Mayor John Tory is pushing for the development of a new community safety model that he says will mostly replace the need for cops to respond to calls for people in crisis and will ultimately lead to a reduction in the billion-dollar police budget.

At a news conference at city hall on Thursday morning, Tory announced his support for a package of recommendations that are aimed at bringing “real change” to policing in the wake of the global movement against anti-Black racism that was spurred by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The recommendations, which still need to be approved by city council at a meeting next week, call for staff to report back on an “alternative model of community safety” that would be less reliant on police officers to respond to calls for people in crisis. The recommendations also ask staff to “detail the likely reductions to the Toronto Police Service” budget that would result from the new model and come up with a plan to reallocate the savings to “critical community and social services.”

“To the tens of thousands of Torontonians who have called and emailed my office over the last couple weeks and to those who have peacefully taken to the streets to march and protest I hope this comprehensive roster of change will tell you that we see you, we hear you and we are listening,” Tory said in making the announcement. “As mayor I am committed to listening to learning and taking concrete action that will improve the day to day lives of indigenous, Black and other marginalized Torontonians.”

Over the last month there have been two high profile incidents in the Greater Toronto Area in which individuals ended up death after police were called to their homes to help them deal with a mental health crisis.

On May 27, 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet fell to her death from a balcony at a High Park apartment after her mother had asked police to bring her to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Then over the weekend, 62-year-old Ejaz Choudry was fatally shot after police were brought to his Mississauga apartment because paramedics attempting to treat him said he was carrying a knife.

Both incidents are currently being probed by the Special Investigations Unit.

Speaking at city hall on Thursday, Tory said that police are asked to attend approximately 32,000 calls for people in distress each year and that it has become clear that there are better ways to respond to many of those calls, specifically ones in which weapons or violence are not mentioned.

He said that while some councillors have advocated for immediate cuts to the TPS budget, he prefers an approach in which we “de-task” police and then “realign the city’s budget priorities to put an even greater focus on the most marginalized in our community.”

“In order to eradicate systematic racism within our police service and on a broader basis as well we have to rethink in some cases whether police represent the right community response at all,” he said. “I strongly support this re-examination because I think we have to ask and answer these questions now because you cannot say that a system that sees people in crisis calling out for help and ending up losing their lives, you cannot say that is a system that is working.”

18 recommendations

Tory’s motion makes a total of 18 recommendations that extend well beyond just the creation of a new community safety model for some calls.

It also asks council to request that the Toronto Police Services board implement a plan to equip all officers with body-worn cameras by January and to “ensure consequences for unauthorized de-activation or covering of the cameras.”

There are also several recommendations pertaining to inquiries and reports that were not fully implemented.

It specifically singles out one recommendation from a 2014 report by Justice Frank Iacobucci that would require that police notify crisis intervention units of every call involving a person experiencing a mental health crisis.

There is also a call for council to ask the province “in the strongest possible terms” to implement proposed reforms from Justice Michael Tulloch that were “focused on enhancing the independence and notifications requirements of the Special Investigations Unit.”

“The spotlight is now on policing worldwide but in our city we have talked about this for some time,” Deputy Mayor Michael Thomson, a former member of the police services board, said during Thursday’s press conference. “In 2016, I proposed a series of motions to address the issue around the police budget and police budget and we looked at ways to reallocate those funds to help with some of the social issues. We were not successful then. But I do believe and I do hope that members of council will now be able to come together and address this issue once and for all.”

Tory ‘confident’ TPS budget will be reduced

There have been increasing calls to “defund the police” in recent weeks with protesters painting the message on a portion of College Street outside TPS headquarters last week.

Councillors Josh Matlow and Kristyn Wong-Tam have also put forward a motion that calls for the next police budget to be reduced by 10 per cent that will also be debated next week.

While Tory told reporters that he is “confident” that his motion will ultimately bring about a reduction in a policing budget that stands at $1.2 billion and accounts for nearly a quarter of all tax dollars, he did not provide an estimate on potential savings and some elements of his proposal, such as the use of body-worn cameras, would actually require an increase in funding.

“Today the mayor tabled his own policing report to sideline our #DefundThePolice motion. He doesn’t cite a percentage or any budget reduction which is at the core of the movement to reform policing, Wong-Tam said in a message posted to Twitter following Tory’s announcement. “Mayor now asks TPS board which he’s controlled for six years to reform policing. Not good enough.”

"At City Council, rather than add tens of millions more dollars on body cameras, it’s time to begin defunding the massive police budget & reinvest into community supports/policing alternatives to make our neighborhoods safer," Matlow added.

Union concerned about 'demonization of policing'

Tory’s announcement on Thursday morning came hours after a group of 50 doctors published an open letter calling on the city to “defund the police” in order to “create new community emergency services to support the mental health needs of Black, Indigenous, racialized, disabled, poor, and other community members made vulnerable by structural violence.”

In a subsequent interview with CP24, Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack said that he is open to some of the recommendations but he stressed that “the devil is in the details”

“Yes we want to have the best trained people for the job but in many of these cases we have to look at what these calls are that we are responding to,” he said. “So for somebody who is just in a crisis do we need a police officer to attend? Maybe we don’t. But if there is a component of violence or weapons or could be then may maybe we do.”

McCormack said that he is open to an “honest discussion” about anti-Black racism and other issues facing policing but he said that he is not OK with what he referred to as the recent “demonization of policing.”

He also said that while he is willing to consider “efficiencies” in policing, he won’t support cuts just for the sake of cuts.

“You can’t arbitrarily pick out a number like some councillors have. What is that based on? It is insane.”

Premier Doug Ford was also asked about Tory’s proposal during his daily briefing at Queen’s Park on Thursday and said that if anything there is a need for increased funding to help police better deal with calls for people in crisis.

“I don’t believe in cutting police officers off the streets. I believe in increasing them and supporting them,” he said.