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Mayor calling for police reform on minority relations

Mayor Cam Guthrie outlined the details in a motion set for Thursday.

Mayor Cam Guthrie on Wednesday said that he will ask the police chief to create an action plan to engage those who identify as Black, Indigenous and people of colour throughout the community in what he called a first step towards meaningful action.

File photo of Cam Guthrie. GUELPH POLITICO/Adam Donaldson

“Over the last two weeks I promised our community that I would listen, be intentional and both focused and learn of the issues surrounding systemic racism and intolerance towards our [BIPOC] community within Guelph,” Mr. Guthrie said in a statement.

“Conversations have only just begun and I am committed to continue having respectful dialogue on these issues that result in both understanding and meaningful positive change.”

Along with his role as mayor on city council, Mr. Guthrie is also a sitting member of the Guelph Police Service Board, an oversight body made up of five residents that holds the service accountable.

The request for a report on current police engagement with the BOPIC community and to determine a way forward, as well as a report on Guelph Police’s use of carding, will come forward as a motion on Thursday from Mr. Guthrie at the board.

The request comes amid social unrest worldwide sparked by the killing of George Floyd, an African-American, at the hands of a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, in late May.

A few thousand demonstrators marched through the streets of Guelph on June 6 in support of the Black Lives Matter anti-racism movement, with speakers rallying protesters against police violence and calling for systemic change.

“Today we are here to stand for something we believe in. It is enough of the police brutality and the violence that our BIPOC community faces,” organizer Kayla “Kween” Gerber told a roaring, diverse crowd during the march.

The demonstration took place in tandem with gatherings across the country, and around the world, continuing the momentum that started with the killing of George Floyd — an African-American — at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis in late May.

Many of these protests have included calls for a significant decrease in police funding with more funds allocated towards public health initiatives and services that offer support for the vulnerable in a community, such as illicit drug addicts and those who are homeless.

One of the only levers municipalities have over local police departments in Canada and the United States is annual fiscal budgets, with some cities using funding to find new ways to tackle public safety and leading to a “defund the police” movement growing in some communities.

However, those hoping for Mr. Guthrie to defund police will likely be disappointed as the mayor ran on a re-election platform in 2018 that included adding more police officers to the local force.

Earlier this year, the mayor successfully passed a 10 per cent increase to the police budget that paved the way to a planned hiring of over 30 new full-time positions within the service.

However, Mr. Guthrie included among his 14 motions to the board that police senior leadership should work with the Police Services Association to “strive for a 0 per cent budget increase for the year 2021,” with options to achieve it are present to the board by Oct. 1 this year. 

Deliberations to tackle police reform by the mayor are the not the first by elected officials in Guelph.

On Tuesday night, the Upper Grand District School Board’s trustees appeared to show significant support for a task force to review police presence in schools, a proposal expected to be passed next week. The local Catholic school board is also headed in that direction.

Should the Upper Grand District School Board remove police from the hallways and classrooms of the institutions it oversees in the Guelph and Puslinch areas, it would not be the first to cut ties with police since Floyd’s death on May 25.

In Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed by Derek Chauvin as three other officers looked on, the local school board decided in early June to terminate its relationship with the police department. Closer to Guelph, the Waterloo Region District School Board decided to suspend its police presence pending a review.

GuelphWire has reached out for comment from the local Black Lives Matter organization.