There’s a conversation brewing about police funding across the country, and it’s time to pay attention. New Brunswickers would be shocked to learn just how much is spent on policing, compared to other cities in Canada.
Rodney Levi, a 48-year-old member of Metepenagiag First Nation near Miramichi, was shot and killed by RCMP on Friday night, June 12. The police alleged Levi had knives, and that their stun guns did not work. It was the second fatal shooting of an Indigenous person in New Brunswick in just over one week.
On June 4, Chantel Moore, a 26-year old Indigenous woman from Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation in British Columbia was killed by Edmundston police during a routine wellness check. Her boyfriend called the police due to concerns that she was being harassed.
So far, the police have refused to release any information about the officer who killed Moore. Despite her death being part of a pattern of violence against Indigenous women across Canada, and despite the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in New Brunswick promising an inquiry into an anti-Indigenous bias in policing, the Premier mused that this was an isolated incident.
Moore’s death came just days after Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a Black-Indigenous woman, died after falling 24 storeys in Toronto when police arrived to perform a wellness check, sparking Black Lives Matter protests in Toronto. These protests themselves came on the heels of protests worldwide following the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer who choked him to death by kneeling on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
Moore did not need armed police officers performing a wellness check. What if we diverted the police budget towards other services? A look at our province’s police budgets would suggest that it is certainly time to re-examine how much New Brunswickers spend on policing.
Fredericton City Council approved a 2020 budget that would see a full fifth of its spending fund policing, amounting to nearly $24 million in a total budget of $124 million. With an approximate population of 66,000 this year, the per capita police spending in Fredericton is at $360.
Seem low? By way of comparison, Fredericton spends around 75 per cent more on policing per capita as Toronto which has a population nearly 100 times that of Fredericton. Although some of that difference can be explained by economies of scale, Fredericton also spends 10 per cent more per capita than Miramichi on the police, a town that is just 25 per cent the size of Fredericton.
The graph below shows just how skewed the amount spent on the police in Fredericton is as compared to other services funded by the city.
Part of police spending in Fredericton can be attributed to the tragic 2018 shooting of two officers and two civilians. In the wake of that shooting, Fredericton hired 16 new temporary officers to fill in the gaps as some officers needed leave. This year, the city will hire 10 new temporary officers. But even without those positions, the police budget would look largely the same.
The City of Saint John is going to cut $1.2 million in police funding this year. But this is not in response to nationwide calls for defunding police forces. It is, instead, as a result of $10 million in across-the-board cuts annually to meet debt-servicing needs despite some of the country’s richest families having made their fortunes in that city.
Saint John plans to spend $23.3 million on the police force after accounting for the cuts, still making up 14% of the city’s total spending at a cost of approximately over $330 per capita. Nevertheless, the City of Saint John expects all departments of the city to make cuts, even those whose budgets are a fraction of the overall city budget.
Policing budgets in New Brunswick make up a significant proportion of municipal spending. The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples have called for funds from police budgets to be reallocated to social services. Some New Brunswickers have taken to Twitter to air their discontent and are demanding a conversation about this issue.
We know that most criminalized actions that the police deal with on a day-to-day basis, after all, are non-violent offences.
Panhandlers do not need tickets from police, they need universal basic income and mental health support. Individuals with addictions do not need tickets for public intoxication, they need housing and access to healthcare. Survivors of sexual violence need trauma-informed care and a justice system that holds perpetrators accountable.
We must dramatically reduce police budgets and reinvest in community centres, civilian mediators, unarmed investigators and de-escalation training. We can fund public childcare centres, create anti-racism projects and build affordable housing.
This is simply a question of priorities.
According to the Saint John Human Development Council, a full quarter of children in Fredericton are living in poverty. That number is nearly half for racialized children in New Brunswick – a rate nearly twice the national rate. Although part of the reason is lack of childcare, there are no municipally run childcare facilities anywhere in New Brunswick.
The word “homelessness” does not appear a single time in Fredericton’s 2020 budget. The city had allocated a measly $35,692 per year for a Housing First initiative from 2018 to 2020, but appears to have used none of the money according to the 2020 budget. In Saint John, a 14-unit affordable housing building is being built for just $2 million as part of the Victoria Commons Project. If just 10% of that city’s police budget were reallocated to affordable housing, it could double the investment in this project.
It is past time that we reckon with the size of police spending in this province. As jurisdictions around the world contemplate reimagining policing in the wake of protests against anti-Black racism and police brutality, the time is ripe for New Brunswick to have this conversation now.
Aditya Rao is a lawyer and resident of Fredericton.