‘It’s pandering and it’s kind of insulting’: Formation of diversity committee to advise police board ignores Black community, advocates say
The Peel Police Services Board is refusing to explain why a committee set up following a request from members of Peel’s Black community failed to consult with them on the committee’s formation; does not include any mention of repairing the damaged relationship between Black communities and the police within the committee’s mandate or how advocates can get involved to advise the board.
Details about the Peel Police Board’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee were quietly added to the board’s website in recent weeks with brief explanations of the group's governance, mandate and terms of reference. It will “focus on identifying and proactively removing systemic barriers and root causes of racial inequities in policing from the perspective of governance and policy,” the mandate states, and “meaningfully engage with diverse, Indigenous and LGBTQ2+ people to ensure their perspectives and guidance inform police governance and policy.”
The committee will include a minimum of two board members, with at least one being an elected official. The chair of the board will attend the meetings in an ex-officio role, the site states. It is scheduled to meet four times a year “with no limit on the number of meetings and stakeholder engagement opportunities throughout the year.”
There is no information about how an interested party could contact the committee or who the members of the board sitting on the committee will be. A source has told The Pointer the members chosen to sit on the committee are Sumeeta Kohli, who will serve as chair, Ahmad Attia, Councillor Martin Medeiros and Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie.
The news has frustrated members of Peel’s Black communities.
The impetus for forming this committee came from a delegation by Dave Bosveld, a community advocate who has been vocal about ways to improve the police services board’s interactions with Black communities. During a delegation last year, he told board members that without direct connections, eliminating the systemic anti-Black racism that has been shown in police interaction data and diversity audits will never be eliminated.
“Please understand that without representation and without a body to inform and share perspective and lived experience, the agreements and consultations and work that is being done will likely not have the impact necessary to end anti-Black racism within PRP,” he said at the time.
“We’re specifically trying to deal with the problem that there is no Black voice on the Peel Police Services Board,” Bosveld told The Pointer in a recent interview.
The new committee does none of this, Bosveld says. There are no Black members on the new committee because it is solely made up of board members and there are no Black appointees to the board. Nowhere in the governance, mandate, or terms of reference for the committee does it explicitly mention healing the relationship between the Black community and police. Studies and use-of-force data have clearly shown that Black communities in Peel are disproportionately impacted by negative interactions with police, a reality that has led other police forces, like Toronto, to create specific committees focused on the issue.
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 people accounting for only 9 percent of the population.
This disproportionate use of force follows years of unfair treatment, and decades of carding that targeted them in random police stops at three times the rate compared to whites.
“Excluding Black folks from that conversation will never allow us to move forward,” Bosveld says.
Executive director of the board Robert Serpe did not explain how the terms of reference or composition of the committee were decided when asked by The Pointer. It does not appear that there was any public consultation conducted ahead of time. Serpe has a communications background and previously worked in that capacity for former Brampton mayor Susan Fennell. He has no background in policing or in equity and inclusion.
“Representing one of Canada’s most diverse communities, the Peel Police Services Board is making progress and efforts to address issues like systemic racism, racial profiling and workplace equity and inclusion,” he stated in an emailed response. “The Committee includes members of the Board, who recently approved a Mandate and Terms of Reference which will allow the Committee to meet with a variety of stakeholders to help ensure the Board can apply a Diversity and Inclusion lens on its roles and responsibilities under the Police Services Act.”
Serpe did not address why the committee’s terms or mandate make no mention of the Black community, or why the decision was made not to allow community members to join.
“It’s intentional ignorance,” Bosveld says, stating the board has had every opportunity to show it is willing to work with Peel’s Black communities, but has repeatedly shut the door.
The same is said by Sophia Jackson, a child and youth counsellor who previously worked as a behaviour teaching assistant with the Peel District School Board for seven years.
“Issues from a Black perspective are very unique and yet they continue to throw it in with every other diverse or group of individuals that are considered to be oppressed or marginalized,” she says. “It’s optics, it’s pandering and it’s kind of insulting.”
The disappointing formation of this committee is made worse when considering its origins, and the warnings issued to the board from an expert working with the Peel Regional Police.
Bosveld’s initial recommendation last year was for the formation of an anti-Black advisory committee to provide crucial guidance for board members on issues related to the region’s Black communities.
A report that followed from Serpe recommended against such a committee, stating “there does not appear to be a gap that would be filled” by creating such an advisory panel—a recommendation that appeared to completely ignore the use-of-force data included in a report on the same agenda.
He concluded that because of the lack of panels in other police jurisdictions and because of anti-Black racism work being done by separate public organizations in Brampton and Mississauga, there was no need to form an advisory panel for the police board, despite no board member being from any of the diverse Black communities in the two cities.
The report was heavily criticized by advocates, and raised questions among board members at the time.
“Executive Director Rob Serpe has written a report that would mislead the Board members into thinking that PRP and the Board are doing enough to combat the tragic and persistent effects of police culture, anti-Black racism and community safety, and that a panel set to advise the Board on issues of policing as related to Black community members is an unnecessary redundancy. I beg to differ,” Bosveld wrote to the board at the time.
The idea for a diversity and inclusion committee was also questioned by an expert working alongside the Peel Regional Police.
“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,” stated Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, a University of Toronto sociology professor who has done extensive research on the intersection of race, crime and criminal justice and is working with PRP to eliminate systemic racism within the organization. He said there is a need for a distinct anti-Black racism panel to advise the board. “It is African-Canadians, Black Canadians, who are particularly overrepresented and have particular needs, not only within policing, but in society more generally. 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.”
Unfortunately, his prediction appears to have come true.
“It’s intentional,” Jackson says. “I think we have to recognize that nobody’s head is in the sand.”
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie defended the committee’s formation, noting it will “have a particular focus on how to remove racial inequalities from governance and politics.”
“Mississauga and Peel are among the most diverse communities in Canada, if not the world, and our police service and our institutions need to reflect that fact,” she stated. She says the committee will “help guide the Board’s work and advise on issues relating to systemic racism, equity, diversity and inclusion as well as issues relating to anti-Black racism.”
In his statement to The Pointer, Serpe pointed to a number of projects included in the board’s strategic plan that “support diversity, equity and inclusion in our workplace and in the community.” These include the continued implementation of recommendations from the scathing Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion audit released in 2019; the development of an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy; and working with the Ontario Human Rights Commission to create a “Human Rights action plan.”
“Also in 2020, the Board entered into an agreement with the Ontario Human Rights Commission to develop binding remedies to eliminate systemic racism within policing,” Serpe added.
The community is still waiting to see the results of any of these items.
“We need to see receipts,” Jackson says. “Yes you can point to these alliances and sitting at the table and having meetings, but who is at the table having those meetings and what actionable things have taken place and are done? Because otherwise it’s just optics.”
A lack of accountability and continued ignorance to the issues impacting Black community members, including those within Peel Regional Police, were just two of the issues identified in the diversity and inclusion audit completed by the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion in 2019.
The report said 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 concluded, don’t make “the connection that these oppressions are systemic in our society and therefore are also in our organizations.”
While the board membership was vastly different during the audit’s study period, the decision to push ahead with a plan that was not supported by Black community members, or supported by the expert hired by the police force to advise on systemic racism, is a sign that leadership with the Peel Police Services Board has not learned from mistakes of the past.
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