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Ford government hires 200 new OPP officers as some question decision amid calls to defund police

The Ford government says it will spend $25 million to hire 200 more Ontario Provincial Police officers following a report on mental health, occupational stress injuries and suicide by members of the force — a move some are criticizing as tone-deaf at a time of mounting calls to defund the police.

Province says it's responding to a report on officers' mental health, occupational stress

The new recruits are meant to provide frontline officers with additional resources they need 'to better protect communities, while safeguarding their mental health and well-being,' the province said in a news release Thursday. (Andrew Lahodynskyj/Canadian Press)

The Ford government says it will spend $25 million to hire 200 more Ontario Provincial Police officers following a report on mental health, occupational stress injuries and suicide by members of the force — a move some are criticizing as tone-deaf at a time of mounting calls to defund the police.

The new recruits are meant to provide frontline officers with additional resources they need "to better protect communities, while safeguarding their mental health and well-being," the province said in a news release Thursday.

At a news conference alongside Doug Ford, Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said decisions on exactly which detachments the officers will be stationed at will be for the commissioner to decide, but she said northern regions of the province have suffered from "chronic understaffing."

The move comes at a time when police forces across Canada and around the world are under heightened scrutiny over anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism in particular as well as brutality more broadly.

The sentiments gathered steam after the death of George Floyd — a Black man killed when a white police officer in Minneapolis kneeled on his neck— and have given rise to growing calls to cut police budgets and divert the savings to community supports like housing and child care.

The province's decision also comes as Ontario loosened restrictions on $500 million of rainy day funding for schools across the province to enhance physical distancing and improve air quality as children get set to head back to the classroom in September.

During the news conference, Ford was asked why he is choosing to spend money on hiring more police at a time when school boards have been asking for funding to hire more teachers in time for the school year.

Critics question timing

The premier defended his spending decision and said schools should be using the reserve money they have to take on more staff.

"The reserves are there for a rainy day fund and I haven't seen a storm like this in my lifetime," said Ford. "Let's use the reserves and hire more teachers."

WATCH: Ford says school boards can use their reserve funds to hire more teachers

Doug Ford says the province is providing $30 million to hire more teachers and that it's time school boards spent some of their 'rainy day' funds to get kids back in class. 1:05

But the timing of the decision raised eyebrows among some politicians, who questioned why the spending was necessary now.

"When so many are worried about safe schools, when tenants are stressed about rent and losing their homes, and when we've been called on to rethink how we fund public safety, the Ford government has taken the important step of hiring 200 new police officers," tweeted Beaches-East York MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith.

"The Premier can't give your kids a safe classroom, but he can put more police on the street to arrest them," Toronto city councillor Gord Perks said in a tweet.

'I don't believe in that for a second': Ford on defunding police

Asked about his views on defunding the police, Ford said in June that's something he simply doesn't believe in. 

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

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

The OPP polices some 300 municipalities in the province. It has 6,200 uniformed members and 3,600 civilian staff. 

In 2019, the Ford government reduced its annual $1.1 billion in funding of the force by $46 million. 

Thirteen OPP officers took their lives from the end of 2012 to early 2019

"Frontline police officers are always there when our communities need them and we have all witnessed their profound dedication to the public during the COVID-19 outbreak," Jones said. 

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