Montreal

'A big, big conversation': Valérie Plante says she's open to redistributing funds that go to police

With thousands of Montrealers taking to the streets in protest of police brutality and racial profiling, many activists say internal reform isn’t enough — and that money should be moved to different types of social assistance. 

Montreal mayor says officers will be outfitted with body cameras — but activists say that's not enough

Last week, Valérie Plante said the city will be outfitting police officers with body cameras as soon as possible, and will draft stricter rules regarding when officers can conduct street checks, which involves asking citizens for identification. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

As calls to defund police forces around the world continue to grow in the wake of George Floyd's death, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante says she has been talking with other mayors in the province about how public funds are distributed to law enforcement. 

"This is a big, big conversation," Plante said Monday, when asked about the possibility of reforming the SPVM.

"I think at this point there are a lot of good ideas coming."

In Minneapolis, Minn., where George Floyd's death at the hands of a police officer sparked worldwide mobilization against racism, nine city council members announced Sunday they are taking preliminary steps to defund and dismantle the city's police department, and move toward a new model of public safety. 

The mayor of Los Angeles vowed to reinvest up to $150 million of that city's police budget into community and mental health initiatives. 

Last week, Plante said the City of Montreal will be outfitting police officers with body cameras as soon as possible, and will draft stricter rules regarding when officers can conduct street checks.

Recommendations from Montreal's first public consultation into systemic racism and discrimination will also be released June 17.

Plante offered few details about what broader reforms would look like, saying "I'm definitely open to this" but then added "I don't want to work in a silo."

While the concept of redirecting police funding to other areas has gained momentum in the past week, especially at anti-racism and anti-police brutality protests, Quebec Premier François Legault seemed surprised by the proposition on Monday.

When questioned about the concept of redirecting some of Quebec's police funding to other areas such as mental health, Legault said he didn't see any reason to decrease spending on law enforcement. 

What does 'defund police' really mean?

In 2019, Montreal's police force had an operating budget of over $662 million. That's compared to $115 million for social housing and nearly double what is budgeted for the fire department. 

The idea behind defunding police is to reallocate those funds to non-violent, community-oriented services specialized to situations where police would normally respond. 

With thousands of Montrealers taking to the streets in protest of police brutality and racial profiling, many activists say internal reform of the police force isn't enough — and that money should be moved to different types of social assistance. 

Thousands of demonstrators wind through downtown Montreal's major streets after a rally at Place Émilie-Gamelin. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Ted Rutland, a Concordia University professor and member of Montréal sans profilage, says police forces are inherently racist and oppressive. 

"We need to not expect that things are going to get better," Rutland said. "We need to shrink the size of [the police force]." 

He pointed out that most police work does not require the use of force — such as responding to mental health crises and wellness checks.

Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old Indigenous woman from Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation in British Columbia, was shot dead by a police officer who came to her Edmundston, N.B., home to conduct a wellness check last week. The incident raised questions about whether officers should be the ones doing such visits. 

"The idea is we could transfer money from the police department into a range of other services and initiatives that could do what the police do without violence," Rutland said.

Alain Babineau, a former RCMP officer who now works with the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations, says directing some of the police budget toward agencies better equipped to deal with these issues would help take the load off officers, too. 

"Police officers unfortunately are expected to be jacks of all trades," Babineau said. "From guidance counselors to psychologists, social workers, mental health specialists … police officers have even delivered babies."

Police budgets are often strained, Babineau said, but he said that officers could also benefit having other trained professional respond to those needs.

With files from Verity Stevenson and Justin Hayward

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