BLACK LIVES MATTER SHOWS US WHAT WE BELIEVE CANADA TO BE

A couple weeks ago, more than 15,000 people gathered on the Manitoba Legislative grounds in Winnipeg to demonstrate their support for Black Lives Matter.

It was powerful.

It was also peaceful. It was respectful. It was a remarkable portrait of our city’s diversity.

It demonstrated the strength of human conviction. It showed us the importance of seeing beyond ourselves toward something much greater.

It underscored the depth and extent to which we care about each other. Not just as fellow residents, but as people… people who share such common and fundamental beliefs about the importance of life, love, and respect for each other.

In so many ways, it showed us what we believe Canada to be.

Black lives matter. And the issues raised by Black Lives Matter loom large for all of us. Racism, discrimination, policing resources and tactics, poverty - these are critically important issues we cannot ignore.

All of these issues prompt us to reflect on who we are as Winnipeggers…as Manitobans…as Canadians.

Senator Murray Sinclair said “we must endeavor to become a society that champions human rights, truth, and tolerance not by avoiding the dark history, but rather by confronting it”.

He is so right.

Confronting it is what over 15,000 Winnipeggers had the courage to do in support of Black Lives Matter, and it’s what we, as a community, need to continue to do.

Why?

As we look around our world today, we can so readily see attacks on human rights, diversity, and many of the ideals we hold dear as Winnipeggers and Canadians.

Diversity is Winnipeg’s reality. And it’s fundamental to our city’s survival – economically as well as culturally. 

A growing population is a key sign of a healthy city.

And immigration has been a key driver in our city’s population growth, a population on track to becoming a million people strong.

Immigration as a driver of growth means our diversity is only going to increase which means that building a more inclusive city for existing and new residents really matters.

Winnipeg is forecasted to reach a population of almost 775,000 this year.

Our city’s population grew more in a single year last year than it did in the ten years between 1990 and 2000.

Between 1991 and 2006, immigration was the source of only nine percent of our population growth.

By contrast, from 2006 to 2016, immigration was the source of 90 percent of our growth.

This growth is expected to continue. And immigration will continue to be its key driver.

I have little doubt about the extent to which our city’s success depends on our ability to continue embracing diversity for Winnipeg’s population today and tomorrow.

This will depend on our collective efforts to fight racism affecting all those who call our city home today and our willingness to keep our eyes, ears, minds, and hearts open to new residents tomorrow.

Why?

It’s simple. Because, in turn, that diversity is opening doors to greater opportunities for all of us.

People from around the world are choosing Winnipeg as their home. And we still have much to do to help make it feel like home for everyone. 

That is why we recently created a Human Rights Committee of Council, the first of its kind in Canada that we know of. This new committee is prioritizing the city’s current work supporting human rights, diversity, equity, peace, and inclusion.

It is examining ways to enhance education and training on human rights and inclusion policies for the public service. One of the first action items from the Human Rights Committee of Council, that was then adopted by City Council earlier this year, is the first ever Newcomer Welcome and Inclusion Policy and Strategic Framework. The Strategic Framework provides strategies and actions for “A City without Racism” including enhanced pubic service training on anti-oppression and anti-racism matters. These efforts need to be supported with urgency. That’s why I will be working with my Council colleagues on measures to accelerate the public service’s implementation of the Strategic Framework. 

Black Lives Matter and other community stakeholders have certainly brought funding levels for police into much sharper focus. They have also encouraged us to question police tactics and deployment to a greater extent than before.

Statistics Canada’s annual Police Resources in Canada report says operating expenditures across Canada for policing reached $15 billion in 2018. It shows that expenditures have been increasing nationally since 1997.

 Winnipeg has not been immune to this trend.

As I’ve continued to state publically since taking office, policing costs in Winnipeg have historically been rising at unsustainable levels, exceeding overall city expenditures by a large margin.

Currently, our police and fire-paramedic services, combined, represent almost 50 percent of the city’s budget.

While police funding over the last five years has been brought more in line with inflation, the police budget adopted in 2020 is $304 million.

It’s a lot of money. Dollar-for-dollar, it’s the largest of all tax supported departmental budgets. And this year marks another historic level of annual funding.

We need to ensure these tax dollars are invested well, and deliver good value because our police service is one that is unique as well as essential.

Those who serve as sworn officers are the only ones who can legally enforce our laws. We need them. Not just to keep us safe, but to also uphold many of the principles underpinning our democracy.

But too often, police officers are called upon to fulfill duties beyond their scope.

Statistics Canada estimates that 50% to 80% of police calls across Canada comprise incidents such as alarms, disturbances, domestic disputes, traffic accidents, sick or injured persons, overdoses, and mental health-related calls.

We need to find ways to be more efficient in how police and other emergency resources are allocated and dispatched.

Handling these types of health and social issues requires us to think creatively and innovatively to reduce demands on police so they can do what only they can do: enforce our laws, arrest criminals, and investigate crimes.

The city’s participation in the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative is doing just that. This project is examining an innovative, made-in-Winnipeg way to better align the type of agency being dispatched in response to 911 calls with the needs of the resident calling in mind. In the coming weeks I will be asking our public service to provide a public update on these important efforts. In addition, I am anticipating that our public service will formally report to City Council with recommendations in the fall, which I expect will include needed changes from other levels of government and their agencies.
 
We also urgently need our provincial government to provide more effective programming to better support those struggling with mental health issues, families in crisis, addictions, and homelessness. This is why I have written the Premier and asked him to publicly communicate how the provincial government is measuring outcomes in these critical areas of provincial responsibility so that we can all work to support these efforts.

Public Safety is another area where provincial and municipal governments need to work together. 

Earlier this week, the new Chair of the Winnipeg Police Board took immediate action to ensure the Board made an official written submission to the provincial government to support their ongoing review of the Police Services Act. There are a number of recommendations included that seek to increase the effectiveness of the Board as a civilian oversight body, and I appreciate the new Chair’s attention to this matter.
 
Also in my letter to the Premier I have requested that urgent attention be given to the Law Enforcement Review Agency (LERA) in addition to the Independent Investigations Unit (IIU). 

Together, these bodies are important checks and balances on police conduct and their effectiveness is integral to maintaining public trust.

Now more than ever, the public needs to have greater confidence that these bodies are open, accountable and effective. 

The events in our city and in the United States over the last months have left many of us with unspeakable grief and anger.

We cannot remain blind to the racial tensions in our city and country. All of us have a responsibility to challenge racism and discrimination when we see it.

It can feel daunting. But I remain hopeful.

As Winnipeggers, as Manitobans and Canadians, we know how to fight for freedom and fairness, and to build a better city, country, society, and world.

And we know how to push with urgency and humility, through peace and partnership, and in a spirit of honesty.

I absolutely believe we have the capacity to mend some of the profound hurts and injustices we see today.

Because until we do, we will fall short of what we believe Canada to be.

That’s why I will continue to listen and act on new ideas that will help our community move forward together.

Back