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Divest from Police to Re-Invest in Communities

For Black History Month, the Institute launched a policy series highlighting bold policy solutions in order to tackle anti-Black racism, focusing on the need for intergovernmental action. Each submission proposes a plan for governments to work together to tackle a problem; while serving as a guide for advocates working towards [what should be] our collective effort to eradicate anti-Black racism. 

Gun violence continues to be a chronic social cancer festering in the margins of municipal metropoles across Canada. Impoverished and under-resourced Indigenous, Black and racially disadvantaged communities bear the brunt of the burden of our country’s gun violence problems. So, when the CBC  reports that, “Shootings have been on the rise for the past few years,” we cannot view these facts with a colourblind public and collective conscience.

When examining gun violence it’s important to remember that inter-civilian and state-civilian gun violence are not morally or structurally equivalent. The state has a monopoly on the legitimate use of lethal force. So, when police shoot or kill a civilian, due to the profound power imbalance between police and civilians, police-involved gun violence always triggers a deep tear in the social contract that governs our communities. Both inter-civilian and police-involved gun violence have different but still disastrous impacts on communities, especially on Black, Indigenous and racially disadvantaged communities most commonly affected.

Considering the above, in support of Canada’s Black communities and the pressing need to eliminate the devastating impacts of gun violence, my proposal is that Canada adopt an Intergovernmental Gun Violence Prevention Strategy. This Strategy would seek to address the causes and consequences of this violence by centering the impact gun violence has in communities, instead of overemphasizing a focus on the the individuals responsible for the violence.

Addressing the impact of gun violence requires comprehensive and coordinated interventions from all three levels of government. This is because in most major Canadian cities Canadians rely on municipally-directed police services that are empowered by provincial legislation and dependent on various Canadian border protection services to keep illegal guns out of Canada. Moreover, access and availability to health and community services for communities impacted by gun violence is a multi-level government affair. Our health and social services are public health institutions that are heavily reliant on federal transfer payments — and are simultaneously implicated in mending the physical and social fissures that are a cause and consequence of eruptions of gun violence in communities across Canada.

While the government of Canada has endeavoured to initiate an intergovernmental approach to gun violence already, this effort fails to adequately address the root causes of this violence. The current approach is overly reliant on policing and prisons as the solution. For instance, in November 2018, the federal government announced an $85 million commitment to law enforcement to address gun and gang violence, while committing $7 million to Toronto for a community healing program to prevent and assess this issue. This lopsided funding ignores decades of literature that shows that creating inclusive community economic development and social well-being in communities is the best public safety measure we have against gun crime and associated violence in communities. As such, the new strategy I propose here, would be focused on creating robust education, jobs and training opportunities, and by doing so, prioritize cutting at the roots of this problem.

Recognizing that guns are tools of the trades in profit-driven worlds of crime, this Strategy would focus on aggressively supporting and facilitating full and effective participation of Black and other at-risk racialized young people in the formal economy, including, in the areas of tech, construction and the trades. The aim of the proposed Strategy would be to create more viable economic options to compete with illegitimate trades in drug, sex and merchandise that drive much of gun violence in communities. In sum, this new Strategy would focus on creating conditions of economic safety and well-being in impoverished communities through intergovernmental policy, planning and service delivery.

A national anti-gun violence strategy, focused on community development and safety would also likely lead to community well-being improvements: access to social well-being services, such as counselling and other mental health services, would gradually increase.

Finally, this proposed approach to gun violence offers immense opportunities for innovations in socio-economic policy and programming development across Canada. These innovations would not only improve the lives of members of Canada's Black communities, but the lives of all Canadians.

Anthony Morgan is a Toronto-based human rights lawyer, community advocate and municipal civil servant.