In preparation for Regina’s 2020 municipal election, the Sask Dispatch asked progressive community members, activists, and experts to pick one pressing issue facing the city, and write about how to address it. Michelle Stewart and Richelle Dubois, two long-time community activists, share their thoughts on defunding the police and making the city safer for Indigenous people, poor people, queer people, newcomers and other racialized and marginalized folks.
How long have you lived in Regina and what ward do you live in?
RD: I’ve lived in Regina for over 30 years. I just moved into Ward 8.
MS: I have lived in Regina since 2011 and live in Ward 3.
What is your occupation?
RD: Shelter Counsellor.
MS: Professor at the University of Regina.
Do you have a conflict of interest with any of the candidate(s) you talk about below?
RD: Meara Conway is our lawyer.
MS: I know Andrew Stevens as we are colleagues at the University of Regina.
How has the mayor and council approached the issue over the past four years? What have they promised to do about this issue if they’re re-elected?
RD: I would say that they work together: The mayor and the police chief work together. It is an old boy’s club. I would like to see what Fougere has done about homelessness and reconciliation, that’s for sure. Fougere doesn’t really say anything about policing in his platform. Fougere doesn’t have a platform on mental health and addictions. But these are some of the root causes of issues in our city.
The mayor and the police chief work together. It is an old boy’s club.
MS: If the issue is police accountability and defunding police then I would say that the current mayor has demonstrated that he is unable to have critical conversation about policing and police reform. Moreover, Fougere’s approach is to position himself as a supporter of police and that has impacted how the Board of Police Commissioners operates. Turning to the wards, Andrew Stevens does have the ‘Regina for Everyone’ segment in his platform, in which he is willing to name racism, but does not indicate a commitment to looking at policing specifically.
What kinds of political/social/economic factors do you think play into their response to this issue?
RD: Their agendas are more focused towards economic issues than the social issues that are plaguing the city. Going back to mental health and addictions, where is the money for these issues? I think the mayor and council are geared towards the upper middle class vote. When we were talking about Black Lives Matter this summer, no one was talking about reconciliation and how to change systematic racism, how to get rid of systematic racism. The only way to change current issues is to look at the root causes. If we look deeper, we would find systemic racism in the police force. We would see it starting there, and in the court system. We have to look at that, at how policing was done in the past, and how we’re still seeing the consequences of that historical approach to policing today. And we would have to look at the justice system: it was never geared towards providing justice to First Nations people and poverty-stricken people, it was geared towards ensuring the security of the upper classes. We have to look back and understand these histories if we are going to change things today.
The primary factor that allows systemic racism – and colonialism – to be buried or erased from most candidate’s platforms is privilege: the privilege to not make racism THE election issue.
MS: From my perspective, privilege. Let’s look at the mayoral candidates. We have what appears to be largely white slate of candidates – most of whom have avoided the key issue facing this city: racism. Racism is playing out in all sectors and in the daily experiences of residents. The primary factor that allows systemic racism – and colonialism – to be buried or erased from most candidate’s platforms is privilege: the privilege to not make racism THE election issue.
How does attention or lack of attention to this issue impact the city as a whole? Who is impacted the most?
RD: The poverty-stricken people, lower class people, and people that have mental health and addictions conditions. The racism impacts First Nations people, people of colour, and 2SLGBTQ, and newcomers.
MS: I agree with Richelle’s answer. We can say that not addressing racism effects everyone but that is not actually the case. Not addressing issues of systemic oppression and racism impacts marginalized peoples and serves to further advantage white people on a daily basis.
How have other cities, like Prince Albert and Saskatoon tackled the issue?
RD: To my knowledge there is nothing that they have done over there to make a lasting impact on this group of civilians and bystanders.
Saskatchewan is a racist province that needs to reckon with issues in policing both past and present.
MS: Saskatchewan is a racist province that needs to reckon with issues in policing both past and present. We are the home of the Starlight Tours. Racialized policing practices are not just part of history. This is an active issue that must be addressed, including the right for families to receive equal access to justice and investigations (see for example the case of Haven Dubois and Nadine Machiskinic). We have not had significant police reform in decades. Every city needs to address police practices and police reform. That needs to happen at the provincial level by changing the Police Act of 1990. But it also requires that city councils and Boards of Police Commissioners understand the ways in which current engagement does not constitute transparency or civilian oversight. I don’t think that P.A., Saskatoon, and other cities have asked tough questions about policing and then brought about transformative change in the area of accountability, policing budgets, militarization of policing, and police in schools. This is what we are talking about: transformative change.
Are there cities that have had success addressing this issue?
RD: No, because it is an issue that is only being taken seriously in recent months.
MS: No, not consistently. I have written about some steps that have been taken. To rethink policing requires people with privilege, and those in power, to step back and reconsider all that they know about themselves and their privilege.
To rethink policing requires people with privilege, and those in power, to step back and reconsider all that they know about themselves and their privilege.
What can the city do to make the issue a priority? What would success look like?
RD: Do something. They could tackle the police budget. They could overhaul the justice system and health care systems. Success would look like a decrease in overdoses, homelessness, and clients needing to use treatment and detox centers. It would also look like a decrease in the number children in foster care system and a decrease of deaths of First Nations’ people dying in correctional facilities. These are all social issues that become police issues. These are issues that need to be addressed by better funding for mental health and addictions issues – not policing. Police are taught about use of force. We need people trained to de-escalate and take time to help people who are in crisis.
MS: Listen to what you are being told by residents. We are not in an era of measuring for successes, we are in an era of sustained marginalization. Politicians are being asked to do the obvious: address racism in this city. Bold moves must be made, not modest reform.
What can residents do to set the agenda on this issue?
RD: Continue to bring up the subject and continue to ask about the issue. When the candidates come to your door, ask them where they stand on these issues and what are their platforms? Then vote for the lesser of the evils.
When the candidates come to your door, ask them where they stand on these issues and what are their platforms?
MS: It is time for council, committees, and subcommittees to decolonize their practices. There is more attention given to the sanctity of enshrined practices than to those community members who raise concerns about how their loved ones were treated by police – in life and death. Residents have called for justice for years: who is listening to their calls? Residents have made their concerns known: change the Board of Police Commissioners, address systemic racism in the city, adopt a harm reduction strategy that is evidence-based, take down the John A. Macdonald statue and remove the names of genocidal figures from streets, monuments, and buildings. Residents have vocalized the issue, council needs to demonstrate they are listening.
Is/are there particular candidate(s) for mayor or council who you think would do well at addressing this topic?
RD: I would say that Jim Elliott is the only person that has taken the time to talk about these issues and he has been involved in community events for a number of years.
The candidate(s) that will do well will be those that are willing to stop talking and start doing the tough work of reconciliation.
MS: No matter the outcome of the election, mayor and council should receive comprehensive harm reduction training to better understand how to address mental health and addictions in the city. An evidence-based approach to addressing mental health and addictions, responsibly, involves “strengthening” agencies that provide supports and services in our community – not police. Most candidates have a truncated understanding about policing issues in the city, as demonstrated by their platforms. While some candidates do speak about reconciliation, we will see what happens when they take office. As Indigenous lawyer and advocate Dr. Pam Palmater argues, “if it feels good, it’s not reconciliation.” So, the candidate(s) that will do well will be those that are willing to stop talking and start doing the tough work of reconciliation.