Peel Police has a history of targeting Black residents; its board has failed to represent them
More than three years ago, an audit of the Peel Regional Police service and its leadership exposed the root of a systemic racism problem that was creating harmful and, at times, deadly consequences for members of Mississauga’s and Brampton’s Black communities.
Recent actions by the Province of Ontario and the Peel Police Services Board suggest the two institutions have learned little from the disturbing report.
There is not one Black member on the Peel Police Services Board. This has raised doubts among community members about the force’s willingness to confront problems that have long plagued Peel Police.
A Black Lives Matter rally in Mississauga two years ago.
(The Pointer file photo)
Speaking with auditors, community members provided evidence and detailed their experiences with street checks—the police practice of randomly stopping individuals on the street to collect identifying information to be used in future investigations. Black residents were stopped at more than three times the rate compared to their white counterparts.
Other forms of racial profiling of Black community members by Peel Police officers were detailed.
“Members of the public shared stories of multiple incidents of Black boys being asked ‘what are you doing here’, sometimes while walking in their own neighbourhood or even on their own property,” the audit stated.
“I have two bi-racial sons, one looks Black and one looks white. The white-looking son has never experienced being carded and the Black one says it’s normal,” a member of the public shared.
Mississauga rapper Darren John, also known as Avalanche the Architect, has previously told The Pointer he has been stopped randomly by police hundreds of times throughout his life.
High profile racial profiling cases included the shocking treatment of Isaac Williams, who was locked in the back of a cruiser and interrogated when officers suspected him of a break-and-enter crime, despite being six inches shorter and three times the age of the man they were looking for.
Issues related to harassment and discrimination extended internally into the police service itself with 79 percent of Peel police employees who took part voluntarily in focus groups for the audit reporting they had experienced harassment or discrimination within the force, while 90 percent of participants reported witnessing such behaviour.
The Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI), which conducted the audit, could not have been more clear about the cause of these ongoing issues.
“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.
This was not lost on Chief Nishan Duraiappah, who was hired into his new role shortly after the audit’s release. He said fixing the problems of systemic discrimination that plagued the police organization would be a top priority for him, noting that if these issues could be resolved inside the organization, it would translate to real change within the community.
“When [things that happen] between the four walls of the organization are good and healthy, that is where, at the street side, people get a real feeling that the organization is also connecting well with the public,” he told The Pointer previously.
Since that time, the organization has taken slow steps to address the community’s concerns. An agreement with the Ontario Human Rights Commission to help root out systemic discrimination within the organization was initially celebrated when it was announced in late 2020. The celebration has since turned to skepticism with few details and a lack of transparency around the work being completed, while those Black advocates who for years have done the heavy lifting to eradicate racism from the local policing culture say they have been shut out of the work with the human rights commission.
There have been even fewer signs of change at the Peel Police Services Board, the governance team tasked with making key decisions about police spending, along with setting priorities and objectives for the police force.
The Peel Police Services Board has provided little evidence that the rigid mindset among its leadership documented in the 2019 audit has changed, particularly when it comes to the region’s Black communities, despite clear evidence the force is not following its core mandate legislated under Ontario’s Police Service Act: “The need to ensure the safety and security of all persons and property in Ontario… The importance of safeguarding the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Human Rights Code… The need for sensitivity to the pluralistic, multiracial and multicultural character of Ontario society… The need to ensure that police services and police service boards are representative of the communities they serve.”
The board is not representative of the Black communities it serves. Despite having no Black members, the Province ignored this glaring lack of representation when it appointed the newest member to the Peel Police Services Board, Sumeeta Kohli, two weeks ago.
Black advocates have raised concern that a woman who is not connected to their diverse communities, with no background in policing or policy is now responsible for ensuring their safety (Kohli is a marketing strategist, according to her Linkedin profile, and used to work in the office of Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, who sits on the police board).
Dave Bosveld, has advocated for Peel’s Black communities, delegating to the Police Services Board, engaging with community groups and meeting with local leaders including bureaucrats responsible for administration and decision making around policing in Mississauga and Brampton.
He says high-profile incidents between community members and police, such as the case of Jamal Francique, should be a wake-up call for police leaders that change needs to happen fast. The 28-year-old was shot in the back of the head inside his car during an arrest attempt by a Peel Police officer in Mississauga two years ago and died later.
The SIU cleared the officer.
“Nobody's done anything to make any situations correct and right,” the young man’s father told media earlier this year, after questions about the fatal use of force remain unanswered. “All they've done is made a disarray of our families. We want someone to stand up and take accountability."
Such incidents, for whatever reason, are unable to trigger the same amount of attention as events like the death of George Floyd in 2020. Instead, Bosveld says board members choose not to engage with those demanding meaningful and badly needed change.
“It’s clear to me that they’re intentionally choosing not to engage with critical voices in the community,” he says. “I don’t see how any commitment to this work can be taken as serious.”
Along with the clear implications of what historic carding data illustrated, recent use of force statistics show that Peel’s Black communities continue to be disproportionately impacted by negative interactions with police.
In 2020, PRP officers used force — which along with using physical force, includes drawing or pointing any type of weapon — in 1,092 incidents. In cases where officers were able to determine the person's race, 35 percent of those individuals were Black, despite Black residents accounting for only 9 percent of the population the force polices; numbers mirrored in large police forces across Ontario, including the Toronto Police Service.
In Peel Police’s use-of-force data, the 35 percent figure does not tell the entire story of life-altering interactions between Black residents and police officers.
(Graphic from The Pointer)
There have been many other high-profile incidents involving the Black community and Peel Regional Police.
On Mother’s Day 2020, Chantelle Krupka was shot in the back while laying on the lawn of her Mississauga home after being tasered by a PRP officer. The officer, Valerie Briffa, quickly resigned from the force and pleaded guilty to careless use of a firearm. She was given a conditional discharge in November 2021 and sentenced to 18 months probation.
In March of 2020, a ruling by the Human Rights Tribunal found that the decision by PRP officers to handcuff the wrists and ankles of a six-year-old Black girl behind her back were motivated by her race.
“The overreaction can only be explained by the inference that because of implicit stereotypical associations that arose because of the applicant’s race, they saw her, as a Black child, being more of a threat, being bigger, stronger and older than she was and consequently, of being more in need of control than they would have seen a White child in the same circumstances,” tribunal adjudicator Brenda Bowlby stated in her ruling.
Then in the spring of last year, Brampton teenager Chadd Facey died hours after being tackled to the ground by a pair of off-duty Toronto police officers over the alleged sale of a fake Apple Watch. Documents in the case were obtained by CTV News earlier this year. The incident was not reported to the Special Investigations Unit until months later.
Expert reports dating back decades have highlighted the extent to which Black communities are disproportionately impacted by police actions compared to others.
As part of his review of regulations around police street checks in Ontario, Justice Michael Tulloch wrote in 2021, “these impacts are felt disproportionately by certain races and groups, particularly Indigenous, Black and other racialized communities.”
He wrote much the same in 2017 as part of his review of police accountability mechanisms like the Special Investigations Unit (tasked with investigating incidents when citizens are hurt by police), and the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (which reviews citizen complaints against police officers).
“Members of Black communities noted that historical discrimination has often placed them at odds with the police, leading to fear and distrust. Within Black communities, there is a prevailing perception that they have always been over-policed and targeted as criminals.”
Bosveld was invited to speak before the Toronto Police Services Board about similar topics, and found the board to be engaged, and curious, asking him a number of questions about his experience and his work.
“That would never happen at a Peel board meeting,” he says.
This disproportionate impact increases the onus on police and police leaders, like those on the Peel Police Services Board, to engage with Black residents to try and build bridges and fix problems.
Members of Peel’s Black communities previously requested the board form an anti-Black advisory panel to help educate board members about how Black residents are impacted by police. The request was turned down. The board instead decided to form a Diversity and Inclusion advisory committee at the recommendation of board executive director Robert Serpe, a man with no experience in policing, equity and inclusion work or in matters pertaining to Black community interactions with police.
The board also ignored the advice of Peel police’s own hired expert who disagreed with Serpe—after the administrative bureaucrat stated in his report that there was no need for a specific advisory committee to focus on issues that specifically revolve around Black communities —and explained that the board could benefit from such an advisory panel.
“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,” Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, a University of Toronto sociology professor who has done extensive research on the intersection of race, crime and criminal justice, told the board in September. “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.”
Black residents have repeatedly called for representation around the board table, but have been repeatedly ignored by elected leaders, and the Government of Ontario (which appoints three members to the seven-person board), despite the fact that Ontario’s own appointment principles are designed to ensure appropriate representation.
“Our responsibility is to make sure that appointees: are representative of all segments of Ontario society, reflect Ontario’s diversity and regional representation, have the personal and professional integrity to serve the public on Ontario’s provincial agencies,” the government’s website states. These principles have been mostly ignored in Peel.
“Black people are still dying and or being harmed,” Bosveld says. “To get a handle on that, it would make sense to include Black people… this is not a radical thing we’ve been asking for.”
Recognizing the lack of diversity within Ontario’s big city police forces and the boards that govern them, Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca recently released an election platform plank, promising to hire more diverse officers and make more representative appointments to police boards, if elected.
“Our plan will invest in police forces that look more like the communities they serve,” Del Duca said earlier this month when he released the campaign commitment to bring equity to policing and education in Ontario.
In 2022, the province of Ontario had a trio of board members on Peel’s police board whose terms were expiring—board members are appointed for a term of three years—which many in the community were hoping could be used as an opportunity to increase diverse representation on the board.
In January, Ron Chatha, who previously served as chair of the board and is now again its chair, was reappointed for a second term. Chatha, a real estate agent with close ties to Ontario Premier Doug Ford, brings no experience in policing to the board. He was reappointed by the Ontario PC government despite 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 received criticism at Queen’s Park earlier this month when he was captured in photos posted to Instagram at a provincial election campaign launch event for Charmaine Williams, the Brampton councillor currently running for the PCs in the riding of Brampton Centre—an event that was also attended by Premier Ford.
More recently, the Province announced the appointment of Kohli to the board.
"Over the years, I have had the privilege of living, working, and being an active member of this vibrant community. I am honoured to have this opportunity to give back further and serve the residents of Peel," Kohli stated in a PRP press release.
Her close ties to Mayor Crombie, who also sits on the police services board, were not mentioned.
Kohli worked in Crombie’s office for two years between 2014 and 2016 as a communications specialist. Her Twitter feed, which has not been active since 2016, is filled with praise of Crombie’s political efforts.
A tweet from Kohli showing her alongside Crombie at a community event in 2015.
(Screenshot from Twitter)
Crombie says she did not recommend, or have anything to do with Kohli’s appointment to the board.
“I can confirm the Mayor in no way advocated or corresponded with the province about Ms. Kohli leading up to her appointment,” a spokesperson for Crombie told The Pointer.
“In her conversations with the province about the upcoming vacancy, Mayor Crombie raised the importance of appointing a member of the Black community to the Board,” the spokesperson added. No details of those advocacy efforts were shared. “The Mayor has said many times that all our public institutions, including the Peel Police Services Board, should strive to be reflective of our diverse population.”
Crombie has a history of being a progressive voice for change on Peel’s police board. She stood up to former police chief Jennier Evans on carding when the chief remained steadfast that the harmful practice should continue, and the Mississauga mayor pushed for an outside, diverse voice to be hired to replace Evans to lead the force after she resigned in 2019. However, despite repeated requests from Peel’s Black communities for a voice at the table—even in the form of an advisory committee—Crombie’s previously progressive voice has been absent.
In response to requests from the community to form an anti-Black advisory committee for the board, Crombie said it wasn’t required as she already had her own Black Caucus with the City of Mississauga, and would therefore receive the proper guidance.
The first report from that Black caucus recommended the exact same thing as Bosveld and other members of Peel’s Black communities: increased representation.
One of the top recommendations of the policing section of that report is advocacy to the Province to appoint a Black member to the board, a recommendation Crombie has said to The Pointer she plans to follow.
The caucus chair also made it clear that the continued struggle to install Black voices in these decision-making positions creates barriers to change.
“Decades of systemic racial discrimination and practices in our policing, justice, healthcare and childcare systems are now at the forefront. Moreover, the struggle for equity within institutions remains a constant challenge,” writes Linden King, chair of Crombie’s Black Caucus.
The report noted that because Black advocates are consistently in a “reactionary” position, pushing for change within cemented systems that require a determined effort to break down, it prevents them from being a part of the solution. This changes when members of Black communities are put in a position to make proactive decisions.
“Being in proactive, progressive roles would allow Black communities to leap forward to be among those receiving and creating the knowledge that informs the City’s—and its allies—activities and policies. Proactive roles, then, would demand Black communities’ participation to ensure success,” the report states. “This new position of progressive leadership will redesign the current balance of power to challenge those who—from within and outside the communities—who have come to bank on the absence of Black communities’ representation.”
Black communities have not been the only ones calling for improvements to make Peel safer for Black residents.
“Like other non-Black South Asian folks, I’m coming into this work following the leadership of Black advocates and organizers here in Peel,” Anu Radha Verma, a South Asian-Canadian woman, told the board in August during discussion on the failed move to create the anti-Black racism advisory panel. “All non-Black individuals, which includes all the members of the Peel police services board, benefit from and are complicit in perpetuating anti-Black racism, that’s the structure of the place we live. This is the reality you, and we, must confront.”
The need to be constantly and aggressively pushing for change has left many Black advocates exhausted.
“It’s galling, it’s actually soul-crushing and it gives us no confidence that they’re serious about this work,” Bosveld says. “If asking for something so benign and so obvious creates such a backlash, what right would we think we have to ask for real reforms?”
Audrey Campbell, a member of Crombie’s Black caucus, the former president of the Jamaican Canadian Association and a widely respected equity and inclusion advocate in Peel, says with a municipal election approaching in October, it is the perfect time for residents to make their voices heard on the issue of Black representation.
“This is a time for reckoning,” she wrote in a message to The Pointer. “This is an election year, there are vacancies coming up on the Police Services Board in 2022. We need to leverage our votes to support candidates that will commit to fair and equitable representation. I know I will… I challenge all of you to do the same.”
"In spite of being the second largest racialized community in the Region of Peel, the Black community still has no representation on the Peel Police Services Board,” Campbell added. “As a community we have lobbied, offered qualified candidates and both the Municipal and Provincial governments have ignored our request.”
The Province has one final appointment for 2022. Board member Alan Boughton’s term is expiring in May.
Police Services Board member Alan Boughton does not live in Mississauga or Brampton, the only municipalities the force patrols.
(YouTube/Peel Police Services Board)
Sources have told The Pointer that Boughton, head of a trailer leasing company who does not even live in Mississauga or Brampton, and who has failed to address the concerns raised before the board by Black community advocates, will be reappointed by the Doug Ford PC government.
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