Will Peel’s police board include Black members to help hold force accountable?
In 2022, Dave Bosveld wants the Peel Police Services Board to represent the diverse community it serves and for Black residents to have a voice around the table.
“The significance of representation means that for all of those people that don't seem to seriously consider the issues that our community faces with police interactions, they will hear it right before they vote,” Bosveld told The Pointer. “They'll have to look and see a person with Black skin holding equal power to them.”
The Police Services Board (PSB) is the authoritative body that provides direction on non-operational matters and governance over the Peel Regional Police (PRP), it handles the critical tasks of guiding the force’s budget and the hiring of its police chief. In the past, difficult discussions on police officers in schools, body cameras, use of force, carding and the diversity of the PRP have simmered at the board level, often with a focus on Peel police’s negative interactions with Black communities.
The PSB has been forced to deal with the issues of a dramatically shifting society, such as reckonings around systemic racism identified within the department, police-involved shootings, and how police organizations are expected to handle those in a mental health crisis.
Over the last few years, the makeup of the board has remained largely unchanged, switching out Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown for Brampton Councillor Martin Medeiros. Ahmad Attia, now the chair, joined in 2019 after he was appointed by Regional Council.
The Peel Police Services Board consists of three provincial appointees, a Regional representative, a Mississauga and Brampton Councillor and one citizen representative picked by Regional Council.
(Images from Peel Police Services Board)
Provincial appointed board members have terms of three years, and can be reappointed, creating low turnover that prevents a range of relevant backgrounds, experiences and ideas from lending to decision making.
In April and May of this year, the terms of Leonard Howell and Alan Boughton will expire—both were appointed in 2019—giving the PSB an opportunity to listen to community advocates and potentially bring new voices to the table.
Howell, a Mississauga resident and retired police officer, is now a realtor in the city and was previously president of the Mississauga Residents’ Association Board. A police officer for 10 years, he’s also connected to the Peel Police Retirees’ Association and with the International Police Association.
Boughton, a Caledon resident, is co-founder of Trailcon Leasing, and previously was President at Provincial Trailer Rentals. He’s been involved with the Ontario Trucking Association and the Mississauga Board of Trade.
There was a third appointment expiring in early 2022, but as of January 17, Ron Chatha, a real estate agent with no experience in policing (who previously served as chair of the PSB) was reappointed to another three year term by the Province. He was appointed to the police board by the Ontario PC government after being accused of trying to pay for Conservative Party memberships to help a candidate he worked with win the federal Party leadership. He denied the allegations. He also has close ties to Ontario Premier Doug Ford.
Bosveld has attended almost every PSB meeting in the past two years, and has seen which members of the board do their homework and offer meaningful input and engagement on issues raised by the Black community.
“The only people that I've seen to be engaged are the Chair [Ahmad Attia], Bonnie Crombie and Martin Medeiros,” Bosveld said. “So, as for the rest of them, as a member of the public, it doesn't appear they're interested in the issues around policing that we're trying to highlight.”
The Pointer’s review of the PSB meetings backs up Bosveld’s observation. Despite the importance of issues such as carding and use of force (both of which target Black residents at three times the rate compared to others, according to the force’s own data) and a scathing equity and inclusion audit that found systemic discrimination was tearing the force apart, Brown offered little action to address the problems, while Chatha, Boughton and Howell ignored them.
Since her election, Mayor Crombie has been an active voice on the PSB, often asking detailed questions of delegates. Crombie was a vocal opponent of the PRP’s use of random street checks, or carding, a practice defended by former chief Jennifer Evans, which disproportionately impacted Black communities in Brampton and Mississauga (Caledon is policed by the OPP). She demanded the force stop carding in 2015 but Evans refused.
She says the membership of the PSB should reflect the community it is supposed to serve.
“Peel is one of the most diverse regions in the entire country, and I strongly believe that all our public institutions, including the Peel Police Services Board, should strive to be reflective of this diverse population,” she said. “I believe this is what residents expect as it will undoubtedly make our public institutions more responsive to their needs.”
In 2022, board members will work with various Black community leaders toward solutions that are the goal of a relationship between the force and the Ontario Human Rights Commission under an agreement between the two to help Peel police move away from its terrible record of institutionalized racism.
Since June 2020, the mistreatment of these communities at the hands of police has been under a microscope.
The murder of George Floyd brought global recognition and widespread understanding that racism continues to exist in many societal institutions, and particularly in law enforcement.
A report from 2020 analyzing PRP’s use of force showed Black residents in Brampton and Mississauga are three times more likely to experience use of force in an interaction with an officer, compared to other residents. Force is described as being physical with a member of the public, including the use of various restraining techniques and even the use of lethal force. In 2020, there were 1,092 use of force incidents, approximately 35 percent of those interactions were with Black residents, who only make up 9 percent of the population in the two cities.
Issues of systemic racism extend broadly inside the organization. A 2019 diversity and inclusion audit found numerous indications of widespread racism within a force that is overwhelmingly white, serving a population that is overwhelmingly non-white.
The report done by the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI) found about 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.”
A disturbing 79 percent of Peel police employees who took part voluntarily in focus groups for the audit reported experiencing harassment or discrimination within PRP, while 90 percent of participants reported witnessing such behaviour.
The CCDI report stated, "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.”
According to the report, 93 percent of police leaders believed the force was committed to diversity and inclusion and that it exhibited fairness, consistency and flexibility.
“In contrast, only 41 percent of focus group respondents had a positive response to this question,” the report said, with straight, white, able-bodied men being the most likely to agree. “None of the Racialized or Newcomer respondents responded positively.”
Many anonymous employee comments included in the report highlighted that view: “Peel Regional Police on the outside makes it look like we are an inclusive place and value diversity. From my experiences, senior management believe quite the opposite. They pose for pictures, say all the right things but then behind closed doors, actions are very different,” said one respondent.
“Our analysis suggests that the biggest obstacle to the Peel Regional Police addressing issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in the police service may be the mindset of leaders and service members, demonstrated by a lack of acknowledgement that there are real systemic problems to address,” the report stated.
The observation extended to the board that governs the force, which for years turned a blind eye to systemic discrimination that forced community members to demand change.
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 concluded, don’t make “the connection that these oppressions are systemic in our society and therefore are also in our organizations.”
Despite the report, and the commitment with the Human Rights Commission, many board members have failed to take any action, as some repeatedly defend the force while refusing to even acknowledge the problems.
In June of 2020, the use of body-worn cameras by Peel officers was presented as a solution to increase accountability and prevent abuse toward visible minorities, particularly Black residents. Members of the Peel community expressed concerns that this movement was a “Band-Aid” solution to solving systemic issues that can not be solved with new equipment, instead requiring a commitment to transformative cultural change. There were almost 100 letters from residents advocating for deeper reforms that addressed organizational and leadership change.
“Body-cams will not help people because police often arrive in the aftermath of violence,” Simrat Khabra wrote in one letter. She said body cameras will not teach officers to appropriately assess risk and de-escalate a volatile situation.
Another frustrated citizen from Mississauga, Debby Nunes, said that body cameras do not solve the root of the issue and are an “expensive Band-Aid” solution to create the illusion of police action.
Residents were clear in wanting an end to police violence, not a way to watch the horrors play out on video footage.
Another resident, Bushra Asghar, said: “I am a 24-year-old queer woman of colour and when I was sexually assaulted I did not call the police because I believe they do not have the training and capability to help me during a time of crisis.”
Despite the sweeping concerns and outpouring of views against body cameras the police board voted in favour, leaving many residents feeling even more disconnected.
Howell even claimed the community members did not represent the broader position on the issue, suggesting they were all part of a “common source” against body cameras. He failed to explain his comments or offer any proof that the nearly 100 letters came from a “common source”.
He claimed the “common attitude” was in support of body cameras but provided no clarification for how he came to this conclusion, further alienating those requesting a second thought.
Another example of this disconnection came with the decision to create a diversity and inclusion (D&I) committee, a recommendation by the board’s executive director Robert Serpe, who has no experience in policing or equity and inclusion and is not supposed to have input on governance decisions. He is supposed to provide administrative support to board members and deal with bureaucratic matters such as agenda management for meetings.
While on its face it may seem like a positive step, the idea was presented instead of an anti-Black advisory committee, which a group of Black advocates had been attempting to get approved, so they too can have a voice on the board on matters that overwhelmingly impact their communities, such as use of force.
The D&I committee is another example of how PSB members have ignored the work and voices of Black communities.
The decision to create the broader, watered down committee, which could see competing interests and a lack of a cohesive vision was taken with complete disregard for the numerous community delegates and research presented by Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, a University of Toronto sociology professor who has studied the intersection of race, crime and criminal justice.
“When diversity committees, writ-large, are struck, the views, interests, concerns and issues related to various groups that come under the umbrella of diversity, often get lost,” Owusu-Bempah, told the board in September.
Serpe proposed the D&I committee instead of the anti-Black racism committee that had been requested, as a way of dealing with various issues related to race, despite the evidence and historical reality that Black people suffer much more severely at the hands of police and have a completely different dynamic with the criminal justice system than other racialized groups.
In Brampton and Mississauga, for example, the dominant visible minority group is the diverse South Asian-Canadian community, but the experiences of these individuals, in general, with Peel police differs greatly compared to what Black residents routinely deal with. South Asian-Canadians are not treated the same way, according to the force’s carding and use of force data.
“When the issues facing Black people are subsumed under diversity, which includes sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, because those two things are distinct, then those concerns do often get lost,” the professor, who has been hired by PRP, advised board members.
Some pushed back on the idea of forming an anti-Black racism committee, raising concerns that every individual ethno-racial group would demand its own committee.
Howell said at the time he believed the board was doing a great job with its efforts to improve diversity and inclusion.
“The diversity and expertise and challenges that we all bring as director to this committee are exceptional,” he said, offering no examples of action he has taken to address systematic racism. He has failed to offer any leadership on issues of equity and inclusion during his time on the board.
In November the D&I committee was approved, putting a stop to any further discussion from advocates on the creation of a specific anti-Black racism advisory group. Bosveld told The Pointer the goal was never to create a long-term committee, it was meant as a tool for Black community members to provide crucial input while the board deals with a number of immediate issues, such as the terms for the partnership with the Human Rights Commission.
“The community members that I organized with, our goal was to get a Black community member that really has an understanding of the disproportionality and the violence and the inequity of the way that police services are rendered in Peel,” Bosveld said. “The anti-Black racism advisory panel was like an interim goal of ours.”
Because the PSB has morphed the committee into something completely different, Bosveld is trying to apply pressure on political figures to reconsider the potential reappointment of Howell and Boughton, who have shown no interest in sitting down with those community advocates pushing for progressive change.
The very process of appointing board members and having people be approved is a minefield of policies and procedures, often allowing decades of systemic discrimination to continue to play out.
To become a board member, a person needs to be a resident of a municipality served by the force (it’s unclear how Boughton, a Caledon resident, was allowed on the board) pass a police records check, understand the role as a member of the PSB, be involved with the community and have good written and verbal communication skills.
In 2019, Peel Region Police underwent an diversity audit which found a host of issues buried deep inside the department.
(Graphic from Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion)
Howell, Boughton and Chatha’s positions are appointed by the Province, which falls to the decision of Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell.
Board members are often reappointed for multiple terms, making it difficult for change to occur, which is why the current term is important. The ideal person for Bosveld would be someone with extensive knowledge or lived experience in one of Mississauga’s or Brampton’s Black communities to add perspective and bring a much needed range of views to make key decisions.
Without adequate representation on the PSB from a range of communities in two of Canada’s most diverse cities, relevant discussions about policies are impossible, Bosveld said.
Mississauga and Brampton are so unique, he explained, and many of the community dynamics have taken shape in recent decades, so without an understanding of these cultural, ethnographic, generational and societal dynamics, how can police boards be expected to change with the times, as they so clearly need to do.
Black community members are fighting to be heard.
When COVID-19 made meetings go virtual, community members were not allowed to delegate over video. At the time, delegations were submitted in written form on the agenda and PSB members would often overlook them, failing to address concerns.
With the help of Mayor Crombie, community advocates were allowed to delegate over video beyond the allotted five minutes.
But the technology has only created other barriers.
“I'm sitting there and I'm muted, I can't rejoin the conversation,” Bosveld said of the process. “They debate amongst themselves in a way that clearly illustrates that they have no clue what they're talking about.”
If the two provincial appointments are reapproved, Bosveld and other engaged members of the various Black communities will continue to advocate for changes that are long overdue. Unfortunately, due to the pattern of members being reappointed, including Chatha, Bosveld is not hopeful anything progressive will happen.
“The way to do it is to run for mayor, or city council, or regional council, and then try to get the board position from a position of power,” he told The Pointer. “Every time you're excluded from power, you're asking someone else to do something for you.”
He has seen enough proof from people still on the board to know how that often unfolds.
“Once we’re on the board… We want to have frank discussions that hopefully lead to better outcomes.”
Email: [email protected]
COVID-19 is impacting all Canadians. At a time when vital public information is needed by everyone, The Pointer has taken down our paywall on all stories relating to the pandemic and those of public interest to ensure every resident of Brampton and Mississauga has access to the facts. For those who are able, we encourage you to consider a subscription. This will help us report on important public interest issues the community needs to know about now more than ever. You can register for a 30-day free trial HERE. Thereafter, The Pointer will charge $10 a month and you can cancel any time right on the website. Thank you
Submit a correction about this story