Toward police abolition and true community safety
Claudette Beals-Clayton speaks about daughter Regis Korchinski-Paquet's death. Photo: Laura Proctor.

Towards Police Abolition and True Community Safety

In response to outgoing mayor John Tory’s $48 million dollar increase to the Toronto Police budget, which already topped $1 billion, Claudette Beals-Clayton had a lot to say. “$50 million for what?! It’s not the rich [who take care of the poor], it’s the poor. Take that money and put it back into the community.”

Beals-Clayton is the mother of Regis Korchinksi-Paquet, a woman she says was killed by police on May 27, 2020.

Beales-Clayton spoke at a unique event where, for the first time, mothers of those murdered by police in the GTA had organized a community event to share their stories with the community. On a cold January evening, she urged the packed halls of the downtown Church of the Holy Trinity to reconsider how we view public safety. “I made a call,” Beales-Clayton says, “and I lost my daughter.”

As arctic temperatures swept the city at the the end of January, shelter advocates, through tears, reported having to turn away close to 1,500 human beings into temperatures that would likely result in frostbite, loss of limbs, or death.

That meant nothing to then-Mayor John Tory and the 14 other city councillors who voted in early February against keeping warming centres open 24/7. That would have cost about $400,000 a month.

Adding 80 cops to harass and displace the unhoused from the TTC? Over $1 million a month.

Tory refused to leave City Hall until his austerity driven budget was rammed through, cementing losses for Toronto’s funding-starved services and increases for the Toronto Police.

While stories of social decay and violence dominated, City Hall and the Ford government worked overtime to manufacture a moral panic in order to justify their law-and-order agendas.

So, while shelter beds, support workers and long-term housing options are routinely slashed, City Hall offers increased policing as a solution in place of caring for people.

The thing is, it’s the city’s policies that are simultaneously pushing communities struggling the most onto trains and buses in search of shelter. And then the extra police criminalize them for doing so.

If “transit is a microcosm of the city,” as Matti Siemiatycki, director of the Infrastructure Institute at the University of Toronto says, it isn’t hard to see what we can expect from the extra cops.

Knowing that support for defunding, disarming, dismantling and abolishing the police is at an all-time high, cops and politicians have tried to reframe themselves as part of the solution by co-opting the language of social movements. They call for commissions, and tell us that taking hard lines against their policies is unreasonable. They paint our opposition as the true threat to safety.

The fact remains that in this city the cops are everywhere. And they’re not here to protect people, tenants, the unhoused, the sick, or the hungry. They’re here to protect capital and profit. They arrive when you pocket The Weston billionaires’ $42-dollar marked-up chicken to feed your family, and when you huddle for warmth in your local park. They’re called when you cry out as shelter beds are full and when you flee to the TTC to warm yourself.

They are called when Black, Indigenous, and brown people attempt to move through the world both inside and outside their homes. The police are called to protect the richest in the city who feel offended when they see the poor trying to survive in public parks. They are called, against all research and common sense, when those most struggling need a community member with a friendly face to keep them safe.

If we’re to believe what City Hall and mainstream pundits tell us, we should be terrified of riding the bus. And, indeed, many people are scared. It all has many saying that addressing the city’s mental health crisis is the way to fix what’s broken. But that dangerously hides the desperate conditions people are forced into.

Tory and City Hall have only fanned the flames by placing more cops in the TTC.

One of the latest voices of reason, fortunately, has been Susan Davis, from the Gerstein Crisis Centre, who’s joined the chorus of mental health advocates, doctors and criminology experts telling anyone who will listen that “individuals living with mental health and addiction are no more likely to be more violent than the general public.”

Speaking to the CBC, Davis explained that it’s been people living with mental health needs who, in fact, feel overpoliced. When they are in the presence of cops, they “don’t necessarily feel safe or perceive greater risk.”

The Toronto Police Service’s budget outstrips all the funding offered to support the multiple rises ripping Toronto apart. But a better budget — while necessary — wouldn’t have fixed those crises on its own. Only political will and mobilization from communities will save lives and build a liveable future in Toronto.

Put another way, if we believe that policy changes cement the wins of social movements in the streets, then any co-optation of our messaging is a sign that the establishment is scared. We are closing in on a win that demands we all keep our eyes on the prize. Now is not the time to give in to false solutions like a little more money here or there.

The Another Toronto is Possible Coalition is a network of organizers, activists, academics and community members who have come together in response to a rising tide of support for real solutions. The goal is full abolition of the police and the new organization of a city and its services without carceral politics, collusion with law enforcement, or services accessed in fear of everything from carding and arrest to deportation.

By centering the stories of those who’ve lost lives to police violence and organizing with our unhoused neighbours, we are fighting the false notion of policing as a solution to austerity and injustice. Together, we are building power through the mass mobilization of our communities and brave storytelling, with the abolition of the police as our “North Star.”

And our voices are growing louder.

That cold January evening, Regis Korchinski-Paquet’s father, Peter Korchinski, spoke after his wife.

With his voice breaking, he recalled how on that May 2020 evening, his daughter Regis, a young Black and Indigenous woman, had “called out, ‘Mom, help! Mom, help me! Mom!’” Moments later Regis was forced over the balcony by police, according to family members.

Another speaker, Anthony Marriott, who had barely survived after being thrown by police from an 11th-storey balcony years earlier at age 17, was also there, sharing.

“Enough,” Peter Korchinski sighed as he took steady breaths, fighting back tears as the crowd chanted for police abolition. “It’s time.”

This article appeared in the 2023 Feb/Mar issue.