'I don't believe in that for a second': Ontario Premier Doug Ford dismisses call to defund police

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says defunding the police is something he simply doesn't believe in. His comments Tuesday when he was asked by a reporter for his reaction to the calls to cut police budgets.

Toronto city councillors propose to cut police budget by 10%

The concept of defunding police forces has gathered increasing steam in the wake of the protests against anti-Black racism in policing, sparked by the death of George Floyd in the U.S. But despite increasing scrutiny of the role of police in Canada, Ontario's premier says he simply doesn't believe in the concept. (Rick Madonik/The Canadian Press)

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says defunding the police is something he simply doesn't believe in.

The premier made the comments at his daily briefing Tuesday when asked by a reporter for his reaction to the calls to cut the Ontario Provincial Police budget. 

The concept of defunding the police has gathered increasing steam in the wake of the protests sparked by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police in the U.S., and in Canada as the role of police in the deaths of Black and Indigenous people — including Regis Korchinski-Paquet and D'Andre Campbell — comes under increasing scrutiny.

"I don't believe in that for a second," Ford told reporters.

"I think we need strong police within the communities. What we do need to do is have a higher standard. We need for focus on more training."

What defunding the police means can range from the outright dismantling of a force and creating something new, as is proposed in Minneapolis, to reducing police department budgets so money can be diverted to other services like mental health and community support.

Last year, Ontario cut about $46 million from the provincial police budget of approximately $1.1 billion. The government said at the time no police officers would lose their jobs as a result, and that the reduction involved "streamlining" corporate offices and improving vehicle maintenance so that the fleet would last longer.

The OPP provides policing to more than 300 municipalities in the province. It has 6,200 uniformed members and 3,600 civilian staff. Salaries account for more than $800 million of the total budget. 

On Monday, Toronto city councillor Josh Matlow announced a motion to defund the city's police budget by 10 per cent and reallocate the savings — some $122 million — to community resources. 

Praise for Chief Mark Saunders

Ford's comments come just one day after Mark Saunders, the city's first Black police chief, announced his resignation, eight months before his contract was set to expire in 2021. Saunders did not give an exact reason for his departure, but it came as questions grow about just how much Toronto should be spending on policing.

Ford heaped praise on Saunders and his approach to law enforcement.

"I'm a big believer, as Chief Saunders always believed, in community policing…. But I just don't believe in cutting police budgets — just never believed in that."

Costing over $1 billion, the police service is the single-biggest line item in the city's $13.5-billion operating budget. Out of an average property tax bill of $3,020, the largest share — about $700 — is allocated to police. That's followed by about $520 for transit. Shelters and housing take up about $150 while about $60 goes to paramedic services.

Nearly 90 per cent of the Toronto police budget goes toward salaries. 

Motion to next city council meeting

Saunders has said he's open to discussing the calls to cut the police budget, but says right now, reducing the number of officers would be "naive."

Matlow has said he will bring the motion to the next city council meeting at the end of the month, with support from Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam.

As it stands now, the city can only approve the total budget, not what the police will do with that money.

If passed, the motion could include several measures. First, council would ask the province to amend the Police Service Act so that the city has the authority to approve or disapprove specific items in a budget. 

How to spend the money?

Second, Matlow wants the police to draft a 2021 budget that is 10 per cent lower than 2020's. He also wants a line-by-line breakdown of the proposed budget.

The motion also asks for the city to consult with several divisions, including the city's Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit, on recommendations on how to spend the money.

Amid the waves of protests, Minneapolis city council has moved to begin dismantling its police force. Protests have not stopped in that city since Floyd, a Black man, was killed when a white police officer, who has now been charged with second-degree murder, pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for over eight minutes during an arrest.

With files from The Canadian Press