Clark, Norris both say they oppose defunding Saskatoon police
But the mayoral candidates come at the question in distinct ways
The Saskatoon mayoral race has only just begun, but its two lone candidates (so far) have already staked similar ground on one issue.
They're both against defunding the police.
Rob Norris, a former Sask. Party cabinet minister, was the first to address the controversial issue, having declared his candidacy in late June.
Incumbent Charlie Clark announced his re-election campaign Wednesday.
Norris said he found the question of defunding police "very troubling" and cited examples of policing he had recently observed.
"I saw one of our tireless police officers sweeping up a mess that was on a sidewalk. Before that I saw another one helping a person in distress. The list goes on," Norris said on June 25, when he announced his mayoral run.
Norris said he stood "shoulder to shoulder" with the Saskatoon Police Service, which he called imperfect but still one of the best police forces in the country.
The comment came days after a bystander captured footage of Saskatoon police officers punching and Tasering an Indigenous man during an arrest.
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"How is it that we're going to improve recruitment opportunities — that is, bring in more people from newcomer communities, First Nations, have more women, have a more reflective police service — if we start talking about defunding it?" Norris said.
"If we talk about a reduction of funds, I'll be very clear: I couldn't be more opposed to that."
Focus on 'protecting everybody equally': Clark
Clark, who was first elected as mayor in 2016, confirmed his plans for a re-election campaign on Wednesday, but said he would hold off on formal campaigning until September to allow him to focus on the local effort to combat COVID-19.
He was asked Thursday on CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning for his stance on defunding the police.
Clark said he's had productive talks in recent weeks with members of the Black and Indigenous communities, as well as the Saskatoon Police Service, about "how [to ensure] that everybody experiences the police as a service that's out there protecting everybody equally."
He's not in favour of defunding the police, he said.
"Simply because if we were to take resources out of police, the city doesn't run the social services, the housing, the outreach, the mental health supports — all of those things that are actually what I hear people saying," Clark said.
"They'd rather have a crisis worker go to a lot of these calls than a police officer."
Getting to that point will involve working with the provincial government and "having the capacity and the resources to have those those services available, and making sure that we can make a system that is actually going to work," he said.
Clark pointed to the city's two current police and crisis teams (PACT), which pair a police officer with a mental health professional. He said those have been very effective but are not able to respond to every call.
"It's a longer conversation," he said, pointing to his years on Saskatoon's board of police commissioners. "You can't just flip a switch and pull resources out and think you're gonna make it better. That's what I've learned from experience."
Late Thursday, he added, "The principle I agree with is to have more crisis/addictions/mental health workers available to respond to calls involving mental health and addictions as a first response. Right now police are filling in these gaps because too often the crisis response isn't available."
Clark touts recent investment
Both Norris and Clark have cited public safety as a top priority.
During his candidacy speech, Norris got personal, saying Clark had "profoundly failed the people of Saskatoon when it comes to making this city safe."
"His tenure as mayor will be remembered by — in fact, marred by … cases of arson, senseless murders, violent crimes, families on edge, businesses questioning whether they want to continue to do business in Saskatoon."
Norris said as mayor, he would seek to chair the board of police commissioners. He also wants more diversity on the board.
During his own candidacy speech on Wednesday, Clark acknowledged "the challenges of drugs and violence growing in our community, and the cycles of addictions and mental health and youth incarceration and poverty turning people back out onto the streets."
He said the city has worked hard to build a co-ordinated approach to tackle those underlying socio-economic issues.
Some of the city's recent investments in the police service have allowed more officers to operate downtown and respond to more neighbourhoods, he said.
"My office has also partnered with the board of police commissioners to create the Safe Community Action Alliance, a network of 35 agencies working in unprecedented co-ordination to better address the underlying causes of crime."