Peel police not prioritizing Black voices, advocates say; report shuns request for anti-Black racism committee
Despite what has been labelled a “crisis of confidence” between community members and the Peel Regional Police, a report headed to the police services board on Friday recommends against establishing an Anti-Black Racism Advisory Panel, a move that has the potential to elevate community voices and help board members make critical decisions about diversity, equity and inclusion.
The report, written by the Peel Police Services Board executive director Rob Serpe, states that due to a number of other ongoing initiatives within the PRP organization, and other partnerships that exist within the community, the committee is not necessary.
“There does not appear to be a gap that would be filled by establishing a standalone Peel Police Services Board anti-black or anti-racism advisory panel,” the report states.
The recommendation is being slammed by Dave Bosveld, an anti-Black racism activist who made the initial recommendation to establish the panel in April. Bosveld says Black voices are not being heard around the board table — none of the members of the board are Black — and the advisory panel would be a valuable way to hear from a community that consistently has disproportionately negative interactions with the police.
Community advocates say Black voices are not being prioritized by the Peel Regional Police or the services’ board.
(Peel Police Services Board)
“That lived experience is what is missing in both the leadership of the Peel Regional Police and the services board,” he says. “We’re not asking for the moon and the stars, we’re literally just asking for a voice at the table.”
Bosveld pointed to a number of issues with the report, stating it completely missed the point of his initial recommendation.
The report highlighted 11 other Ontario police services of which only two, Toronto and London, have dedicated anti-racism advisory panels. Bosveld says that is no reason not to create one in Peel, which because of its large visible minority population, should be putting an emphasis on these types of issues.
“To say that nine of 11 very dissimilar regions aren’t doing something like that, therefore we don’t have to, is an absurd argument,” Bosveld says.
Only 2 of 11 police services referred to in the PRP report have anti-racism panels. Advocates say that is an opportunity for the PRP to be a leader in dealing with anti-Black racism.
(Peel Police Services Board)
For the last two years, the Peel Regional Police service has been working on recommendations made in a diversity and inclusion audit completed by the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI), which described the PRP as an organization that systemically discriminates, harasses and punishes those who come forward with serious concerns.
The CCDI report described a “change-averse” organization with leadership unwilling to step away from the status quo.
“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.”
This change can be driven by the police services board whose mandate is to govern the police service and ensure “effective police services.”
The recent recommendation to the board is a sign that the work to improve the organization and heal relationships with the community, especially the Black community, is not being prioritized.
The recommendation follows a long line of organizational decisions that have continuously done harm to Black community members in Peel.
Between 2009 and 2014, data reported in the media showed carding, the process of random street checks, by Peel police had targeted Black individuals at more than three times the rate compared to whites. Despite representing only nine percent of the population at the time, Black people were involved in 25 percent of the carding stops.
Recent years have seen several police shootings involving members of the Black community, including the deaths of D’Andre Campbell, Jamal Francique and Clive Mensah along with the shooting of Chantal Krupka.
Last year, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) found the decision by two Peel officers to handcuff a six-year-old Black girl was motivated in part by her race.
The HRTO decision found the force used by the two officers during an incident at a Peel school in 2016 was “disproportionate to what was necessary to provide adequate control and amounts to a clear overreaction in the circumstances.”
“While the officers had a legitimate duty to maintain the safety of the (young girl), others and themselves in circumstances where (her) behaviours were challenging and might have created a safety risk, this did not give them license to treat the applicant in a way they would not have treated a White six-year-old child in the same circumstance.”
Problems between Peel police and Black communities in Brampton and Mississauga have existed for decades, with considerable evidence of a force that has fostered a racist culture.
A landmark Ontario human rights case resulted in an alarming 2007 decision.
After a 2003 incident involving explicit racial profiling, Jacqueline Nassiah won her fight against Peel Police.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission and the Tribunal that handles hearings in cases found the Black woman was racially profiled by police and subjected to disturbing conduct.
The commission released a statement at the time:
“In February 2003, Peel Police were contacted to investigate a possible shop-lifting allegation at a large department store in Mississauga. The Tribunal found that Ms. Nassiah had been wrongly apprehended by store security on suspicion of stealing a low-priced item despite her repeated and impassioned denials. The Tribunal further found that Richard Elkington, a Peel police officer, conducted a discriminatory investigation that included:
- Stereotypically assuming that a Black suspect might not speak English,
- Assuming that the White security guard was telling the truth and that the Black suspect was not, without properly looking at all the evidence, including a videotape of the alleged theft, which exonerated her
- Adopting an “assumption of guilt” approach to the investigation by immediately demanding that Ms. Nassiah produce the missing item
- Unnecessarily arranging for a second body search after the first one had demonstrated that she did not have the allegedly stolen item
- Continuing with the investigation, rather than releasing Ms. Nassiah, even after the second body search confirmed that she did not have the stolen item
- Spending up to one hour pursuing an allegation of theft, in the face of fragile evidence, for an item worth less than $10.”
The Peel Police officer called the woman a “f---ing foreigner” and “threatened to take her to jail if she didn’t produce the missing item.” Nassiah was eventually released after store security realized they had made an error.
Peel police refused to work through a mediated settlement in the case, and the chief at the time, Mike Metcalf, publicly stated he did not agree with the findings and would not endorse the requirement for racial-sensitivity training ordered by the Human Rights Commission.
The following binding directives were handed down to the force, as a result of the case, but they were largely ignored, as revealed in evidence in later human rights cases against Peel police:
- Peel police must hire an external consultant with expertise in racial profiling to assist in the preparation of the new directive and training materials
- Peel police must provide the name of the expert and the contents of the new directive and training materials to the Commission for its review to confirm compliance with the Tribunal’s orders;
- Peel police must ensure that all new recruits, current officers, the officer in this case, Mr. Elkington, new and current supervisors are trained on the new directive, the social science literature on racial profiling and the current caselaw, and advise the Commission when such training is complete.
The chief human rights commissioner, at the time, Barbara Hall, stated, “Ms. Nassiah’s experience reveals the unfortunate reality of racial profiling in our society… The Commission is always willing to work with police services to effect change. But when such change is not forthcoming, the Commission will pursue similar public interest remedies as ordered by the Tribunal in this case.”
Metcalf openly said he had little interest in cooperating with the human rights commission.
That was almost 15 years ago.
Since then, other high-profile racial profiling cases against Black residents in Peel have made the news. In 2011 the force racially profiled Isaac Williams, a 60-year-old Black Brampton resident, who was put into custody despite bearing no resemblance to the suspect in a break-and-enter case, who was six inches shorter and one-third the age of Williams.
The force did not apologize and would not admit that racial profiling had occurred.
In 2013, in a largely symbolic move, a $125-million class-action lawsuit was filed against Peel Police in the Ontario Superior Court by plaintiffs who alleged systemic racial profiling by the force.
A few years later, when the issue of carding was front and centre across Ontario, former chief Jennifer Evans made a stunning declaration in 2016, after a series of community meetings were held in conjunction with provincial efforts to address the increasingly harmful practice of random street checks, which Evans had refused to stop a year earlier despite a vote by the board to do so, led by Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie.
A report commissioned by Evans grossly misrepresented what Black residents had stated in their personal accounts during the meetings, when they described chronic profiling and police targeting in random carding stops carried out constantly by Peel police officers.
She reported to the board that many of the Black youth who attended the meetings only showed up because they were offered free pizza, suggesting they were compelled to claim they had been targeted by police in return for a free meal.
Board members, including some who had attended the meetings were stunned, and ordered Evans, who could produce no evidence to support her wild claim, to remove it from the report presented to the board. Former Brampton mayor Linda Jeffrey, who was a board member at the time and had attended the community meetings, said the report produced by Evans largely misrepresented the personal accounts shared by Black residents, including a teacher who had to explain why he was wrongly stopped by police in front of his young children.
Earlier this year, Bosveld once again had to deal with an issue all too familiar to Black residents in Brampton and Mississauga, when his 17-year-old godson was mistakenly arrested in a homicide case.
Bosveld told media that officers from Peel Regional Police and Toronto Police “boxed in the teen's vehicle, smashed at least one window, fired flash bombs into the car and then dragged the youth out of the car before handcuffing him.”
"It was a dynamic takedown and this boy's traumatized as a result," Bosveld told Global News in April. "He thought he was going to die in that moment."
His godson suffered a leg injury, cuts on his face, and some bruising and pain in his upper body, Bosveld said after the mistaken arrest.
The teenager was eventually charged with an unrelated driving offence.
"It appears that there was an attempt to criminalize him," lawyer Christien Levien told Global.
The force said after the wrongful arrest it was reviewing what happened.
"It's bothersome," Levien added. "If the police are going to be working within our communities, there's a need for accountability when mistakes are made."
"It's horrible,” Bosveld said at the time. “No kid should have to go through this. It's a completely gut-punching feeling. This is a case of racial profiling and this is a case of shoddy police work."
With the report heading to the board Friday, once again, it appears leadership has little interest in restoring trust among Black communities.
“There is a crisis in confidence regarding PRP and the violence and terror inflicted by this organization on Black and Brown people within the Region of Peel,” Bosveld wrote to the services board in April.
After the killing of George Floyd early last year sparked worldwide protests against police treatment of Black communities, including here in Peel, Chief Nishan Duraiappah vowed that change was coming.
The Peel Regional Police organization has established an anti-racism committee, created in partnership with the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) which serves in an advisory role for the police organization to deal with racism related issues. The police services board and its seven members have no such panel. PRP’s committee is also running into issues after one member resigned due to the actions of officers involved, stating the organization “consistently demonstrated its lack of respect for the community it serves.”
The partnership with the OHRC came after years of criticism dogged the police force that does not reflect the Peel community it serves. Based on the 2016 Census, 65 percent of Brampton and Mississauga’s residents were visible minorities and half the population was female. In 2020, there were 2,236 uniformed officers employed by Peel Police; 78.9 percent were men. Visible minorities comprised only 27.9 percent of the force, while 1.1 percent were Indigenous. People with disabilities made up 0.2 percent of PRP.
Many other organizations in Peel are facing pressure to better reflect the community. The Peel District School Board is in the midst of a transition led by a Provincial takeover that is working to undo years of systemic racism. Both the City of Brampton and the City of Mississauga have established efforts to better connect with Black communities, including Mayor Bonnie Crombie’s Black Caucus (Crombie is also a member of the police services board), and Brampton’s Social, Cultural & Economic Empowerment & Anti-Black Racism Unit.
The report suggests that because these initiatives are in place at these separate organizations, there is no reason to do so with the police services board. Initiatives focused within the corporation of the City of Mississauga or City of Brampton do not impact the police services board.
“This report is very naive in its vision,” Bosveld says.
While it recommends against the creation of the anti-Black racism panel, it does suggest the formation of a Diversity and Inclusion committee. A request for comment sent to Serpe to clarify the difference between the implementation of an anti-Black racism panel and a diversity and inclusion committee, and whether this new committee could deal with the issues raised by Bosveld and other community members, was not returned ahead of publication.
Bosveld says that often, issues of anti-Black racism are lumped in with diversity and inclusion, which he says is a mistake.
“If you separate out the various diversities and you say where do we have issues, the issues are around anti-Black racism in policing. You want to hone in on where the specific issues are, and not to diminish anyone’s experience, but South Asian communities and white communities and seniors and women, for example, do not experience police the same way that Black communities do.”
“It has to be named, it has to be called out, and it has to be addressed or things will never change,” Bosveld says.
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