Cuts to community groups would send wrong message

Previously published in the Winnipeg Free Press June 25, 2024

Concerns about crime and safety in Winnipeg have been featuring prominently in the Winnipeg Free Press, most recently in relation to the release of the Winnipeg Police Service’s 2023 annual report, which shows that although property offences and crime overall decreased compared with 2022, violent crime and youth crimes, especially offences involving violence, are trending upward. 

Raising these concerns has been accompanied by lots of talk about “getting tough” on the root causes of crime. Even the police are now saying “We can’t arrest our way out of this problem” and “We need other solutions that are addressing the root causes.”

Mayor Gillingham has indicated that he has raised the crime issue in Winnipeg with both Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier Kinew, and that governments need to work together to address the root causes of crime. While collaboration of all three levels of government is necessary, the City of Winnipeg has a responsibility to do its part in addressing the root causes of crime.

Addressing those root causes involves making sure that people are getting access to the social supports they need in order to avoid or move out of troubles with the law. That’s exactly what Winnipeg’s community-based organizations are doing.  CBOs provide recreation, educational and cultural activities for youth, food security for families, housing and shelter, safe spaces, mental health and addictions supports — and the list goes on.

For almost two decades, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Manitoba, in its annual State of the Inner City reports, has been documenting the important work of these organizations to push back against the impacts of racialized poverty in Winnipeg’s inner-city communities, where the poverty rate is almost twice as high as the city average (25% versus 13% according to the 2021 census when people were receiving CERB) and 1 in 5 people identify as Indigenous (compared with just over 1 in 10 elsewhere in the city). The inner city is also where many newcomers live upon arrival to Canada, and has a high proportion of Black and People of Colour (37%). The recently released 2024 report notes that Winnipeg’s inner city is in crisis mode due to poverty, safety concerns, the continuing impact of the traumas of colonization, and crumbling infrastructure. It calls for renewed public social and economic investment from the City, Province and Federal governments.

Yet, just at a time when inner-city folks need social supports the most, the City of Winnipeg is moving to undermine the work of CBOs. In its recent budget — to be considered by City Council on June 27 — the City is proposing to cut its Community Grants Program funding by $2 million — from $3.4 million to $1.3 million starting in 2025. In addition to reducing the amount available, the monies will no longer support core funding but only specific projects, which will hinder the ability of CBOs to provide consistent and reliable supports that enable them to foster ongoing relationships with those they serve. Organizations will also be forced to compete for private donations from United Way Winnipeg, the Winnipeg Foundation and other funding bodies, thereby putting additional strain on these resources.

As well, cutting funds to community agencies actively engaged in promoting community safety, well-being and crime prevention runs counter to other Council initiatives. The City has identified “a livable, safe, healthy, happy city” as one of five key themes in its Strategic Priorities Action Plan, 2023-2026. One plank of that theme is to “co-create a city-wide community safety, well-being, and crime prevention action plan in collaboration with community-level partner agencies and stakeholders.”  It’s hard to fathom how those community-level partner agencies will be in a position to even contribute to such a plan if they are busy scrambling for funds to keep their programs running and doors open.

If Council approves these cuts on June 27 — notably at the same time the proposed budget freezes business taxes — it will send a message to Winnipeg’s CBOs that their work is not relevant or valued. It will also send a message that our Mayor and Council are not prepared to back up their talk of making Winnipeg a “livable, safe, healthy, happy city” by directing money to the very organizations with the capacity to undertake that mission.

Elizabeth Comack is a distinguished professor emerita in the Department of Sociology and Criminology at the University of Manitoba and a research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Manitoba. The 2024 State of the Inner City report “A Call to Action for a Just Transformation of Winnipeg’s Inner City” is available at