Police board’s silence on effort to rebuild trust with racialized youth latest sign of disconnect with community
In two cities where two-thirds of residents identify as visible minorities, the sound of silence around systemic discrimination in public institutions is like a broken record, without the music.
Once again, the Peel Police Services Board seems to think it’s doing a wonderful job on equity and inclusion, in the face of the latest piece of evidence that shows otherwise.
For 22 years, police ‘school resource officers’ (SROs) would patrol schools and engage in disciplinary actions against “some” students. The program placed officers in Brampton and Mississauga high schools on a full-time basis to engage with students over concerns like bullying and other safety issues.
The goal of the officers was to promote the “well-being” of young learners.
The outcome of the program was often the opposite of its goal.
Peel police has tried to engage youth constructively but efforts have often had the opposite impact (The Pointer file photo)
Horror stories are finally coming forward of racialized children as young as six being shackled with their stomach on the ground, teens/young adults being assaulted and charged by SROs and routine racial profiling of students. These traumatic interactions affected the schools’ Black, Indigenous and other visible minority students disproportionately, according to a report presented to the Peel Police Services Board Friday.
Once again, board members displayed a complete lack of interest in rebuilding community trust with the very residents the force relies on to help prevent and solve crimes.
The report, which addresses how Peel police can create constructive relationships with students and youth, referred to a 2017 study by the Ontario Human Rights Commission on racial profiling in the province, which described the sanctioned presence of police officers in schools: “[P]olice and school administrators review camera footage of students, interrogate them and have described them as ‘perpetrators’... clearly criminalizing and racializing interactions youth have with the police on the streets… [which] are replicated in schools… Racial profiling in schools can have serious long-term negative effects on students.”
In November 2020, after societal issues of systemic racism took centre stage, Peel police’s SRO program was dismantled, indefinitely. The overwhelming evidence of profiling against students of African, Caribbean, Black (ACB), Indigenous and other diverse backgrounds left many asking, ‘What’s next?’
An initiative to engage the community and implement strategies to mend the broken relationship between Peel police and youth across the two cities was derailed early in the process. At a November 3 community consultation meeting with Black leaders, a white female Peel police officer demeaned many of those in attendance, questioned whether their experience of discrimination carried out by Peel police was legitimate, despite all the empirical evidence and a damning equity audit, and centred the entire meeting on herself and the struggles she faced as a white female officer.
Three sources present at the meeting detailed what happened for The Pointer. Community advocate Kola Iluyomade, who passed away this summer, confronted the officer, pointed out how her behaviour during a meeting to address anti-Black discrimination within the force was a perfect example of what the equity audit found—that many white officers refused to accept the systemic discrimination permeating Peel police—and asked for an apology.
On Friday, during the Police Services Board meeting, community advocate Idris Orughu asked why no apology had been issued by the force since the meeting in November was hijacked by a white officer who dismissed the experience of Black residents. He also detailed a number of ongoing problems with the force, including the failure to be transparent with communities seeking an end to discriminatory conduct against them.
Community advocate Idris Orughu has expressed the frusration many feel over the apathy and lack of transparency displayed by the Peel police board regarding equity and inclusion issues. (Isaac Callan-The Pointer)
Not one board member or senior officer present for the virtual meeting responded to Orughu.
Annette Power and Umwali Sauter, two women with extensive experience in research primarily in the non-profit sector, were hired by Peel police to address and provide an understanding of the problems, and recommend a way forward. They facilitated a report on how the SRO program impacted BIPOC students at Mississauga and Brampton schools and presented it at Friday’s meeting. The goal was to meet with community members, understand the impacts, develop strategies to move forward and identify how youth and police can engage constructively in the future.
The process took seven months and involved more than 75 participants from local education communities and parent groups, Peel District School Board (PDSB), Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board (DPCDSB), school trustees, advocacy groups, an Ontario Human Rights Commission representative, Peel police officers and Black residents who were students while the SRO program was active.
Multiple meetings and engagement sessions were recorded, including the controversial one on November 3, to understand the harmful effects of the SRO program on students in the two cities. The extensive research presented by Power and Sauter, explains how the officers were perceived by students due to their conduct, and how the program turned into a way for constables to practice “investigative skills” in order to get promoted.
According to the evidence presented, few of the officers recruited for the SRO program were properly engaged, often seen participating in athletic activities and hallway conversations that led to some students having a generally positive experience with officers, while other students had an opposite experience, depending on the individual officer’s goals.
The report acknowledged some of the officers intended to be accepted into the school community and were motivated to be role models and develop a positive interaction with the students.
“Other officers appeared motivated by training opportunities, improving investigative skills and pipeline to promotion,” the report states.
Instead of reducing incidents of bullying and helping students struggling because of social dynamics in school, many SRO officers saw the program as a way to further their career by surveilling students, investigating them for matters not part of the SRO mandate and helping the two complicit school boards create a culture of intimidation that targeted visible minority youth.
While the force under the leadership of Chief Nishan Duraiappah, hired to turn around the culture of discrimination, has been widely commended for shutting down the SRO program, after the community consultations made clear early in the process how destructive the program was, many advocates have become frustrated with his approach to dismantling systemic racism and changing the culture of Peel police.
Chief Nishan Duraiappah likes to mention that equity work takes time, but community members have not seen tangible action he's implemented to change the troubled force. (Image Peel police)
The chief did not respond to requests for an apology after a white officer was allowed in a meeting with Black community advocates and demeaned them, suggesting their claims of systemic discrimination within the force were not valid. The chief knows his own data proves their concerns.
Street check (known as carding) data show Black residents were stopped in these encounters at more than three times the rate compared to white residents, and recently released use of force data shows about the same discrepancy in the rate of incidents of force against Black residents compared to others. The scathing equity and diversity audit presented under the chief’s leadership included mountains of information from officers themselves, who described a force plagued by systemic discrimination.
And recent cases, from the racial profiling of visible minority residents, to the high-profile human rights case of a decorated South Asian-Canadian officer, B.J. Sandhu, provide further proof of a force that has a problem with racism. The evidence brought forward during the hearings for Sandhu’s case was difficult to listen to, as even white senior officers described countless examples of overt racism, including the use of racist cartoons that were hung in the office of senior officers, the sharing of racist jokes among officers through email and the widespread belief within the force that many racialized communities were not even worth policing.
The decision in the case found Sandhu was denied an opportunity to seek a promotion into the senior officer ranks because of his race and despite being far more qualified than many of the white officers who were invited to seek advancement.
Now, Peel police, under increased public pressure and the watchful eye of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, is being forced to change. But the board that governs it repeatedly displays a lack of awareness and will to push that change forward.
After Friday’s report was presented, other than displaying a lack of understanding over why young Black males did not engage with the community consultation process after decades of being targeted by the police, board members asked to have solutions provided to them on a silver platter, suggesting the community should do their work for them.
Orughu expressed the frustration faced by Black communities.
“If we must have transparency and have trust, the (youth and student engagement) report that just came out should have been brought forward to the community.” Instead, the critical report highlighting the issues with the SRO program and the force’s failure to address them on its own, was never placed on the meeting agenda and is still not there, as of Tuesday morning. It was shared with some community members the night before the meeting.
It appeared as though most board members had not even read it, with many not raising one question after the presentations, and others displaying confusion over what the two facilitators were hired to do.
Orughu challenged board members as to why they have not initiated equity and inclusion efforts themselves.
“The SRO program, it may have been well intended, but it completely deviated into something else. It was more used as a training ground for some police officers where they had to enhance their investigative skills. This is what community members have been talking about for a very long time. And during the height of the George Floyd protests what was shocking was that Peel police did not stop the SRO program. They did not pause and think about the impact, even while watching global outrage about police and community, especially the ACB community, African Caribbean, Black communities. They did not initiate this move. We had to do this. So, the fact that we did this makes you wonder how sincere is Peel police in addressing the relationships that they have with our community.”
He pointed out the community consultation process that was undertaken, was never completed because of breakdowns caused by a lack of transparency and conduct such as the white officer who displayed contempt toward community members, with no apology from the force to this day.
After Orughu laid out his list of concerns, Chief Duraiappah remained silent, as did the board members who did not ask one question and failed to engage the community advocate who along with many others has been pushing for change in Peel’s police force and its largest school board.
Brampton Councillor and police board member, Martin Medeiros, who was not able to attend Friday’s meeting, told The Pointer he is concerned with what the report outlined.
“It seems the (SRO) program was not used for its intended purpose, and sometimes had the opposite impact. If we’re going to rebuild trust, specially with youth, we can’t keep making communities, specially Black communities feel like they’re not being listened to.”
Peel police board member and Brampton Councillor Martin Medeiros is concerned about the force's growing disconnect with many members of Black communities. (The Pointer files)
When Nando Iannicca suggested that Black youth would not even be engaged by the two facilitators who represent the same community, Sauter, one of the two experts hired by the force, had to explain that her race had little to do with creating a sense of trust, because she was representing an institution that had done harm to young Black males in Mississauga and Brampton for decades. Iannicca, who was a Mississauga councillor for more than three decades before becoming chair of Peel Region, acknowledged being a white male of an older generation created some distance for him from systemic problems around discrimination in two cities where white residents represent only about a third of the population, but he failed to offer one tangible commitment toward solutions.
Instead, board members displayed confusion or apathy around the need for them to finally act.
Deputy Chief Marc Andrews admitted the report presented Friday can’t be ignored and highlighted three areas the force is taking action on, including equity and inclusion policies aimed at improving transparency through a partnership with the Ontario Human Rights Commission (he also mentioned training efforts to improve relationships with Black youth, but no details were provided).
Peel police Deputy Chief Marc Andrews said steps are being taken to rebuild trust with Black youth, but provided few details. (Image Peel police)
Orughu told The Pointer that it’s frustrating to hear the chief and other senior officers repeatedly talk about their commitment to change, then show otherwise in their actions.
“The (SRO) report is still not on the agenda. And what has the chief done to address the officer who tried to subvert the November 3 meeting? He has not explained what she was doing at the meeting in the first place.” No apology for her outburst has been offered.
Orughu also pointed out a written delegation Friday, requesting the names of members selected for an anti-racism advisory panel under the partnership between Peel police and the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and the process used to select the panel members be fully and transparently disclosed to the community. Board members received the request but ignored it, failing to address whether or not they will disclose the information.
When asked how Peel police viewed its efforts around the SRO program, it was explained that the goal was to provide mentoring, but the two experts hired by the force detailed how this broke down. It became largely a surveillance program in many cases. This long history of mistrust between Black communities and police/school boards has perpetuated the current situation, they explained, as board members, particularly Iannicca, seemed at a loss to even approach possible solutions that have to begin with board members.
The SRO program was paused shortly after the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement gained momentum last year, and cancelled in November 2020. (Presentation by Annette Power and Umwali Sauter)
The report states how school boards are also responsible for harm done by the SRO program, and how accountability within both bodies is needed. The lack of communication between the mostly white members of boards that govern education and policing in Peel, led to mismanagement of the officers by school staff. Some school administrators and teachers would use the police to “intimidate” and “manage” student behaviour.
There were some positive interactions, for example, in law or career development classes. However, the ongoing harm by the program outweighed the benefits, according to the report. Participants who were part of the consultations for the report believe both the schools and police need to apologize and “right the wrongs.”
School board representatives who witnessed problems as the consultation process unfolded said it was not set up to be successful. They acknowledged more needed to be done to involve communities and that Peel police should never have been in high schools addressing behavioural issues, complex work that officers have no training for, other than to place individuals in custody.
But the report’s authors were also critical of the school boards themselves.
“School boards took little to no ownership in how they contributed to the SRO harm during the consultation process,” the report reads.
It states some teachers were helpful in trying to get students to come forward for the consultation process.
Some Peel police representatives did not show up to the discussions with open arms, instead perpetrating continuous harm to those in the meetings seeking equity. Other officers were engaged and were “solutions oriented” and had a large commitment to the process.
The challenges of the process created an environment where sometimes intergroup conflicts would play out while in discussion. These complex relationships fostered by resentement and mistrust led some members to communicate with hostility.
“Examples of misogynoir, internalized racism, power imbalance, white fragility, patriarchy and sexism strained group dynamics on and off-line,” the facilitators found.
Recommendations in the report the board should start implementing:
- Overhaul internal legislation, policies and programs that reinforce unequal application of the law and services in School Boards and PRP
- Representational recruitment and hiring of PRP officers
- Train and educate law enforcement officers on adolescent brain development and behaviour
- Create opportunities in communities for positive, non-law enforcement interaction with youth (outside school settings)
- Transparent and timely accountability when harm occurs due to racial bias by police
- Police and teachers/ administrators engaging with diverse students/ youth must undergo extensive anti-racism training
- Redirect calls from schools seeking enforcement back to schools to manage behaviour
- Youth/ student disciplinary issues should not be addressed without parents/guardians present
Police board chair Ahmed Attia asked the two experts why many young Black males did not engage with the community consultation process.
Power said, “If we are centering the conversation about who perhaps has had the worst outcomes with the SRO program, that representation was there, they did have representation through community, through parents, community groups, etc.”
Attia seemed to not understand why young males wouldn’t participate in emotionally charged conversations around systemic racism with PRP.
Attia seemed more concerned with why some of those impacted directly did not participate than solutions to move forward. “Why do you think they never engaged?” he asked, seemingly unaware of the long history with the very police force he now oversees.
“I would imagine, given the historical relationship that they may have had with the criminal justice system or the police services [is the reason],” Power replied. “So we might have to be a little more creative in the ways that we approach them.”
Orughu pointed to the way his delegation was handled as a sign of the board’s priorities.
“They rushed me, they knew I didn't finish. I was able to squeeze in some key important points within that allotment of time. But if they cared enough, if they want a resolution, a lasting resolution, the chair could have said ‘You know what, Mr. Orughu? Let's hear more’.”
“All you have to do is watch that whole process. And you can feel it. I felt it.” Orughu told The Pointer after his delegation, “It doesn't bring confidence to us. I think this is not something that’s really on the agenda.”
Both Power and Sauter referenced Orughu’s delegation in their responses to board members, who asked what the next steps are. Some members didn’t even ask questions of the two women and it’s unclear if they even read the candid report they brought forward. Some instead used their time to claim the force is doing well on the central issue of equity and inclusion in two incredibly diverse cities. They offered no examples.
Despite the report’s clear direction to the board on what should be immediately implemented, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie seemed confused about what she and her colleagues must do.
“I don't know that I understand what the path forward is, and what the recommendations are, or what Nando [Iannicca] was describing the concrete actions and steps that we'll be taking that need to be done,” she said.
Deputy chief Andrews offered some guidance.
“How we build relationships with our community, in particular young people in our community, has to be rethought. And the work of the [divisional mobilization unit] DMU is a step in that process. And we continue that engagement that is real, that can occur over time and is not centered around a particular incident or driven by a particular agenda, but real engagement with our community,” Andrews said.
The presentation by Sauter and Power referenced the lack of transparency and timing of the DMU. Almost immediately after the initial pause of the SRO program, Peel police brought forward the newly created unit. This was met with skepticism and confusion by community members, as it appeared and sounded like the same idea as the SRO program. This view came right at the beginning of the consultations for the report when some participating in the process questioned the motivation for the consultation, causing further mistrust.
Iannicca pointed to initiatives the City of Mississauga and the Region of Peel have been involved with that have nothing to do with policing. He mentioned Mayor Crombie’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee, claiming it was an innovative effort, despite the admission by his former council colleagues who chair the committee that it has largely been a disappointment. The Pointer reported how little the committee has done since it was launched, with meetings often cancelled because not enough members were willing to even show up.
Power concluded the presentation by explaining again to the board where members could start in the process to mend the relationship with Black communities.
“In order for us to have those next steps, there are some key areas that really need to be addressed,” she told the board. “And namely, we talked about acknowledgement, acknowledging the harm, to which those things have not happened.”
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