Author Robyn Maynard says Canada's political class is ignoring sea change in public opinion on defunding police

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      When the Straight reached author, Black feminist, and police defunding advocate Robyn Maynard by phone, the first question concerned the Vancouver police board's budget fight with the elected city council.

      The police board, which is mostly made up of provincial government appointees, has refused to accept a budget freeze from council, arguing that it amounts to a reduction because of higher wage costs.

      So even though the Vancouver Police Department's budget rose from $200 million in 2010 to $340 million in 2020, the police board has asked the unelected provincial director of police services to review council's "$5.7-million cut".

      Maynard, who's based in Toronto, conceded that she wasn't completely caught up on the details.

      So she preferred to speak about the broader issue of defunding police forces and redirecting the savings to other "noncarceral community-safety measures".

      "We’re seeing strong support across Canadian society, with polls showing up to approximately 50 percent—or just under—of the Canadian population in support of defunding," Maynard said.

      She described that as a "real sea change in terms of public opinion". 

      But according to her, there's been "an outright refusal at the level of the political class to take that seriously, to push toward defunding".

      "We’re even seeing resistance to things like spending caps," Maynard added. "Because one thing that has been continually been unquestioned over recent decades is the ongoing increasing in budgets for policing."

      That, she said, has occurred even as important areas such as long-term care and public education have been defunded.

      Maynard recently assembled a community-resource document outlining strategies to defund police forces.

      Entitled "Building the World We Want: A Roadmap to Police Free Futures in Canada", it explains how to advance a long-term objective of abolishing police by "building community-based responses to harm, need, and conflict that do not rely on surveillance, policing and punishment".

      "What it does is first lays out the broad array of demands that fall under the rubric of defunding or of police abolition," Maynard said. "And also what it does is collates some of the really vital movement work that is happening all across the country, including on the West Coast."

      For example, it includes a section on a Black Lives Matter Vancouver demand to get police liaison officers out of local schools. 

      The document also places arguments about police abolition in the context of a broad strategy of liberation for Indigenous communities.

      "Police have continually refused to protect Indigenous people from the violence of settlers, from the killing of Coulten Boushie to the violent destruction of the Mi'kmaw lobster fisheries," the document states.

      Video: Author Robyn Maynard talks about her 2017 book, Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present.

      Maynard also speaks out for sex workers

      Maynard is also author of Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present

      She described policing itself as "violent". According to her, that's apparent in the long list of Black and Indigenous lives that have been lost at the hands of police.

      And this, she insisted, goes well beyond the individual officer who's been charged with murder after taking Minneapolis resident George Floyd's life last year.

      "Convictions don't prevent police from killing Black people, right?" Maynard said. "So what we really need to do is end policing."

      She also noted that empirical research has demonstrated that the criminalization of sex workers has facilitated violence against them.

      That's because laws have criminalized their livelihoods and disrupted their ability to work safely indoors with other people.

      "That's been demonstrated as early as the 1985 Fraser report, for example," she said.

      The former Conservative government passed Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act in 2014 to criminalize the sale and advertising of sexual services.

      This came a year after the Supreme Court of Canada's Bedford decision had struck down three prostitution laws.

      Maynard hasn't been surprised by the Liberal government's refusal to rewrite the legislation since coming to power in 2015.

      That's because these very same Liberals have also fought a human rights ruling ordering Ottawa provide equal child welfare services to on-reserve Indigenous children as the provinces are offering to off-reserve children.

      Moreover, she said that criminalizing activities engaged in by marginalized populations has a serious impact on their ability to work and pay their bills.

      "That’s why the decriminalization of sex work along with the decriminalization of drugs, along with the decriminalization of poverty, are central pillars of very basic but absolutely necessary and life-saving shifts toward ending the wholesale criminalization of Black people, of Indigenous people, of migrants, of homeless people, of people with disabilities,” Maynard declared.

      University of British Columbia Connects presents Beyond the Police State: A Conversation with Desmond Cole and Robyn Maynard online on March 12 from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.