things we often say is that we are overpoliced and underprotected," she said.
WATCH | The CBC's Antoni Nerestant walks you through some of the ways this budget will impact Montrealers