As communities across Canada, and around the world, grapple with COVID-19, racialized communities have not only been disproportionately impacted by the health fall-out, but are also dealing with the violent legacy of colonialism, police brutality, and systemic racism.
Canada’s unions are committed to standing in solidarity with racialized and Indigenous communities in upholding principles of equity, justice, and human rights. These are principles central to the labour movement.
The efforts required to undo systemic racism will necessitate difficult and ongoing conversations and the formulation of deliberate strategies to educate, empower, and engage all workers. We all have a responsibility towards dismantling systems that perpetuate racism and inequality and towards rebuilding new ways of promoting the health and well-being of our entire collective.
Following the spate of tragic killings and abuse of racialized and Indigenous people at the hands of police in both the United States and in Canada, a key demand that has emerged from human rights advocates and targeted communities includes a call to defund the police.
The context and meaning of this demand is critical. While the brutal killing of George Floyd earlier this past summer was a galvanizing moment helping to propel anti-Black racism and its impacts into the public consciousness, the long history of police brutality is a key factor.
The traumatic legacies of slavery, oppression and colonization continue to reverberate throughout society and this includes in the ways in which law enforcement agencies have been overpolicing, surveilling, and at times, even killing, members of racialized and Indigenous communities. Racial profiling, so-called ‘random’ street checks, the disproportionate number of Black and Indigenous people in prison, the presence of police in schools and the disproportionate number of violent interventions by police must all be addressed.
The call to divert funding away from police services towards community support is justified when cuts to youth programming, investments in affordable housing and mental health supports, and other key social programs have hurt far too many vulnerable communities. In fact, over the last few decades, there have been considerable increases in police budgets, at the same time as austerity measures eroded public funding for community and social programs and services throughout various levels of government.
In far too many Canadian municipalities, provinces and territories, budget allocations for police services outweigh combined spending on other priorities like public transit, libraries and parks and recreation. This spending has accompanied the increased militarization of police services in Canada, reflected in the purchase of armored vehicles and tactical gear more suited for battlefields than urban and suburban neighbourhoods. Due to the chronic underfunding of social programs, police services are expected to address a host of societal challenges and crises – situations for which their training, culture and mandate are ill-suited.
It is incumbent on working people to demand that public services be assigned towards lifting communities up and helping people reach their fullest potential.
Canada’s unions support efforts to reduce federal, provincial, territorial and municipal budget allocations to police services, and to reinvest these funds toward alternatives to policing, such as community-based health and social services and programs, mental health supports and crisis intervention, public transportation, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, services to prevent and address gender-based violence, addiction treatment and harm reduction programs, among others.
On a broader scale, increased government investments in affordable housing, mental health care, child care and employment supports would have a direct impact on the health and well-being of our most marginalized communities, promoting public safety and addressing the root causes of violence.
Canada’s unions stand in solidarity with the call to defund police budgets, which have continued to grow exponentially as public services, have been reduced or eliminated. The labour movement further supports efforts to look at the ways in which law enforcement agencies have upheld legacies of harm, as well as to re-examine how resources could be better allocated towards strengthening our communities and helping the most vulnerable.
Furthermore, leaders within Canada’s unions reiterate their commitment towards advancing human rights within our own unions; among our staff and leadership, and in collaboration with communities. This will require ongoing efforts, which include education, advocacy, training and resources. We will continue to strive to achieve and model the highest standards of equity and hold ourselves accountable throughout.