Policing in a city of more than 770,000
residents is hard work, but in a diverse multicultural city like Ottawa,
it is also delicate work.
Police striving to deal
Police forces nationwide battle the public perception
that officers are knowing or unwitting practitioners of racial
profiling. Most recently, Toronto police came under fire from a Toronto
Star investigation that concluded the force treated blacks more harshly
Here in Ottawa, several youths in the Citizen's Youth
Crime series have recounted incidents where they or their friends felt
unfairly targeted by police, whether due to their age, status as street
youth, or racial or ethnic backgrounds.
It's a perception Ottawa police are aware of, and one
they are working to combat.
In March, Ottawa police Deputy Chief Larry Hill
acknowledged at a national policing forum that officers in this city are
not immune to the tendency that exists in institutions — including
schools, hospitals, businesses and law enforcement — to stereotype
people according to race.
"Racial profiling is a significant issue both inside
the community and inside the police services," Deputy Chief Hill told
the media after the conference. "Our members are not racist, but we are
no different than any other organization. Do stereotypes exist? Yes. Do
things happen because ... we stereotype people? Yes. So if we're going
to call that racial profiling, then yes, certainly it occurs in our
police service as well as other police services."
However, while they acknowledge such challenges,
Ottawa police have also been working actively to educate officers and
develop community liaisons that help limit institutional stereotyping.
Deputy Chief Hill, for example, heads the Community
and Police Action Committee (COMPAC), which joins community
representatives and police from across the city to foster cross-cultural
understanding. The group can facilitate mediation meetings in which
community members with complaints about police conduct can discuss their
concerns with officers.
"It's definitely needed, because it's a learning
opportunity for both sides," says Sonia Brereton, a COMPAC board member
and chairwoman of the city's equity and diversity advisory committee.
COMPAC has been instrumental in creating the Critical
Incidents and Critical Situations (CI/CS) coalition of police and
community members, which since last year has been available to stage
interventions in the event of a police-community crisis (for instance,
when a violent interaction between police and a racial group results in
ongoing tension or conflict.)
"Prior to that, situations would arise and a lot of it
was misunderstanding," Ms. Brereton says. "A lot of parents and young
people, when they were given the opportunity to sit down and talk about
how they were treated or mistreated, it really gave information to the
police for them to know exactly where they're going wrong, and also for
the community it was a learning experience."
Cross-cultural outreach and education is another
aspect of city policing that helps reduce friction between police and
ethnic groups and police regularly conduct seminars in schools and ESL
The Diversity and Race Relations Unit was founded in
1995 to ensure the police respond sensitively to all community groups,
particularly marginalized ones, through outreach.
"We're engaging in a proactive community dialogue to
deal with issues before they become a crisis," says Nancy Worstfold,
acting director of community development for the Ottawa police.
"One of the things we're concerned about is
under-reporting of certain crimes, in youth on youth crime. Building
relationships is about prevention, but it's also about crime reporting,
because youth are involved on both sides" she says of the outreach
Examples of police outreach abound: A police mentoring
program for at-risk youth run by a Diversity and Race Relations outreach
worker pairs minority youth and police officers, while a "Meet the Heat"
event at Lansdowne Park in June drew 200 youth, many from diverse
An ethnically and racially diverse police force is one
of the best tools for ensuring equitable treatment of community groups,
and to that end, the force offers a $1,500 educational scholarship to
visible minority and aboriginal women interested in a career in policing
in the city. The force maintains a policy of equal opportunity hiring
that, according to its mission statement, "readily acknowledges that a
diverse population is best served by a similar diversity of police and
Anyone looking to join the Ottawa police must
demonstrate, in interviews, the ability to value diversity "to work
effectively with a wide cross-section of the community representing
diverse backgrounds, cultures and socio-economic circumstances."
In addition, new police recruits are required to
undergo training in race relations and prevention of workplace
discrimination and harassment and complete a half-day placement with
various community groups to learn more about certain ethnic and cultural
Out in the streets, the force's 20-odd community
policing centres are designed to be accessible and to forge
relationships with area residents and work on crime prevention.
According to a Canadian Race Relations Foundation
report on Racism and Policing, such initiatives "provide police officers
with new capabilities for acting with a more complete, nuanced and
critical understanding of a neighbourhood's residents and their
community lifestyles and cultural characteristics" and "make it possible
to bridge the gulf between citizens of diverse cultures and police."
The Ottawa p0lice force also lays claim to the oldest
community-based police hate crime section in Canada, which was
established in 1993.
But, says Ms. Brereton, who is also the community
co-chairwoman of the National Capital Alliance on Race Relations, there
is more to be done.
"There's still a lot of learning (that) has to be
done," she says. "No institution is perfect, so there's still that room
for more learning, but it has to be on both sides, the community as a
whole and the police."
29 July 2003