Kelowna Daily Courier
Feb 13, 2021
A call by B.C.’s human rights commissioner to deploy fewer police officers and use the money saved to pay for infrastructure and services to make communities safer, including more housing, is not garnering any support from Kelowna city councillors. “I don’t personally think it’s a case of one or the other,” said Coun. Gail Given. She said in Kelowna’s case, the need for more RCMP officers is pressing and is being addressed by council, while city partnerships with other organizations and the province is helping provide more social housing.
Kasari Govender spoke to the all-party committee currently reviewing B.C.’s Police Act on Thursday and told it the homeless and those in poverty have far more interactions with police. As such, police should be “de-tasked” where possible and the money saved used for housing and other services. But Given said in a growing community like Kelowna, more cops are needed to meet growing demand. Kelowna is currently the fast-growing city in the province and fourth fastest in Canada, according to recent statistics. But prevailing wisdom at City Hall says Kelowna is playing catch-up in numbers of officers after years of being under-serviced. As a result, council has steadily added more RCMP and bylaw officers in recent years, as well as more civilian support staff.
This year, the city will add eight more cops, with 11 more approved in the 2020 city budget. Currently there are 202 full-time RCMP officer positions funded by the city. In the last four years, a total of 42 officers were added to Kelowna’s RCMP detachment, in addition to nine additional bylaw officers and 36 support staff. But the police have not been the only focus, said Coun. Luke Stack. He said the city has been successful in getting the province to build social housing here. Since 2017, 269 new units of social housing have been built in developments across the city. Additional shelters have also been opened, albeit often amid controversy as area residents have, in most cases, opposed their location. Stack said the human rights commissioner’s call sounded to him like a “simplistic solution to a complex problem. … In Kelowna, we need more police officers,” he said. “We have been underserved. But we also need to do more to help people on the streets.” He noted Kelowna’s Journey Home initiative, with its goal of 300 more housing units for the homeless over five years and the push by Mayor Colin Basran as part of the B.C. Mayor’s Caucus for more complex care housing, as just two examples.
Coun. Ryan Donn said because the city pays for policing, and social housing is a provincial responsibility, simply cutting back on one does not mean the money saved from one would automatically go to the other. He said the city typically provides land for provincial social housing projects as part of its partnership with B.C. Housing, and over the next few years plans to triple the amount it spends on land for those projects. That would bring the total to $600,000.
Both Coun. Mohini Singh and Maxine DeHart, echoed the sentiment that social housing should not be provided at the expense of hiring more police officers in the city. “I would not be in favour of robbing the number of officers to pay for housing,” said DeHart, adding it’s a complex issue, not one of simply passing money from one area to another.
Mayor Colin Basran, and councillors Charlie Hodge, Brad Sieben and Loyal Wooldridge could not be reached for comment prior to deadline.