Saskatchewan

Regina community association renewing calls to defund police ahead of city budget talks

The Heritage Community Association (HCA) says it's time to change the current approach to law enforcement in Regina.

'Annual increases to the police budget have not made our community safer,' says association

Black Lives Matter rallies were held across the world this summer after the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

The Heritage Community Association (HCA) says it's time to change the current approach to law enforcement in Regina.

HCA has released a statement on its website that says, in part, it supports calls to divert money from the police budget and invest more into community-based organizations and supports — commonly referred to as defunding police. 

The association released the statement now because city council, which involves a new mayor and several new councillors, will soon be deciding on the next city budget.

The HCA statement says community associations last year received their first funding increase in 12 years, while Regina police have seen a 60 per cent budget increase since 2010, including a $3.6-million dollar increase last year.

Using rough estimates, HCA said it or another community-based organization could use that money to house more than 160 people for a year — with supports — using a housing first model, feed 300 people three meals daily for a year, provide daily recreational and/or cultural programming for youth for 18 years, build and maintain three community gardens for 40 years, or some combination of these initiatives.

"Annual increases to the police budget have not made our community safer," the statement says.

"Rather, we are seeing gang activity, drug use including fatal overdoses, and violence rise in our neighbourhood in large part because people's basic needs are not being met."

Shayna Stock, executive director of HCA, said they started working on the statement in June when Black Lives Matter rallies were being held across the world, including Regina.

"There were lots of conversations about systemic racism against Indigenous people and against black and people of colour in our community, and so we started to talk as an organization about what is our role in this conversation," she told CBC Radio's The Morning Edition.

"Our neighborhood is home to a lot of racialized people and a lot of Indigenous people, and we're aware that a lot of folks … see the police as not a source of safety, but a source of fear and violence."

'It's always something that we have to always watch out for'

The statement lists three Indigenous people who were either killed or hurt by police between 2012 and 2019.

Simon Ash-Moccasin was one of those people. He was roughed up by two police officers while walking in downtown Regina in 2014. 

The writer, activist and father-of-four suffered injuries to his face and shoulders during the scuffle.

Ash-Moccasin filed a complaint with the Public Complaints Commission and it ruled excessive force was used.

He said he fully supports the call to defund police.

"We live under racist laws, racist legislation [like] the Indian Act. When do we get our say, or chance to shine, if you will? We don't because there's a lot of fear out there," he said.

Ash-Moccasin said he can't justify spending more tax dollars on an organization with a history of inflicting harm on Indigenous people.

"It's always something that we have to always watch out for," he said.

"So yeah, defund them. Defund them because I don't want my children to grow up in this kind of life anymore."

Different way of creating safety

Stock said she wants to divert money to organizations that help address addictions, homelessness, food insecurity, domestic violence, social isolation, mental illness and poverty.

"It's really a vision of just a different way of creating safety within our communities, where people's needs are met, where there's a better, stronger culture — a kind of mutual care and mutual support among community members — and where people don't have to receive punishment as a, kind of, way of keeping them in line."

The statement also lists concrete actions HCA plans to take immediately, and in the short and long term.

When asked in June about defunding police, Regina Police Chief Evan Bray said the challenges Regina faces are "rooted in social justice issues, and so we have to find a way that we can find an adequate level of funding for everything."

"I know that there's lots of work to be done on proper funding of medical issues and social issues, because if we can dig into those root causes, we can truly make a meaningful difference in our police services committed to that work as well."

A police spokesperson told CBC News that Bray's stance has not changed since then.

With files from The Morning Edition

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