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FORUM: Defund police gains traction (Feb. 2021)

March 5th, 2021 · No Comments

Pilot projects underway to fashion a better approach

By Mike Layton

By voting to fund the Community Crisis Support Service pilot this month, city council took the first step towards systemic change in how we approach 911 emergency response calls. This five year pilot will create a mental health primary first responder team that will answer mental health crisis calls in key areas of our city.

The more I‘ve learned from experts and advocates, the more it is clear that we have lost sight of how we show compassion to people in crisis, and that a huge number of 911 calls would be better responded to by mental health workers, social workers or other trained professionals whose job it is to be able to help people in crisis and experiencing trauma in non-violent situations.

Last summer, there was a sense of urgency with community calls to defund the police. We all felt it. 

Despite a global pandemic, Toronto, and the world, protested against the status quo in policing. That status quo includes persistent and systemic racism against Black and Indigenous people with consequences that are often deadly. While many of us took the time to reflect on this, there is still a lack of clarity around calls to “defund the police.”

Re-investing money from police budgets into alternate forms of community safety are of paramount importance for our communities because the number of fatal interactions continue unabated. 

Consider the following recent list of fatalities; 

  • D’Andre Campbell (fatally shot by Brampton police in his own home, 2020).
  • Chantall Moore (fatally shot by police in Edmunston, NB, 2020).
  • Ejaz Ahmed Choudry (fatally shot by police after his family called the non-emergency help line in Mississauga, 2020).
  • Rodney Levi (fatally shot by police in New Brunswick, 2020).
  • Stewart Kevin Andrews (fatally shot by police in Winnipeg, 2020).
  • Jason Collins (fatally shot by police in Winnipeg, 2020).
  • Eishia Hudson (fatally shot by police in Winnipeg, 2020).
  • Caleb Tubila Njoko (fell from balcony during interaction with police, London ON, 2020).
  • Regis Korchinski-Paquet (fell from balcony during interaction with police, Toronto, 2019).

We cannot continue to look away, and allow this list to keep growing.

Three of the pilots will be implemented in areas where calls for people in crisis are the highest in Toronto;

  • Northwest Toronto (Wards Etobicoke North, Etobicoke Centre, York Centre and Humber River-Black Creek)
  • Northeast Toronto (Wards Scarborough Southwest, Scarborough Centre, Scarborough-Agincourt, Scarborough North, Scarborough-Guildwood and Scarborough-Rouge Park)
  • Downtown East (Wards Spadina-Fort York and Toronto Centre)

A fourth pilot will serve Indigenous communities, recognizing the history of Indigenous peoples and their negative experiences with policing. This pilot will be Indigenous-led and co-developed with Indigenous communities.

All four pilots are set to work with health care providers, including community health centres and not-for-profit organizations, that provide mental health and substance use services. This is meant to ensure that anti-oppressive, user-centred care continues after the initial intervention. 

The pilots aim to create multidisciplinary teams of crisis workers with training in mental health and crisis intervention, de-escalation, situational awareness, and field training, prior to the pilots’ launch in 2022.

The team design is based on a set of guiding principles that were created and compiled through community consultations and a round table in late 2020.

The consultations were directly focused on amplifying the voices of Indigenous, Black and 2SLGBTQ+ communities as well as those with lived experience of substance use, mental health challenges, human trafficking, and gender-based violence, as well as racialized youth, newcomers, undocumented Torontonians, the Black Francophone community and those with lived experience of poverty and homelessness.

Mental health service providers, frontline workers from organizations that deal with mental health in the justice system, frontline emergency responders, hospital staff and those who work with the homeless/precariously housed, were also considered as key stakeholders.

Those who will eventually be chosen as part of the team will be incorporating a harm-reduction and trauma-informed approach in all aspects of the service. The service will also be grounded in the needs of the service-user, which will hopefully work to ensure accountability to service users’ voices and outcomes by establishing clear pathways for complaints and issues to come directly from those who will be most affected by the service.

My greatest concern is in making sure that we invest enough money so that this model succeeds as an alternative emergency response, and not just another mental health response program. I would like to take this time to thank  all those who reached out to my office, and city staff for their hard work on this issue. Transformative change is never easy, but you can count on me to continue to push for a better future for our city.

As always, my staff and I are here to assist in any way we can. Please don’t hesitate to contact my office by email or call 416-392-4009 to let us know your questions and concerns.

Mike Layton is the city councillor for Ward 11, University—Rosedale.


Tags: Annex · Opinion