Reflecting on the City of Vancouver’s 2023 Budget

In 2023, the Vancouver Police Department will receive $401.8 million to carry out its operations, with funds coming directly from the City’s annual operating budget, set at $1.97 billion for the year.

Just 10 years ago, the VPD budget was $219.8 million. In the last decade, the VPD’s budget has almost doubled, with little to show in terms of “public safety.” There are still long-term encampments throughout Vancouver, and people who rely on public space continue to be pushed to the margins of survival. Indigenous women, girls, and 2-Spirit folks are still going missing, and the police continue to fail families searching for answers.

People standing on snow next to a large modified Canadian flag that has a red hand print instead of a maple leaf. There are pictures of loved ones killed by police taped to the flag.

Photo credit: M. Payet | Families at the Butterflies in Spirit rally at VPD Headquarters | February 27, 2023

In advance of this year’s City Council budget vote, Pivot joined 14 local organizations and asked the City of Vancouver to reinvest in equity. Pivot continues to support a 50% cut to the VPD budget, paired with the reallocation of funds to community-based crisis responses and other non-violent programming. Our recent blog explores the limitations and (sometimes deadly) harms of policing, along with the necessity for community-led solutions.

Despite the systemic issues inherent in the VPD, Mayor Ken Sim promised to increase funding for the police – at a press conference held in advance of budget hearings. The latest City budget came with a 10.7% property tax increase. Property tax increases aren’t necessarily a concern – especially when one realizes that Vancouver’s property tax rate was previously noted as “the lowest in North America.” We absolutely need to address (stolen) land wealth, and property tax rates can be a tool for that. The City’s 2023 budget, however, maintains an unequal and unjust social order – evident in the City’s massive investments in police (as well as other core departments that often have a hand in anti-homeless displacement such as City engineering and fire & rescue services.

Our city’s safety net is certainly in shambles when we’re looking to the underfunded local library to offset the realities of mass homelessness, while simultaneously increasing police resources.

Funding Police, Defunding Libraries

The VPD has managed to claim 20% of the city budget, while community-related services like parks & recreation, arts, culture & community services, and the library collectively receive 15% of the total city budget. As Jen St. Denis reported for The Tyee, In Vancouver’s Budget, Libraries Couldn’t Compete with Police.” The Vancouver Public Library (whose approved budget came in just over $58 million) attempted to integrate their role in true public safety into operational funding – proposing a $695,000 budget increase to hire social workers to support patrons and improve staff training, as well as increasing branch hours (as libraries provide access to safe, warm indoor space and public washrooms), but regrettably, Council refused to support this funding. Our city’s safety net is certainly in shambles when we’re looking to the underfunded local library to offset the realities of mass homelessness, while simultaneously increasing police resources.

In short, Council wasn’t convinced of the VPL’s importance, yet the VPD was well-funded after their presentation to City Council, in which VPD cited numerous “pressures” including the opioid crisis, housing issues, encampments, increased protests, and “urban decay” to justify their bloated budget. Yet the police are not properly addressing any of these “pressures.” Even compared to other cities in so-called Canada, where police budgets have grown across the board, the VPD budget stands apart. #DefundLaPolice noted that under Mayor Ken Sim, the VPD budget grew the most in percentage terms (11%) out of the 10 largest urban police forces.

Colourful graphic of 10 Canadian city budgets in 2022 and 2023

Photo credit: Coalition pour le définancement de la police (#DefundLaPolice) | Available online | March 4, 2023

2023 Police Budget Highlights

The total VPD budget includes the $383 million Operating Budget approved by the Vancouver Police Board. During the November Police Board Meeting, even Police Board director Frank Chong noted that the 2023 request was a “significant increase to the budget.” The Police Board’s mandate is to “provide independent civilian oversight, governance and strategic leadership to the Vancouver Police Department, reflecting the needs, values and diversity of Vancouver’s communities” - yet the Police Board members routinely rubber-stamp the VPD’s ballooning budget.

Some notable highlights from this year’s police budget (all available in the Special Council Meeting Minutes - February 28, 2023:

$8,000,000: Recruitment of 50 new police officers and up to 20 civilian staff (includes implementation of the highly-politicized 100 cops motion

$969,468: “one-time sworn overtime increase in recognition of the current unprecedented number of protests”

$670,000: “one-time statutory holiday pay for the new Truth and Reconciliation Day”

$250,000: COLA funding for community policing centres

$200,000: a new community policing centre in Mount Pleasant

$200,000: Police body-worn camera pilot project

The latest budget increase ($28.9 million over last year, an 11.2% increase) comes while residents of Vancouver are increasingly struggling to stay afloat – with non-existent affordable housing, skyrocketing inflation, and the grim realities of trying to stay alive while overlapping public health emergencies ravage our communities.

Twitter credit: Marlee Poole’s commentary on one 2023 budget decision | February 28, 2023

Our current Mayor and Council are confident that they have been given a mandate to fully fund police – though voter turnout was 36.3% (out of 472,665 registered voters). And of course, there is ample evidence that supports reallocating funds to support public safety for everyone. The first budget of the new Mayor and Council reflects their interests, the needs of their supporters, and the support of a relatively small contingent of voters who turned out for the last municipal election (which notably excludes people without Canadian citizenship – such as temporary foreign workers, international students, permanent residents and other community members ensnared by precarious immigration status).

Funding Violence, Harming Communities

We're just over 2 months into the year, and in Vancouver, there has already been one police-involved death – a killing on the Granville Street Bridge – and 6 incidents of serious harm reported by the Independent Investigations Office of BC. The weekend before the budget hearings, Elijah Barnett was shot repeatedly with ARWEN rounds in a case of “mistaken identity.” The day before the budget hearings, the families of Chelsea Poorman, Tatyanna Harrison, and Noelle O’Soup gathered at VPD headquarters to demand justice as police continue to fail them in their search for justice for #MMIWG2S relations.

While Vancouver’s mayor and council are content to think they have the support of Vancouver, it’s clear their mandate is codifying racism, classism, and discrimination into municipal policy, and continuing Vancouver’s long history of criminalizing – while prescribing austerity and death to those who were never invited to join the pacific politics of white supremacy.

This City budget puts the protection of private property over people and lacks concrete investment into root-cause solutions...

This City budget puts the protection of private property over people and lacks concrete investment into root-cause solutions that meet the needs of Vancouver’s most vulnerable residents. It instead doubles down on policing and criminalization as the favoured response to the layered crises of gender-based violence, mental health, substance use, poverty, and homelessness. We cannot afford to continue funding the reckless, violent institution of policing – it simply jeopardizes too many precious lives.

Get Updates

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