EDMONTON -- Alberta's minister of justice and solicitor general asked mayors Don Iveson and Naheed Nenshi not to defund Edmonton and Calgary police.

Kaycee Madu, the MLA for Edmonton-South West, sent a letter to the mayors where he argued the concept of defunding the police is misguided and would not benefit racialized members of the community.

"An adequately funded police service is essential to ensuring these individuals are protected and provided assistance, such as when police are called for help or to investigate," Madu wrote. "So in contrast with what some are claiming, reduced funding poses risks — not benefits — to those groups.

"The police will remain an essential part of maintaining a safe and functioning society for all Albertans," Madu went on to say. "Police reform, not defunding, is the priority."


In response, Iveson said: "First of all, I'd like to ask if we can have the $5 million back if defunding police is not to be encouraged…What I’d like to see if the Government of Alberta is ready to spend that $5 million on the very housing actions that we're asking for that will improve community safety, reduce demand for policing services, reduce demand for the minister's own jails, and reduce the province's principal cost pressure area, which is health care, because there is a better and systematic response to this that would be strategic, and I'd like to have that conversation with the minister because I think that's what Edmontonians expect of their elected officials is for us to find solutions to complex strategies rather than what we're seeing here."

Iveson detailed he would want those funds spent on community supports, mental health programs and housing, in an attempt to make vulnerable Edmontonians safer.

In a statement to CTV News, the NDP's justice critic, Kathleen Ganley, said: 

"These threats from the Minister do nothing to help move that conversation forward. The Minister should stop threatening more cuts and let municipalities consult with their communities to do what's best for them, so we can address the root causes of systemic racism while balancing public health and safety."

Council began to debate the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) budget in June after the deaths of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks at the hands of police in the United States sparked protests in Edmonton and across the world where activists called for racial equality and police defunding.

A council motion asked administration to redirect $11 million from the EPS budget over 2021-22 to agency partners and a new process where officers, or a different uniform, attend low-risk calls without weapons.

Council also asked police and the Edmonton Public School Board to suspend and review the School Resource Officers (SRO) program, and last Friday, Edmonton Public Schools announced there would be no police officers in their hallways during the 2020-21 schoolyear.

The EPS budget, Edmonton's largest expense, is expected to grow to $388 million next year.

Black Lives Matter Edmonton previously asked council to disapprove an increase to the police budget and instead redirect $75 million to affordable housing, mental health initiatives, free public transit and community organizations that support marginalized Edmontonians.