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Vancouver council votes to fund new police officers, mental health nurses

Premier David Eby announced $230 million to bolster the RCMP over three years. The announcement comes as Vancouver City Council approves up to $16 million to hire new officers and mental health nurses — a key campaign promise from the new mayor.

Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim’s key campaign promise has taken another step forward as city council has approved funding to hire 100 new police officers and 100 mental health nurses.

On Tuesday, council approved a plan to allocate up to $16 million in the 2023 budget to fund the program.

Initially, the plan involved giving $4.5 million to the Vancouver Police Department, with $1.5 million directed to Vancouver Coastal Health, however, those numbers were bumped up to $8 million for each, leaving the door open for federal or provincial funding.

Read More: Vancouver ‘misunderstood’ provincial funding, votes on mental health response plan

The annual cost for the project, which will be targeted at mental health-related calls, is pegged at around $20 million.

Mayor Ken Sim says the initiative will set a “new standard for policing in North America.”

Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung called the decision a bold step that is needed in the city.

“You cannot put a price on public safety, and you cannot put a price on mental health and wellness, and we cannot afford not to do this,” she said.

It is not clear where the extra money for the project will come from, with the motion stating council will identify a final funding source in the 2023 budget. Over two dozen people spoke against the motion in council’s previous meeting on the matter.

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After the motion was passed, the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade voiced its support for the initiative. President and CEO Bridgette Anderson says she’s “pleased to see swift action” to address public safety concerns.

“This investment represents a welcome response to the increase in vandalism and violent attacks we have experienced in the last two years, which has negatively affected both our community and our reputation as a safe, welcoming city,” she said in a statement.

However, not everyone is in favour of the plan.

Read More: Vancouver healthcare workers question Ken Sim’s plan to hire 100 nurses

Councillors, organizations oppose plan

Councillor Pete Fry was among the only members who voted against the motion on Tuesday. He questions the speed with which the decision was made.

“Frankly, there wasn’t a lot of thought and work that was put into assuring the rest of council that this was a well-researched motion. It seemed like it was really more of a campaign slogan with some relatively arbitrary numbers thrown out there,” he told CityNews Wednesday.

Fry says council only learned of the $16 million price tag for the project an hour before it was debated, after finding out $3 million wouldn’t be coming from the provincial government.

“I have real concerns about what this means for cuts to services for Vancouverites that we rely on. Things like libraries and parks and community centres and all the services that the City of Vancouver provides…what happens to all those services?” he said.

Also against the plan is the BC Crisis Line Network. Chair Stacy Ashton feels the funding could be better used elsewhere, and that having officers respond to mental health calls can be “hugely anxiety-provoking” if someone doesn’t trust the police.

“Their role is really public safety … to control a situation and to get folks to comply with their instructions,” she said earlier Tuesday. “When somebody is in crisis they are out of control, and the worst thing you can do in that moment is take even more of their control away.”

The funding for the project is expected to be made available in January 2023.

 

With files from Mike Lloyd and The Canadian Press 

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with the correct budget allocation. Vancouver City Council approved a plan to allocate up to $16 million in the 2023 budget to fund the program, not the original $6 million.

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