Defund VPD: Divesting from the police, investing in the people

Flora speaking at an event on 58 West Hastings (April 2018)

Defunding the police seems to be the topic for the last few months. Everyone is wondering: should it be done, or should it not be done. In my view it’s the right thing to do. There are just too many cops using the badge as a way of trampling on our rights and even taking lives.

The truth is that when Indigenous people look at the police, we just see legalized thugs – we see the “Gang in Blue.” There is so much historical distrust of police that is part of a history of trauma on Native and Black people. But it’s not just the past. The police still harass, bully, and yes even victimize the minority people with violence and scare tactics. Too often the police have a free licence, especially against Aboriginal people, Black people, and in the past few decades people who are homeless and people with addictions.

The first cop ever investigated for any wrongdoing in Canada was way back in 1949. Back then the complaints went unheard and there were always “no grounds to investigate.” Not that much has changed today. Still today the killing of so many natives is not properly reported and documented.

I still remember many years ago as a teenager how brutal the cops were to us, and we were only young teenagers then.

I still remember many years ago as a teenager how brutal the cops were to us, and we were only young teenagers then. The police were so mean and filled with so much hatred, I could never understand what we did to deserve this treatment; I could not see what made these adults treat us so awfully. To think now about the words that they use doesn’t bother me anymore, but when you’re just a kid everything was taken in. They would call us “no-good dirty Indians.” Well, a lot has changed since then, and this Dirty Indian has a mouth and is ready to use it. Canada has an issue on its hands because we are getting educated, we are getting stronger, and we are becoming a nation again.

Chiefs and Indigenous leaders have been asking the Canadian government to give back what has belonged to us for thousands of years and give back that which was stolen. Some privileged people that occupy our lands would do almost anything to get rid of us, every last one of us. Today I can smile and say that all that has been done to get rid of the Indian problem has failed: we are still here, still standing strong no matter what you keep sending our way.

Flora at Our Homes Can’t Wait meeting (August 2019)

History and newspapers large and small have written so many articles of the outrageous treatment we have endured over the decades. But all of this can change by first acknowledging and taking responsibility for your ancestors’ treatment of Indigenous people. By that I mean your families and the politicians that did what they did. Everyone, including the police, needs to be taught the history of native oppression and Black slavery. Defunding the police should include retraining the police about our history – not just a day course, but an actual education on Indigenous and Black history. If the police worked with the people, there might not be so much hatred and resentment towards police.

Defunding the police budget makes a lot of sense to me. If you look up how much they make it goes anywhere from $177,000 to as much as $314,021 annual salary, plus expenses. That’s just crazy. They keep cutting or freezing income assistance, old age pension, and most of all the funds that used to be given to the Aboriginals keeps dropping. Every year we hear of something new that gets cut out to “balance the budget” at the same time as police budgets inflate to pay for new police initiatives that the people never asked. These “new” projects just do more of the same – harass, control, surveil.  

We know that there are community alternatives to policing, waiting to be implemented and supported. I am a strong believer in a process known as Restorative Justice. I’ve worked extensively on restorative justice projects in Manitoba, and I can say that unlike our current criminal justice system, restorative justice is a genuine process of healing. 

It doesn’t happen overnight, and sometimes a restorative justice process can take months or even years. But it’s a different model. You talk to the victim, and the offender, and you put them into a sharing circle. The victim talks about the impact of what the offender did to them, how it affected them, how they felt. They talk openly and honestly about the trauma that’s been done and also the pain, as well as financially, their employment, and other factors. It begins to give the offender more of a broad sense of the negative impact they’ve had but might not be aware of. It begins a process of asking them how they feel about it, and asking “if you knew the impact would you have done something differently? Are you willing to do something differently?” 

Often victims of crimes are looking for an apology and understanding from the person who has done harm, as to how and why harm has been done. The offender, too, undergoes a process of healing because often nobody has ever asked them what caused them to do that; they are just automatically sentenced, judged, and then that’s it. They don’t take the time to focus on how this happened, and how things might have been different along the way. The restorative justice model we need would ask these questions and support this kind of healing. 

These kinds of alternative community justice models continue to be under-supported or cut out entirely. This keeps happening because the State and the Police know they can get away with it. Well enough is enough. After what happened with police in the United States, with the killing of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and the massive protests, I think now is the time for people in every province to rethink how to best use the police. A lot of the money for policing can be used to support homeless people, and assistance programs for families and people on disability, mental health training, and youth mentorship. We need to stop hiring more members of the Gang in Blue.

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Flora Munroe is a Board Member of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), an organizer with Our Homes Can’t Wait and the VANDU Housing Committee, and the facilitator of the Women in New Directions (WIND) group. She lives in Surrey and works in the Downtown Eastside. She is a member of the Misipawistik Cree Nation.