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Vision’s ghost haunts Vancouver’s 2019 budget

Ryan Schebek and Bryan Jacobs

December 21, 2018

On December 18th 2018, Vancouver city council voted to approve the 2019 Capital and Operating Budget. One section of this budget called for an increase to the Vancouver Police Department by $10 million, to $317.2 million. The police allotment represents 21% of the city’s operating budget. This budget was drafted in accordance with decisions made by the previous council and the old Vision Vancouver majority. That party has been completely wiped off council after the recent municipal elections, having completely lost public support.

Highlighting this problematic increase to the VPD was Councillor Jean Swanson. Councillor Swanson intended to amend the police budget increase, while other city councillors demonstrated an eagerness to pass the budget as quickly as possible without amendments.

The increase was recommended by VPD despite a decrease in the amount of crime in the city. $2.6 million has been earmarked for new police recruits, something that seems counterintuitive when the crime rate is falling. Reasons cited for the increase include a need to promote community safety, a response to the needs of a growing city and the numerous calls for police to the downtown eastside area.

Those opposing the increase to the police budget spoke as well. However, this was complicated by the fact that many people who wanted to speak against the police budget are some of the people intimidated by the police presence at City Hall and thus were afraid to enter the public hearing. Councillor Swanson spoke on behalf of those currently in jail, citing her five days in prison for protesting the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

Those who could attend included community organizers and activists experienced in working with the downtown eastside population. They argued that community safety is not created by increasing the police presence, but quite the opposite. Community safety is created by a sense of connection and commitment from the members themselves. Community safety should be organized by the community itself and not imposed, top down, by a militarized extension of the state who are mostly concerned with defending property rights. Those experiencing distress or crisis due to mental health complicated the number of calls to VPD. However, members of the community note these crises can be mitigated by community presence, not police presence.

Vancouver is experiencing an increase in police presence at community events, which has led the public to feel uneasy. Police openly carry assault-style rifles at commercialized family events like Car Free Day, flaunting their bloated budget. As well, the VPD has a history of harassment and racial profiling towards visible minorities. Nowhere in the budget is reconciliation mentioned. Some of the $2.6 million could be used, instead, toward Indigenous community-led initiatives like healing centres or social housing, that would benefit populations that are disproportionally targeted by the VPD.

Fundamentally, what will create more community safety and reduce the number of calls made to police is social housing. With Vancouver’s homeless population reaching 2100, every dollar spent on social housing would be a direct investment in the reduction of policing costs by a factor of 2:1. Although the budget was passed, Counsellor Swanson helped draw attention to the issue by speaking against it and supporting those who spoke with her.

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