Evidence of meeting #10 for Public Safety and National Security in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was systemic.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Christian Leuprecht  Professor, Department of Political Science, Royal Military College of Canada, As an Individual
Michelaine Lahaie  Chairperson, Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Rick Parent  As an Individual
Peter Sloly  Chief of Police, Ottawa Police Service
Tom Stamatakis  President, Canadian Police Association
Dale McFee  Chief of Police, Edmonton Police Service

Noon

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Would you consider putting together a group of, for instance, indigenous peoples, black Canadians and other racialized Canadians to be part of a review of that process? If Dr. Benson, who's on the ground, is hearing that it's difficult to apply, then I'm wondering...because so often we exclude people as government. I don't think education solves the problem. If you don't trust the RCMP and you don't trust the institution, you probably won't come forward.

I put that out there for your consideration.

Noon

Chairperson, Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Michelaine Lahaie

I think your idea is definitely worthy of consideration. There's no doubt that we need to do greater consultation.

The other thing I need to highlight as well is that our process is a remedial process. Really, the focus is on identifying issues with policies, procedures and training. If any officers are found to have had conduct issues, we make recommendations for operational guidance. The process is remedial in fashion.

But yes, I like your idea. It is certainly something that I will take into consideration.

Noon

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you, Madam Damoff.

Madame Michaud, you have a minute and a half.

Noon

Bloc

Kristina Michaud Bloc Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My questions are for Ms. Lahaie and are along the same lines as Ms. Damoff's.

You said that there are now 16 languages available on the website. More recently, Inuktitut was added. So of those 16 languages, three are indigenous, whereas there are dozens of indigenous languages. The information pamphlet and the online complaint form are only available in French and English.

You mentioned 76 complaints related to discrimination and racism in the last five years. In your opinion, is it possible that not having access to the complaint process or to a form in one's mother tongue can be a major obstacle to filing a complaint? Personally, I believe it can deter a victim of discrimination from filing a complaint. There is still a phone number and an email for people who want information, but are there trained people and translators who can help people file a complaint?

Noon

Chairperson, Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Michelaine Lahaie

The commission does have agreements in place with the translation bureau, where if an individual wishes to make a complaint and we do not have access to the individual's mother tongue, we do three-way calls with the translation bureau, between our intake officer and the individual who is making the complaint. We have done that in the past, and we will continue to do that.

As well, the commission is always open to producing other complaint forms in other languages. We've done it in the past, and we can do it again in the future. The languages that have been chosen—

Noon

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

I'm sorry. Madame Michaud had a minute and a half. It's a very brief period of time.

Mr. Harris, you have a final minute and a half.

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Ms. Lahaie, what would happen if someone made a complaint of excessive use of force. What if the individual making the complaint was an indigenous person, but didn't complain that it was because they were indigenous? Would that be treated as a racially based complaint or not?

12:05 p.m.

Chairperson, Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Michelaine Lahaie

We don't have a category for racially based complaints, but we do routinely make findings and recommendations in our reports that speak to the importance of cultural sensitivity within indigenous populations.

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

I understand that. You counted them at 76, so if I made a complaint as an indigenous person, but didn't say that the use of force was because I was indigenous, then that's not considered one of your 76 complaints.

12:05 p.m.

Chairperson, Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Michelaine Lahaie

No it is not, but it doesn't mean that we wouldn't address the issue.

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

No, I'm just trying to understand the statistics.

Can you tell me why you don't publish your reports and recommendations, except in the case of public interest matters? You could easily allow the public to see what the recommendations were and and what the facts were without disclosing privacy.

12:05 p.m.

Chairperson, Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Michelaine Lahaie

Yes, you're correct. The Privacy Act is the main reason why we do not do that, but if you go to our website, you will notice that we have begun to publish summaries of the complaints that we have received. We are going to continue doing that, going forward, to increase the transparency.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

That brings us to the end of our time with this panel.

Normally, the chair doesn't intervene in questions, but Ms. Damoff made an opening statement about comparability between American and Canadian interactions with citizens, which I thought was directed at Dr. Parent. I think there would be a benefit to the committee to at least hear your response, Dr. Parent, to Ms. Damoff's initial statement.

12:05 p.m.

As an Individual

Dr. Rick Parent

I'm well aware of that statistic, and there's a big difference between what the media report and what actually happens. I'm well aware of how CBC put those stats together and how it used, I would argue, sensationalism. It doesn't put in the actual context that occurs and it does not do a concluding statement at the end of the year.

If you look at the facts, the facts are very different. I have those facts, and I've personally pulled all those files that I talk about. There's a difference between the media and what actually happens with Statistics Canada.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

With all due respect, Mr. Chair, those comments did not come from the media. They came from a briefing I had from the Government of Canada. I wasn't talking about police killings. I was talking about the overrepresentation in the criminal justice system. I wasn't taking it from the media.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

I knew I shouldn't have opened this thing up.

July 24th, 2020 / 12:05 p.m.

As an Individual

Dr. Rick Parent

It's a good discussion.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

That is the point of a parliamentary committee: to have points of view, often different points of view, fleshed out.

It may be useful for you, Dr. Parent and Ms. Damoff, to go off-line and have a direct conversation, so that there may be a point of reconciliation between what appears to be quite divergent statements.

With that, I'm going to suspend. I want to thank, on behalf of the committee, each and every witness here. This has been a very stimulating and useful discussion.

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

We'll resume our meeting.

This is the 10th meeting of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we are studying systemic racism in policing services in Canada.

We have with us, for this panel, Peter Sloly, chief of the Ottawa Police Service; Dale McFee, chief of the Edmonton Police Service; and Tom Stamatakis, president of the Canadian Police Association. The speaking order for the time being will be Chief Peter Sloly, then Tom Stamatakis from the Canadian Police Association and then Chief McFee.

With that, Chief Sloly, I'll ask you to proceed with your seven-minute presentation.

12:15 p.m.

Chief Peter Sloly Chief of Police, Ottawa Police Service

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].

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Chief Sloly, you're fading, but you're clearly out of time.

12:25 p.m.

Chief of Police, Ottawa Police Service

Chief Peter Sloly

I've concluded. Thank you.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

That's good.

I encourage witnesses to look occasionally at the chair, as I don't wish to interrupt.

Our next speaker is Tom Stamatakis.

Sir, you have seven minutes.

12:25 p.m.

Tom Stamatakis President, Canadian Police Association

Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. I'd like to thank you for inviting me to participate today as you continue your important study into systemic racism in policing services in Canada.

I note there are some new faces at the table since my last appearance, so very briefly, for those who may not be familiar, I’m appearing today as the president of the Canadian Police Association, which is the largest policing advocacy organization in Canada, representing more than 55,000 front-line civilian and sworn law enforcement personnel from coast to coast to coast. Our members are the officers and the communications professionals whom members of the public see in their communities and who are usually the first line of contact people have with their local police service.

As you can imagine, I have been following the proceedings of this committee very closely, and I think it’s important to begin my presentation today by acknowledging the very real issue of systemic racism in our institutions. I also think it’s important to acknowledge that this is not a problem unique to policing in Canada. The effects of systemic racism are apparent in many of our central institutions, from the media to academia, to the legal system, our health care system and even our Parliament and provincial legislatures.

We need to do better, and that statement goes beyond meaning just having witnesses appear and provide what they believe are the best definitions of systemic racism. From my perspective, whether or not my own specific definition of the problem matches that of any other witness is largely unimportant. The key is that what has become abundantly clear in the past two months is that some Canadians do not believe their police services represent them or treat them equally, based on the colour of their skin or their circumstances. As police professionals, we need to address that.

That being said, I also think it’s unfortunate that all police officers have been broadly targeted, both by activists and some political figures, as the ultimate source of the problem. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I've had the privilege of working in policing for over 30 years, and by virtue of my role as an operational police officer and as the president of the CPA, representing police officers locally, provincially, federally and internationally, I've had the ability to meet with officers in police services across this country and can say without a shadow of a doubt that Canadians have every reason to be proud of the professionalism and dedication that is shown by our personnel on a daily basis.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2017-18 Canadian police officers responded to almost 13 million calls for service. To put it another way, in the first six months of 2020, the Edmonton Police Service responded to 87,724 calls for service, which averages out to 20 calls per hour, seven days per week, 24 hours per day. These numbers only reflect specific calls for service. The number doesn’t even begin to capture such proactive police work as traffic enforcement, community outreach or targeted policing at identified hot spots.

I mention this to highlight the fact that there are overwhelming demands being placed on the men and women who make up our police services. The overwhelming majority of these calls and activities are handled without fanfare, with outstanding professionalism and without use of force. We carefully recruit and carefully screen our officers and then provide them with outstanding training in areas such as de-escalation, and this shows in these statistics.

I think it’s important for all of us to keep in mind that it’s entirely possible to recognize the strong work already being done by our police services, while also acknowledging that there’s more to be done and that there is room for improvement within our sector.

One of the remedies that have been suggested to address systemic racism in policing is the idea that it’s time to abolish police or defund policing. I’d like to take just a minute to respond to that idea.

The term “defund the police” is open to interpretation. For some, it's merely a hashtag. For others, it has many definitions: abolish the police, reduce police budgets, reallocate police funds to social services or move towards a social work model, replacing police officers with trained social workers or specialized response teams.

While there is universal acceptance of the need for reforms, arbitrary cuts to police funding are not the answer. Proposals to cut budgets by 10% to 20%, for example, have been put forward, with no plan for replacing the services currently delivered by the police. Also missing from the discussion is whether other health or social agencies can take on the added responsibilities.

I’d also note that if these cuts were to be imposed without an appropriate replacement plan in place, it will be the most vulnerable and marginalized Canadians who will feel the effects most acutely. It should also be noted that even with increased social supports in place, there will always be a role for front-line policing, particularly when the safety of the public is put at risk.

For example, ideally police would not be the first agency responding to mental health distress calls; however, it is ultimately unrealistic to expect that when someone presents a danger to themselves or members of the public, there would not be a police response, preferably working in concert with trained mental health professionals.

This is an approach that many police agencies have already adopted, with the use of mobile crisis intervention teams that pair a trained mental health nurse with a police officer, in order to rapidly address circumstances where it would be inappropriate for a uniquely police response.

Police associations and front-line officers want to be constructive partners in this important discussion. In fact, nobody would agree more with the argument that police officers shouldn't be the only agency available to respond to calls that generally aren't criminal in nature. Associations also want to be part of the solution when it comes to addressing systemic racism in our sector, but we believe it's important for those solutions to be evidence-based and supported by rigorous research and evaluation, and not be the result of misleading headlines and populist rhetoric.

If we want to have a productive discussion around the future of police spending in Canada, it's important to focus on the entirety of the social safety system. If all that happens is a review or a focus exclusively on policing, a lot of politicians, activists and consultants might feel as if they have accomplished something, but nothing will ultimately change. We need a more holistic or complete approach that engages all stakeholders, all three levels of government and the public, to ensure that Canadians can continue to have trust and confidence in their police services.

As I've often said, police believe that proactive policing and building community relationships are a better approach to addressing social issues and the root causes of crime. However, community policing is resource intensive and requires a consistent, sustained approach. Community policing's success hinges on an adequately funded and staffed police service, where officers have proactive or uncommitted time during their shift to engage in day-to-day culturally aware interactions in priority neighbourhoods. Budget cuts will weaken a police service's ability to engage proactively with the community and deliver community policing where it matters most: in Canada's most vulnerable communities.

I'd like to thank you again for the invitation to appear before you, and I look forward to questions.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you, Mr. Stamatakis.

Our final witness is Chief McFee, from Edmonton.

You have seven minutes, please.