Fight against racism in Peel policing will take time and community engagement says Ontario Human Rights Commission

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Published August 15, 2023 at 2:00 pm

peel police

Efforts to tackle systemic racism inside the Peel Regional Police organization will take time and lots of community engagement, the head of the Ontario Human Rights Commission says as dozens of recommendations to improve the force are reviewed.

Peel Regional Police committed nearly three years ago to a partnership with the human rights commission to examine and address what it acknowledged were existing and long-standing discriminatory practices within the service.

A report last year found Peel Regional Police used force on Black people 3.2 times more than their share of the population.

And while Black civilians currently make up 9.9 per cent of Peel’s population (according to 2016 census data), they accounted for 32 per cent of use of force incidents in 2021, a decrease from 35 per cent in 2020.

The human rights commission released 64 initial recommendations in June following community consultation, including improving training through trauma-informed approaches that emphasize de-escalation, expanding civilian-led mental health crisis response, suggestions for better race-based data collection and acknowledging racial discrimination in policing.

Those recommendations are now being reviewed by an advisory committee made up of residents from diverse backgrounds and will then be subject to further public consultation in the fall.

That community engagement is a key part of the years-long improvement effort, said Patricia DeGuire, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

“Those recommendations weren’t created in a vacuum,” she said in an interview, noting that the human rights commission worked with the police force as it reviewed the public feedback and crafted the recommendations.

“This wasn’t horse trading, it was real deep negotiating.”

The force, its board and the commission will eventually come to a consensus on final recommendations that will create legally binding requirements that Peel police will implement to combat racism in law enforcement.

DeGuire said that community consultations were carried out through an online survey that anyone living or working in Peel Region could complete.

Nearly half of survey respondents said systemic racism was a problem in policing within Peel, she said, and 55 per cent of respondents were skeptical of the force’s willingness to address systemic racism.

Peel Police Deputy Chief Anthony Odoardi said the results weren’t surprising.

“It confirmed there were areas of opportunity for police to strengthen in terms of service to particularly racialized communities in Peel Region,” he said in an interview.

Census data from 2021 indicates nearly 70 per cent of Peel residents identify with a racialized group, the highest amount in the Greater Toronto Area.

The recommendations from the human rights commission cover seven categories – acknowledgment, engagement, policy guidance, data collection, monitoring and accountability, organizational change and a multi-year action plan.

Odoardi said having those areas of focus was important to help the force take specific action.

“Without the underpinning foundational pillars … we’re just committing to an aspirational piece rather than something we can deliver on,” he said.

The force has already made some changes with the commission’s help, including how it uses body-worn cameras and improving its response to mental health-related calls, Odoardi said.

It is also working on improving its collection of race-based data, he said.

“We have now come to understand that race and identity-based data collection is imperative to understand the true issues with a community,” he said.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), which has been following the Peel police reform initiative, voiced support for the recommendations but said it is looking for real change.

“NCCM is encouraged by much of the language in the recommendations, the structure of the plan and the fact that concrete steps for accountability are included,” NCCM, Canada’s largest Muslim advocacy organization, wrote in a statement.

“However, at this point, our community is interested in actions resulting in real change.”

DeGuire, of the human rights commission, said change in policing can seem incremental but urged patience as further community consultations are carried out, noting it was important to build public trust.

“Real change takes time,” she said. “We want to create a human rights culture in Ontario and we cannot do it alone. We need to co-operation and collaboration of our communities.”

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