Defund the police and fund community initiatives that work & save lives

April 14, 2021

Lyra McKee, Co Executive Director at PACE Society and Meenakshi Mannoe, Criminalization & Policing campaigner at Pivot Legal Society

Tomorrow, on April 15, the Vancouver Police Board meets for the first time since they made the announcement that they were appealing the 2021 operating budget. Last December, council members froze the police budget at the previous year's amount, $340.9 million. Although the budget freeze did not defund the police per se, City Councillor Christine Boyle observed that "council sent a clear signal … that our priority is to be addressing public safety in more community-oriented ways."



As of today, the Vancouver Police Department currently receives just over one-fifth of the City’s budget. Over the last year, we have witnessed the VPD push back against even the most modest budget cuts - despite layoffs, hiring freezes and cutbacks which impacted both unionized and non-unionized staff across the city. While we await the decision from the provincial Director of Police Services regarding the VPD budget, we know that police across BC, including municipal police boards, are subject to unprecedented scrutiny. Provincially, the review of the Police Act is underway and federally, the RCMP is subject to mounting criticism as its pervasive culture of racism shows no sign of abating.

At the municipal level, advocates are looking to local politicians and law-makers to respond to movements around defunding the police.One year into the dual public health emergencies, of COVID-19 and the contaminated illicit drug supply, we know that diverting funds from policing into peer programming, housing, safe supply, and community-led crisis response will save lives.

The actions of the Vancouver Police Board continue to demonstrate the need to defund and implement civilian oversight of police.

The recent actions of the Police Board run counter to municipal priorities, and highlight how the Board’s priorities interfere with the opportunity to choose real safety. In September 2020, PACE Society boycotted the Police Board’s meeting in observance of the institution’s entrenched systemic oppression, while a number of other community organizations urged the Board to immediately end the racist practice of street checks. A newly-formed group, the Defund 604 Network is currently calling on its supporters to write to the police board directly and demand defunding. The actions of the Vancouver Police Board continue to demonstrate the need to defund and implement civilian oversight of police.

Earlier in March, we wrote to City Council requesting an update on the widely-supported “Decriminalizing Poverty” Motion. PACE, Pivot Legal Society, and more than twenty additional organizations continue to call for the defunding of police within Vancouver. We’re calling on the City to implement the work outlined in the Decriminalizing Poverty motion, and further commit to defunding the police in the 2022 budget. We’re calling on the government to work with community groups to design permanent funding for programs that will decriminalize poverty and support community-led safety initiatives.

Defunding the police, decriminalizing poverty, and replacing armed responses to crises are necessary moves toward a more equitable future where public safety is accessible to all rather than a select privileged few. This year alone, there have already been 10 Independent Investigations Office (IIO) of British Columbia investigations into police incidents in Vancouver that meet the serious harm and death threshold, 5 of which are still underway. Last month, a group of Indigenous youth - Braided Warriors - made submissions to the United Nations following international outcry over VPD officers' treatment of their members while  they were engaged in ceremony as part of ongoing resistance to the construction of the TMX pipeline.

These human rights violations do not surprise anyone who understands the white supremacist and colonial underpinnings of policing on Turtle Island.

We recognize the futility of reform in mitigating police violence, however, we have spent hours preparing submissions to the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act on behalf of PACE Society and Pivot. The narrow mandate of this Committee, and its inability to enact binding change leads us to have little hope that the resultant reforms can even begin to address the inherent violence and racism of policing in the colonial jurisdiction of British Columbia. Marginalized communities have long held the knowledge that the only solution to police violence is to defund the police, abolish the prison industrial complex, and reinvest in community alternatives. When will law- and policymakers meaningfully respond to our calls for justice?

Policing isn’t working

Policing isn’t working – We need to resource the communities that are already doing this work and ensure that they are not restrained by stigmatizing laws or bylaws that funnel people into harmful cycles of criminalization. This means addressing the federal laws that criminalize sex workers, the enduring impact of prohibition, the use of street stops, and practices such as street sweeps, which displace people who rely on public space with startling regularity. With an eye on the 2022 police budget and beyond, we will continue to advocate for the importance of redirecting public funds towards directly-impacted communities and away from police.

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Using the law as a catalyst for positive social change, Pivot Legal Society works to improve the lives of marginalized communities.