Updated: Mar 9
Transcript of deputation to Council by Michael Speers on December 6, 2021
Good evening, Mayor Lehman and members of council. Thank you for this opportunity to speak with you this evening about the 2022 budget – specifically the portion being demanded by the Barrie Police Service.
You’ve all heard me speak on this topic before. You know that I have been calling for a significant cut to the police budget. And you know that I am an abolitionist. But my ask of you tonight is to simply reallocate 10 percent of this year’s police budget to fund upstream services that will have a positive impact on the people of Barrie. Along with that, I also ask you to commit to working with the community to develop a workable plan – respecting the reality of the Police Act – to defund the police even further in the years ahead.
You see, policing – which is an outdated concept rooted in colonialism and racism – is not only a very expensive and substandard way to prevent crime, it’s also a discriminatory way to maintain justice in our communities. It’s proven that wage theft by employers is a much greater problem than other forms of theft and robbery. But the latter two are always prioritized. And that’s because, even though misguided ideas such as the theory of broken windows have been debunked time and time again, police and their defenders still try to scare the public into believing that we need this so-called thin blue line to keep our society from sliding into chaos.
The way we look at politics in this city is so very limiting. But it doesn’t have to be that way. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine gave me a pin that has “Build Communities” written on it. I wear it as a reminder of the policies we need to prioritize in order to build and support a city where we take care of each other and keep each other safe. Care is at the heart of this belief. It’s what community means to me. If you believe that community means having militarized agents of the state patrolling streets and protecting property at the expense of people – all while sucking up a quarter of the city’s budget – then by all means give the police everything they are asking for.
But if you believe, like me, that there is a more hopeful and positive road to safety and security in our city, then we must start to transfer taxpayers’ dollars away from the police. You can’t talk about the existence of systemic problems and then do nothing to actually change the system. That is a complete failure of leadership.
"You can’t talk about the existence of systemic problems and then do nothing to actually change the system. That is a complete failure of leadership."
In previous deputations, I felt a sense of anger as I spoke. But as I was putting my thoughts together for this deputation, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of sadness and disappointment. We look to our leaders to do what is necessary when the moment demands it. Sadly, when it comes to creating and encouraging a system of public safety that truly responds to the needs of people, we haven’t seen it from this council.
I honestly cannot understand how you can simply take as gospel the idea that the police need nearly $60 million a year to keep us safe. It’s extortion that simply wouldn’t be tolerated if it came from other organizations or agencies.
We need to get our priorities right. Barrie should be a place where everybody is safe and supported, and where everyone has access to the services they need. Giving in to the police and their demands limits your ability to do this. And it makes us all less safe because that money takes resources away from programs and services that can actually prevent crime.
The bloated police budget means more people living rough this winter. It means fewer programs and services for youth and seniors. It means inadequate transit. It means delays to critical infrastructure projects. It means not being able to do everything that is required to address the climate emergency we are in right now.
And by starving other services and resources of proper funding, the police help to create the conditions where inequality, hate and racism can fester and grow.
So, as I see it, you have two choices before you: you can stick to the status quo and ignore the blatantly obvious need and desire to fundamentally change a broken system, or you can start to build the community that every person who calls Barrie home deserves.
"pragmatism at the expense of justice is folly"
Last year, Mayor Lehman said that while he understood the demands of people asking for the police to be defunded, he couldn’t support it without first having a plan to replace the services they currently provide. Sounds pragmatic. But pragmatism at the expense of justice is folly. So, I ask you tonight: can we count on you to bring together community partners in the weeks ahead to begin coming up with a plan? I think that is the least you could do.
I’d like to end by reading a quote from sociologist Alex Vitale, who has done decades of research into policing and its negative effects on communities:
“We cannot demand that the police get rid of those ‘annoying’ homeless people in the park or the ‘threatening’ young people on the corner and simultaneously call for affordable housing and youth jobs because the state is only offering the former and will deny us the latter every time. Yes, communities deserve protection from crime and even disorder, but we must always demand those without reliance on the coercion, violence, and humiliation that undergird our criminal justice system. The state may try to solve those problems through police power, but we should not encourage or reward such short-sighted, counterproductive, and unjust approaches. We should demand safety and security—but not at the hands of the police. In the end, they rarely provide either.”
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