On July 23, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam answered questions from The Corner on two topics of vital concern to her constituents: the reallocation of the police budget, and Bill 184, deceptively named the “Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act.”
Councillor Wong-Tam clarifies how St. James Town residents would benefit from police defunding — both in terms of programs and services that residents have long needed, and in terms of safety and reduced violence. This may sound contradictory, but as the Councillor explained, an increasing proportion of the police budget, which itself has been ballooning without a payoff in reduced crime, goes toward militarization (for example in the form of heavier ammunition) and public relations. She points out that we can keep the highly valued Village Town Officers, whose presence in St. James Town the Councillor herself championed, while diverting those unhelpful forms of police spending into needed programs for youth.
She stresses that investment in reducing poverty and improved housing are also crucially needed for community safety. Though a formal motion to defund the police by a minimum of 10%, which Councillor Wong-Tam helped to bring forward, was rejected by City Council on June 29th, citizen demand for reduced police spending in Toronto remains strong and impassioned. It has been reinvigorated this summer as part of a continent-wide, young, and diverse social movement.
Bill 184, passed into law by the Ontario legislature on July 21, has become more popularly known as “the Evictions Bill”. In Councillor Wong-Tam’s view, the threat of large numbers of evictions under this new law is particularly high for residents of St. James Town and Ward 13, given the high proportion of people in these communities who have lost income during the pandemic. “I’m actually really scared. I’m scared for the residents of SJT… We know that once people lose their housing it’s very difficult to regain.” But she also emphasized that the law can be changed, and that “citizen power can be invoked”. Premier Ford can and should amend the law to restore tenants’ rights to a fair hearing, and Torontonians can and should demand that Mayor John Tory pressure Premier Ford to do so. Several days after we spoke, an important step in this battle was a vote of 22 to 2 by Toronto City Council to challenge Bill 184 in court.