Thank you. I would like to thank the committee for inviting me to participate in this very important discussion.
My name is Peter Sloly, and I am the chief of the Ottawa Police Service. I am proud to serve the one million souls who reside in the nation’s capital. I am proud of my 28 years as a police officer in Canada. I am a proud black man, a proud native of Jamaica and a proud Canadian citizen.
I will start by unequivocally stating that Canada is the best country in the world, that the Canadian policing model is the best in the world and that Canadian police officers are among the finest people in the world. I will also unequivocally state that individual and systemic racism exists in Canadian policing, in all Canadian institutions and in Canadian society as a whole. These statements are not mutually exclusive.
The ongoing negative impact of systemic racism is eroding the public’s trust and confidence in policing, which is essential to keeping our communities safe. Not addressing systemic racism is not only failing our communities; it also puts our own police service members at risk. Systemic racism is a well-established concept rooted in our colonial past, embedded in our legislation, enabled in our institutional practices and sustained in our organizational culture.
A common misconception about systemic racism is that it involves a few bad apples who engage in racist thoughts and behaviours. This is not true, because imperfectly good people can commit acts of omission that allow individual racists to survive and even thrive in organizations. Imperfectly good people can also consciously or unconsciously enable systems to create and perpetuate policies and practices that work to the advantage of some groups and to the disadvantage of others.
Systemic racism exists within all Canadian institutions. Further, these institutions are interdependent, interactive and compounding on each other. For example, individual and systemic racism in education, health care, social services and housing will directly contribute to the underpinning elements of crime.
Criminal activity will eventually engage the justice system into this cascading set of institutional failures. To dismantle systemic racism along with all forms of discrimination in policing, we need to make positive investments in police culture, police operations and the broader institutional ecosystem that the police operate in.
Changing police culture is not something that can happen overnight; however, there are specific steps that police leaders can do today that will build a healthier police culture for the future. For example, a greater critical mass of diverse sworn and civilian personnel at every level of the police service has been shown to diminish some of the more pernicious aspects of police culture. That is why the Ottawa Police Service has enhanced our recruitment, hiring and promotion processes to increase the quality of our members and to accelerate the diversification of our organization.
Human rights experts have helped to identify the following three things that police services should do to build a healthier culture and eliminate systemic racism. First is collecting and analyzing disaggregated race-based data; second is developing an equity, diversity and inclusion tool kit to review and update all policies, procedures and practices; and third is identifying and removing all aspects of the organizational culture that sustains systemic racism or resists attempts to dismantle it.
The Ontario Human Rights Code and the Comprehensive Ontario Police Services Act establish the responsibilities for police services, police boards and police oversight bodies to prevent and address both individual and systemic racism. There is a further positive obligation on police services to make sure that they are not engaging in systemic discrimination in any form. All Ontario police services must comply with these legislative requirements and standards.
That said, Canadian police leaders must go well beyond mere legal compliance. We must demonstrate our own personal and professional commitment to promoting and protecting human rights and charter rights. We must take the initiative to lead the redevelopment all of core systems, human resources, professional standards, corporate risk management, operations and IT, such that these systems accelerate the advancements that we have already made to bring greater levels of diversity, equity and inclusion into policing while also dismantling systemic racism that has too long persisted in policing.
The community does not want law enforcement or the use of force to be the dominant problem-solving tools of policing, nor do they want law enforcement to be the dominant factor shaping police culture. These concerns help to explain why indigenous, black and racialized communities sometimes feel they are overpoliced, underserved and overrepresented in the criminal justice system.
The community and police do not want to be the only or even primary response option to every call for service everywhere on a 24-7, 365 basis. This model does not fully serve the community's needs, and it puts police officers in an untenable position where they do not and cannot have the knowledge, skills and abilities to consistently and successfully deal with non-police related calls, most notably with people suffering from mental health issues or addictions.
The public and police members want policing that prevents and reduces crime. They also want police to partner with the communities to address a wider variety of public safety issues—such as neighbour disputes, parking complaints, road safety, school safety, disorderly behaviour in public areas and other human services issues—where the police would play more of a support role, not the lead role that we currently do.
That is why the Ottawa Police Service has committed to making major investments in the following three operational strategies.
The first is neighbourhood policing: deploying officers in the neighbourhoods experiencing higher calls for service, criminality and/or social disorder to work with local community stakeholders to prevent and address a broad range of community safety and well-being issues. The second is intelligence-led policing: enhancing the intelligence-led policing model that will still have crime reduction as a priority, but be fully aligned with the neighbourhood policing model to prevent crime and disorder while getting at the root causes of crime. The third is community safety and well-being: implementing a community safety and well-being plan that brings together police, education, health care, social services and community stakeholders to create an integrated service delivery model that proactively assesses individual and community needs and the risks associated with them, and addresses them in the pre-justice space using a combination of social workers, mental health practitioners and/or police officers.
The best way to prevent crime is by addressing the root causes of crime in full partnership with the community. We can do this while still demonstrating the ability to deal with the most prolific criminal offenders. Simply put, the police should prevent first and foremost and enforce last and least, while partnering in all ways and always. This will enable the co-production of public safety and the co-destruction of systemic racism.
I know that my colleague, Chief Dale McFee, will focus the majority of his presentation on the types of changes needed to further align and integrate the larger ecosystem of institutions that the police operate in. This is an area where I think we can make the biggest, most impactful and most needed changes: changes that will save the lives of community members and police service members, changes that will provide greater dignity and respect to minority community members and police service members, changes that will rebuild public trust and police morale and changes that will result in a massive return on investment for taxpayers and an opportunity for further investments in community safety and well-being for all Canadians in all communities.
In conclusion, I am proud of the progress that has been made in my chosen profession of policing. I am proud of the Ottawa Police Service members for their contributions to that progress. I'm proud of all members of Canada's police services who have contributed to advancing our social fabric, our democracy and our nation. Much has been accomplished, but much more needs to be done.
I'm personally and professionally committed to fixing this issue. Thankfully I'm not alone in this work. I'm surrounded by a critical mass of other leaders in the Ottawa Police Service and across this great country, leaders who know that this is not the time for resisting change and not the time for incremental change. This is the time to make real change.
Policing in Canada has been moving from denial and resistance to listening, dialoguing, learning, owning, partnering, codesigning and co-producing the cultural, operational and system-wide changes we need to dismantle systemic racism in policing and in the wider Canadian society. The conditions to make meaningful change exist right here and right now in Canada. There are no more excuses.
Indigenous, black and racialized communities need this. Women and newcomers need this. Front-line police officers and police chiefs need this. [Technical Difficulty—Editor].