Newly minted Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu is making his opposition to defunding law enforcement known, as Black Lives Matter demonstrations continue around the world to protest police brutality.
Advocates for police defunding often argue that reallocating some funding for police departments into resources like mental health supports would better help communities. Some proponents of the idea advocate for removing all funding for police.
Anti-racism rallies and defunding protests have been held in Edmonton and Calgary, among other Alberta communities, throughout the summer.
Madu said he believes resources should not be taken away from the police because of their important work in the community, adding that defunding won’t solve racism.
“The idea that we should take away money from our law enforcement at a time when we actually need them to be strengthened while at the same time dealing with all of those other issues is ridiculous,” he told Global News on Wednesday.
“That is not to say that we should not fund those other services,” he explained, citing the creation of the mental health and addictions ministry and the government’s $53-million investment in mental health funding announced in April. Madu said Alberta has enough resources like hotlines and social workers.
Madu — the only UCP MLA in Edmonton — migrated from Nigeria to Canada in 2005. He explained that he has had “nothing but friendly encounters with the police” and has the utmost respect for officers.
“Those are important institutions and extraordinary human beings that take on tasks that none of us want to be involved in,” Madu said.
If the justice system has been applied in a way that negatively targets minority communities, Madu said he now has the opportunity to deal with those issues as justice minister and solicitor general. He was appointed to the role on Aug. 25.
Madu questions how defunding the police will help with what he calls an upsurge in crime.
“Many of these communities have high rates of gang activities,” he said, mentioning that he has met with leaders from Edmonton’s Somali community.
“I do hear the concerns of the Black or Indigenous or minority communities about the application of our justice system and how the police use the tools available to them in a way that negatively impacts them,” he added.
“It’s a legitimate concern and I have heard it, but that is not an excuse to pull away the presence of law enforcement that will keep them safe.”
When asked about anti-racism protests, and the tactics used by demonstrators in some cases, Madu said he believes legitimate ways of protesting include going before government buildings and having town halls — “without embarking on any form of violence.”
Madu said we need to work together and have genuine conversations to make progress.
“As a lawyer, as a justice minister, and a Black person, a minority, I support the constitutional right to lawful and peaceful protest. What I do not support is any form of protest that leads to the destruction of property,” he said.
How does toppling a statue undo history, Madu asked, speaking about the recent damage done to a Montreal monument of former prime minister John A. Macdonald, whose Indigenous policies have increasingly come under fire in recent years.
“I do think we need to respect the work, time and investment put in by those artists, but again, as leaders, regardless of whether or not we agree… I think it’s important that we acknowledge and recognize the contributions of those who came before us, who built this incredible country in the midst of all kinds of adversity and difficulties that they had to confront at that point in time.”
Societies build responsible citizenship when people understand both the good and bad parts of history, Madu said.
“I support the protests, but not the monument destruction or those who would argue that we should delete these historical figures from our curriculum,” he said.
“I think that would be a mistake and we’ll end up having half-baked educated people without a sense of where we come from.”
What Madu says he is doing to help
Madu said the Alberta government will address concerns about law enforcement on issues like carding and profiling while making sure police have the right tools to do their job.
“Within the police force are bad apples, but the vast majority of [people who] join the police force, they swear an oath to protect and keep us safe and they put their lives and the lives of their families at risk to keep the rest of society safe,” he said.
“I don’t think that helps anyone to, in a broad stroke, demonize an entire force that is made up of men and women who do amazing things in our communities.”
Madu said he is directing his department to review the Police Act, working with municipal police chiefs to ensure there is a responsive complaint process.
“That is critically important because you want the public to have confidence in those institutions, so that is part of strengthening the police force,” he said.
Madu said he has also directed his ministry to come up with options to ensure that “no one out there, regardless of where they come from — ethnicity or otherwise — [is] discriminated against,” in an effort to tackle carding.
A problem that affects us all
Madu explained that racism is real but we have made tremendous progress.
“I don’t want to be partisan on this particular issue because racism doesn’t give a damn whether you are conservative or liberal, whether you are from the left or from the right,” he said.
“This is a problem that affects each and every one of us.”
All talk and no action doesn’t get results, Madu said, noting he is proud of his party.
“Yes, we don’t like to talk about some of these things, but when we have [the] opportunity, we are pulling the lever. If you are in doubt, I want you to go back in history and look at this country or province, look at the [firsts] in some of these political progresses that we have made,” he said, citing himself becoming the first Black justice minister in Canada, and Lincoln Alexander, a Conservative who became Canada’s first Black MP.
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