Communities took to the streets in unprecedented numbers this summer in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Rodney Levi, Breonna Taylor, Chantel Moore, and countless others who lost their lives at the hand of police and state sanctioned violence. Thanks to tireless organizing led by Black and Indigenous activists, the call to "Defund the Police" has become part of everyday conversation since then.
This summer showed us the power of our collective voices. Now, we are at a crucial moment as cities across Canada look at approving new annual police budgets. People have shown up in large numbers to challenge increased police budgets and demand accountability. Unfortunately, we are seeing many cities deflecting these urgent calls to action.
Ottawa, where Action Canada's main office is located, is one such city that has failed to act. And last week, on November 21, the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) intimidated and used unnecessary force over people exercising their right to protest this failure to act, arresting the demonstrators in the early morning just hours before the budget meeting, and confiscating and mishandling ceremonial and sacred Indigenous items. Shortly after this, despite over ten hours of community testimonials of clear and concise demands to reduce the police budget and invest in other services, the OPS Board approved a $13.2 million increase to the annual budget.
Across Canada, cities like Ottawa have created few impartial spaces for community voices to be heard during budget decision-making. Often, these spaces are moderated by the Chair of the Police Board or others with a strong interest in maintaining the status quo. Many cities have justified increased police spending because of alleged reallocation of funding to mental health and domestic violence initiatives. Yet, the amounts earmarked for these initiatives are ineffectively small. We also know that police involvement in cases involving sexual, gender-based, and domestic violence can cause retraumatization and additional harm, such as discrimination, harassment, and mistreatment. We have seen time and time again the result of police response to people experiencing mental health crises with the deaths of Ejaz Choudry, Abdirahman Abdi, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, and many more.
We have seen police engage in situations that violate human rights, cause harm, increase violence, and result in worse outcomes for individuals and communities. This takes the form of police and bylaw sweeps of encampments and other temporary housing solutions for unhoused people during an escalating eviction crisis. It looks like criminalizing drug use during an overdose crisis and cracking down on efforts to feed people through community fridges in the midst of a recession. It looks like prioritizing funds for the police, rather than housing and public health during a pandemic.
These are violations of human rights, sanctioned by governments across our country. We cannot stand in silence as people in power choose to support oppression and control over the voice and needs of the most marginalized people in our communities, street-involved and unhoused people, people who use drugs, people living in poverty, and Black people and Indigenous people, by preventing community-led safety initiatives, protests, and demonstrations.
At Action Canada, we work to create a world with sexual and reproductive health and rights for all, not just some. We believe in a world where everyone lives free from violence and discrimination, all people can raise families in safe and sustainable communities, and where governments invest in the rights and health of everyone. Reproductive justice and racial justice are inextricably linked. The over-investment in policing prevents us from raising our children in safe and sustainable communities because it deprives critical social services of the necessary funding. That's why we are joining the call for a reimagination of community safety.
To defund the police is to focus on human lives, dignity, and rights. It means supporting people with access to safe housing, nutritious food, and physical and mental health services. It means funding community-based organizations and peer-based programs that are often the most knowledgeable about the needs of their communities. It means creating systems where communities can respond to situations without violence and intimidation. The reallocation of city budgets from police services to community-based initiatives and care models that prioritize basic human rights can create vibrant communities where all people are valued. We know that when people have their needs met and rights upheld, communities are safer.
We value the lives of Black and Indigenous people. That is why we are joining the call to defund the police.