SAULT STE. MARIE -- A petition calling for the Sault Ste. Marie to "defund" its police service is gaining traction in the city.

The petition asks council to reallocate 10 per cent of the Sault police budget to social and mental-health services.

"There's a huge crisis because of a lack of care facilities, a lack of hospital beds, a lack of physicians, a lack of social services -- there's a huge crisis in cities right across Canada," said Paulette Steeves, Algoma University Professor and Canada Research Chair.

Steeves is one of more than 1,200 people to sign the petition as of Friday. She said defunding the police is not about removing police, but making the system more efficient.

"Our officers end up having to deal with mental-health calls all too often -- not just here, but across the country," she said. "They're simply just not equipped to deal with the jobs that trained psychiatrists or ER officials should be doing."

Steeves said police should only be called when there is potential for violence. That's not the case right now.

"Officers will end up sitting in emergency rooms with the person in distress, because they're not trained to deal with that situation," she added.

The petition was sparked by a growing movement across North America, following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police.

Since then, protests have been held around the world.

"Mental health is not racialized, but there are, in some places, higher numbers of (people of colour) that have mental-health issues, while they definitely suffer higher rates of socio-economic and political disparities," Steeves said.

"If you look at the statistics, you would see that people of colour and non-people of colour have both died at the hands of police, due to their mental-health problems, which is why we need to address this."

The Mayor of Sault Ste. Marie agrees more work needs to be done to build up those supports in the city.

"But the issues they're raising in the petition, our social services net, those are issues that belong to the provincial government to deal with," said Christian Provenzano. "If you took $3 million from the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service, you would significantly affect its operations."

Provenzano said any money taken from police can't be put into the health-care system, because it's funded both provincially and federally.

He added that a reduction in police services without any investment in place would be damaging.

"There's a problem in underfunding the health-care system, so let's address that," he said.

"However, I don't think the solutions this group proposes is practical, to take that money away from policing with no real plan."