My name is James and I am a member of the organization Winnipeg Police Cause Harm. I am here to speak against Item No. 18, the Value in Kind Grant for the World Police and Fire Games. Specifically, we are calling for the rejection of this proposal to award another $500,000 to the so-called “games,” and instead redirect those funds to life-sustaining services.
The World Police and Fire Games should not be happening in Winnipeg at all. The so-called “games” were created in the late 1960s in California in explicit response to Black liberation struggles and resistance to the Vietnam War. A 1997 article in the Calgary Herald, where the so-called “games” took place, described its origins as wanting to "bring peace to a panicking California police force" as "the States were heating up with racial riots and anti Vietnam War protests" and "police officers began feeling the stress — physically and mentally." Another article summarized: “Police officers required some fun and games to take their minds off bullets and bombs.” The so-called “games” are a blatant celebration of carceral violence and repression of racial and left-wing struggles.
The context has not changed at all. The last few years have seen Winnipeggers show up again and again at rallies, marches, and delegations demanding an end to the racist and anti-poor violence of policing and the carceral system. The demand has been abundantly, relentlessly clear: defund police and refund community. Yet in response, the City has not only further increased police funding — with the WPS receiving an $8.3 million increase in mill rate support in the 2023 budget — but is continuing to promote, subsidize, and defend these so-called “games” that will bring thousands more cops, border guards, correctional officers, and immigration agents to take over the entirety of the city.
It is once again prioritizing the interests of police and capital over every other resident of Winnipeg, especially those who are poor and racialized and face the brunt of state violence. This is incredibly clear from the composition of the organizing board, which includes three WPS officers and two WPA directors, representatives from the RCMP and CBSA, and executives from the Business Council of Manitoba and KPMG Canada.
All of this brings me to this specific agenda item. This proposal is far from the first subsidy for these so-called “games.” The City has already subleased office space to the organizers for a single dollar and covered secondment of a WFPS representative, worth a combined half million. Then there’s the up to $1.5 million from the City’s Special Events and Tourism Fund. Then there are the smaller subsidies like the upgrading of Maple Grove Park, the delaying of new regulations on short-term rentals to protect bookings during the so-called “games” (see remarks on pg. 20 and 22), and the extension of the temporary patio registration program. There there are the contributions from higher levels of government, including $4.9 million from the province and $2 million from the federal government. In total, the so-called “games” are expected to cost $17 million, although I’m sure that figure will rise.
We hear constantly that these so-called “games” will pay for themselves and more. A presentation by Economic Development Winnipeg only last week estimated total direct spend of the so-called “games” at less than $11 million. But even if spending matched or vastly exceeded the $17 million, it still wouldn’t matter because that is not worker income or public revenue but profits for the owners of restaurants, hotels, stores, and Airbnbs. Taxes like the accommodation tax, PST, and GST will recoup a fraction of that total. Like with so much facilitated by council, this is nothing more than an enormous public subsidy to private owners. These so-called “games” will also be occupying a tremendous amount of public space and facilities through the city, undermining access to them by actual residents who you supposedly work for.
Today’s proposal takes all of this to an event more egregious level. Firstly, there’s the additional $500,000 approved in the recent budget, doubling the city’s direct contribution. This will apparently help subsidize the cost of venues, paramedic services, and special duty police officers. Then there’s the relinquishing of revenues from sponsorships and rentals of city-owned properties for the “games” in the name of efficiency and fairness, which is yet another backdoor subsidy. But by far the most appalling aspect of this agenda item is the plan to provide fare-free transit for all participants, volunteers, organizers, and family members for the duration of the “games.” Given the horrendous state of transit in this city and the ongoing refusal by the city to adequately fund service, this is completely beyond parody and further reiteration that these “games” are not for actual residents of Winnipeg but out-of-town cops and violence workers.
Winnipeg Transit is still operating at a six percent service cut from pre-pandemic levels. Once again, this city is foolishly banking on significantly rebounding fare revenue to cover service costs while barely increasingly mill rate support. There’s a sizable driver shortfall and pass-ups continue to plague routes like Blue, the 11, and 75. Proposals to study the benefits of a $1 or free bus fare have been repeatedly shot down by committees. And it was only a few years ago that that council ended the incredibly successful Downtown Spirit, a free bus line that provided vital transit service to many oppressed peoples in the city’s downtown. This city has categorically refused to fund transit at the level required to win back ridership, including through significant fare reductions. Many people who count on transit for getting to work, grocery stores, medical appointments, leisure, and carework continue to be marginalized. And I won’t even get into the sidewalk clearing policy that has received a great deal of attention recently.
But now, the city has apparently found the political will to use public dollars to fund free transit for thousands of people who don’t even live here? This is deeply embarrassing and shameful. In addition to the profound ethical and political contradictions here, there’s also the major logistical question of how transit is going to be able to provide reliable service for thousands more people without reallocating operators and vehicles from other routes. If that’s not the plan — and I surely hope it isn’t — where are these additional drivers and buses going to materialize from? And most importantly, why is this kind of service only being imagined for a celebration of carceral violence, rather than to benefit people who live here and suffer through dismal service every single day.
Today’s proposal is a sham. In a city that actually respects its residents, I would expect EPC to categorically reject it and immediately reallocate funding to life-sustaining services like safe consumption sites and the public washroom on Main Street, which the city claimed only a month ago that it couldn’t find the money in time to fund for 24 hours a day. More generally, the political commitment to these “games” should be replaced with a dedication to ensuring that Winnippeggers themselves are the focus of council’s attention, like ensuring the rec budget is sufficient for parents to easily book their kids into swimming lessons.
But we all know how this is going to play out. Council will continue to subsidize these so-called “games” because you work for capitalists and the police union, not for the working-class and victims of state violence. This publicly funded party for cops, prison guards, and ICE agents is a sham in its entirety. We will continue to fight for their cancellation in the coming weeks and months, and for the reallocation of police budgets to life-sustaining services that actually keep people safe.