Police board slams Quebec’s anti-diversity move, but says little about the force’s own problems with discrimination
Months have passed since the Peel Regional Police board was handed an audit that highlights systemic discrimination within the organization, but little has been done to address these issues found to emanate from a senior police leadership and past police board culture blind to the problems and unwilling to make changes.
The audit report presented to the police board in March by the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI), which conducted the work over almost two years, concluded that the force does not reflect the changing community it serves: "This is an issue identified by individuals and advocacy groups in the Peel Region, and one that the Police Services Board believes needs to be addressed right away."
Findings of the CCDI Equity/Diversity audit of Peel Police
The report has a number of recommendations including the creation of a "data-driven" approach to ensure equity and diversity practices in hiring and promotions as well as a number of other quantifiable measures that can be constantly tracked to ensure the force conducts itself in a fair and representative manner, while reflecting the community it serves.
But on Friday, months after receiving the report and its recommendations, instead of addressing diversity and equity problems in its own force, the board that oversees it decided to focus on diversity issues in Quebec, passing a largely symbolic motion to address the neighbouring province’s recent stance on curtailing the expression of religious beliefs.
During Friday’s meeting of the Peel Police Services Board, interim chief Chris McCord delivered an update on the implementation of the diversity and equity audit completed by the CCDI in March. Aside from engaging CCDI to assist with further implementation of the audit’s recommendations, little in the way of concrete action has been taken. The audit was launched in 2016, and the previous police board, particularly former chair Amrik Ahluwalia, faced a harsh backlash from former chief Jennifer Evans and senior officers for initiating the probe into the force’s equity and diversity practices.
Interim Chief Chris McCord
McCord stated that part of the issue over the last two months has been finding guidance from other organizations that have implemented similar recommendations. McCord told the board that steps taken by other organizations simply didn’t match what was needed for Peel Regional Police, and others were implementing change on an ad hoc basis. The Ontario Human Rights Commission has stated that institutions facing equity problems need to establish a clear, integrated path to address ingrained problems that can lead to complete institutional breakdown, especially in a region as diverse as Peel, where some organizations have failed to understand the need to reflect the changing community.
“I want this to move forward with something that is tangible, measurable, and that we can use effectively for Peel Regional Police moving into the future,” McCord told the board.
It will be no easy task for the PRP, with the CCDI audit highlighting deep-rooted issues that are contributing to systemic discrimination in the organization and a large disconnect between the frontline officers and senior leadership, while many in the public grow increasingly wary of the force that’s supposed to protect them.
The only current board member who has taken a firm stance on the force's problems with equity and diversity is Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, who was not present at Friday's meeting. She took on former police chief Jennifer Evans in 2015, demanding an explanation as to why the force's carding practices targeted Black residents and calling for the random stops to end (Evans ignored her request). Crombie and former Brampton mayor Linda Jeffrey were the driving forces behind the equity audit in 2016, and when the results were released in March, Crombie was the only current member who came out with strong words in support of the disturbing findings, acknowledging that "systemic" discrimination exist in the Peel police force and that "to be aware of it and how it occurs is the best way to defend yourself and address it and overcome the systemic bias and racism that exists."
Board Chair Nando Iannicca described the audit findings as "sobering" in March, adding they are a "true" reflection of the force, and served as a "road-map" with a plan to "measure" the problem going forward.
The Pointer has for months highlighted the breakdown between Peel police and the visible minority groups in the region that have lost trust in the force because of its ongoing conduct. In the two cities patrolled by the force, Brampton and Mississauga, where two-thirds of the population identify as visible minorities, 20 percent of the uniform officers represent visible minority groups. Recent data on carding, known as street checks in Peel, showed that Black individuals were more than three times as likely to be targeted in the random police stops, compared to whites. When the figures were first obtained by the media, former chief Jennifer Evans, who resigned in January, promised to publicly explain why her force had been targeting Black residents, but she left without doing so. She remains under investigation by the province’s police watchdog, the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, for possible misconduct after the botched investigations of the separate murders of members of a Black family in Mississauga. The Harrison family has questioned if race was a reason why the investigation was badly mishandled.
In 2017 the force was publicly embarrassed when the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario ruled the force discriminated against a highly decorated South Asian-Canadian officer who was denied a promotional opportunity into the senior ranks, despite being better qualified than candidates who were accepted into the promotional process, because he was discriminated against on the basis of his “race” and “ethnic origin”. The disturbing case revealed evidence during the public hearings of widespread racist language and attitudes in the force, including one senior officer posting a racist cartoon in his office, the sharing of racist jokes by email and senior officers who were indifferent to crime in visible minority communities. The Human Rights Tribunal ruled that Peel Police devalued policing in the region’s large South Asian community after hearing evidence and testimony by officers who described a management culture that was indifferent to the systemic discrimination.
It was a shocking wake up call in the two cities, where citizens groups and other advocacy bodies had for years pointed out to the police board the consequences of a largely white police force dealing with public safety in two cities where two-thirds of residents are not white. The breakdown of trust had a direct impact on public safety, critics warned, as violent crime continues to be a major concern of residents, many of whom have publicly stated they do not feel the police force is equipped to do its job.
Many of these concerns were confirmed by the disturbing equity audit released earlier this year, after former chief Jennifer Evans and other senior officers lashed out at the previous board for launching the probe into the force’s diversity and equity problems three years ago.
Quotes by Peel Police officers in the CCDI audit report
The 142-page document reinforced many of the complaints and concerns that have been raised by community advocates for years, and describes a police force that doesn’t represent the fast-changing, diverse community it serves, raises barriers for racialized members of the force, punishes those who speak out, and has turned a blind eye to systemic bias.
According to 2017 data from the force, 20 percent of uniform staff were racialized (425, out of a total uniform complement of 2080), while PRP’s jurisdiction, Brampton and Mississauga, is 65 percent visible minority and aboriginal. Non-uniform, civilian staff are slightly more representative of the community.
Numbers for 2018 show that 60 percent of new uniform hires last year were classified as racialized persons, a figure that while showing promise, has left many critics to question why the force only took real action to improve its representation of the community after the Human Rights ruling and the launch of the audit in 2016.
According to the CCDI audit, 93 percent of police leaders believe the force is committed to diversity and inclusion and that it exhibits fairness, consistency and flexibility.
“In contrast, only 41 percent of focus group respondents had a positive response to this question,” the report says, with straight, white, able-bodied men being the most likely to agree. “None of the Racialized or Newcomer respondents responded positively.”
Quotes by Peel Police officers in the CCDI audit report
The review by CCDI included one-on-one interviews with PRP senior leadership, two public town halls, a census and inclusion survey of employees (garnering 1,808 responses out of 3,048 workers, including civilian staff), and focus groups. A disturbing 79 percent of Peel police employees who took part voluntarily in focus groups reported experiencing harassment or discrimination within PRP, while 90 percent of participants reported witnessing such behaviour.
The CCDI report places most of the blame for these issues on senior leadership, with a majority of employees describing the organization as “change-averse” and “elitist.” The report says almost three-quarters of police leaders and members of the board “do not seem to recognize that barriers exist or [believe they] rarely exist for certain groups at Peel Regional Police.”
About a third of the PRP leaders in place in 2017-18 “indicated their belief that these systemic oppressions do not exist within PRP,” while others suggested they believe “these oppressions manifest only as individual acts of meanness.” These leaders, the report says, don’t make “the connection that these oppressions are systemic in our society and therefore are also in our organizations.”
However, when rank-and-file employees were asked if “everyone benefits from equal access to resources and opportunities” within the PRP, only half of the more than 1,800 who filled out a survey offered a positive answer. According to Michael Bach, the founder and CEO of the CCDI, an industry benchmark for such a question is 70 percent.
Mississauga Mayor & Police Board member Bonnie Crombie has been outspoken about the need to improve equity
Despite the force's recent contention that it has begun to address systemic problems, the CCDI report states, "there are significant challenges related to the rigidly hierarchical paramilitary organizational culture of policing in general, as well as identified aspects of the Peel Regional Police in particular… . Some of the fundamental issues cannot be solved by more programs and initiatives, or changes to policies and directives. This suggests a need for more extensive culture change. We recommend that PRP create a task force or working group involving members of the Chief’s management group and others throughout different ranks and divisions within the organization to identify the culture PRP wants to create in the future, what aspects of the organizational culture need to change and/or can reasonably be changed, and use a rigorous change management approach to embark on an organizational culture change initiative."
McCord’s report highlights that steps are being taken to create a Diversity and Inclusion Project Team, but the timeline for when this group of 12-15 PRP members would be formed was not made clear. According to the report, members of the team will be selected by CCDI following an application process “to ensure the members selected represent a truly inclusive cross-section of the organization.”
Questions sent to the board by The Pointer about the project team, specific timelines for implementing new policies and initiatives and other work being done to address the CCDI recommendations only received a general response that the force is working toward changes.
The update report presented by McCord also notes that a Diversity and Inclusion Specialist will be hired to assist the PRP in creating a “fulsome, multi-year” implementation strategy. However, when this specialist is set to begin work was not made clear.
“CCDI have been permitted to lead this process, reporting to the Chief of Police on their progress,” the board’s executive director, Robert Serpe, wrote in an emailed response. “The Police Services Board will receive updates from the Chief on an ongoing basis. These reports will be reported on in the public board meetings.”
Peel Police Board Chair Nando Iannicca called the audit findings "sobering"
Questions sent to CCDI seeking further details around the audit’s implementation were not returned as of this publication.
To date, the only item that has seen any movement is an internal shift that moves the Uniform Recruiting Bureau under the purview of the Office of the Chief.
“The structural change allows the Chief’s office oversight relating to the hiring practices of the Recruiting Bureau and ensuring that an equity lens is placed on our recruiting practices and processes,” the report notes.
Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown did not comment on the equity audit’s progress, but he did highlight another step taken during Friday’s board meeting as evidence of the PRP’s open and inclusive nature.
Following a motion from vice-chair of the board Ron Chatha, the PRP will be posting advertisements in Quebec following the passage of Bill 21, which bans public servants from wearing religious symbols while on the job. The intent of the PRP advertising is to encourage those seeking careers in policing in Quebec, who may be impacted by this bill to apply in Peel Region.
“I think today is pretty symbolic, to be the first police force in the country to actually advertise in Quebec where as they may be becoming more exclusive Peel Region is stepping up to say we’re proud to be inclusive,” Brown told The Pointer following the meeting.
In a statement released after the meeting, Brown described the Quebec bill as “a challenge to religious freedom and an infringement to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
“If we don’t stand up for religious freedom in Brampton, which is the most culturally and religiously diverse city in Canada than who will? We will also ask the Brampton Fire and Emergency Services to advertise in Quebec promoting career opportunities in Brampton. The values of diversity and inclusion are important to our City,” the statement reads.
Equity advocate Ranjit Khatkur, co-founder of the Peel Coalition Against Racialized Discrimination, who delegated to the board in 2016, highlighting a long history of discrimination by the force, and calling for the diversity audit that was subsequently launched, says the new police board “will be judged by its actions.”
P-CARD co-founder Ranjit Khatkur at a recent police board meeting
“I applaud the Brampton mayor for acknowledging the problems with Quebec’s recent bill. But tens of thousands of people in his own city want to see him take steps he can directly control as a board member who oversees a police force that needs to regain the trust of its community and has to become better equipped to ensure public safety here. That will only happen if the force accurately reflects its two cities, develops the cultural competency to do investigative and intelligence work here, while building deep relationships with people who just want to feel safe.”
As for Chatha, the new vice chair of the board who is a close acquaintance of Premier Doug Ford and was appointed by the PC government to the board, Khatkur questions his motion that focuses on Quebec.
“He didn’t say a word about the audit of the force he now oversees. Maybe he should look after his own responsibilities to turn around this troubled force before worrying about attention grabbing moves that use diversity as nothing more than a political ploy and have little impact here. As far as his motion to get more applicants in Peel from Quebec, trust me, there are thousands of qualified candidates in Brampton and Mississauga, who know the community, speak the languages and have a deep connection here, while reflecting our values. They’re trying to get onto the force. Our organization hears from them all the time. They represent the key to turning this police department around.”
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