The council should reconsider the “very serious” issue of the all-white police agency, says the Indigenous advocate

Beverly Jacobs is an Indigenous woman from the Six Nations community of Grand River Territory.  She is also the Senior Advisor to the President of the University of Windsor on Indigenous Relations and Outreach.  (Jason Viau/CBC - photo credit)

Beverly Jacobs is an Indigenous woman from the Six Nations community of Grand River Territory. She is also the Senior Advisor to the President of the University of Windsor on Indigenous Relations and Outreach. (Jason Viau/CBC – photo credit)

Criticism of Windsor’s all-white police department continues, and a prominent member of the Indigenous community is now asking the City Council to reconsider its recent public appointment.

Beverly Jacobs said she was not surprised to learn that the council last month appointed Sophia Chisholm to the Police Council for a four-year term. But she said it highlights a “very serious” ongoing problem: Indigenous people and others from racially diverse groups are not included in government positions that affect them.

“It’s serious because everything was white. Systems are white. Colonial systems are white. University systems are white. Police systems are white. Colonial law is white,” said Jacobs, who is currently the senior adviser to the President of the University of Windsor on indigenous relations and Public relation.

“All the more people can understand the privilege that they were in in these positions, even in such positions of power, to understand that there has to be change because it can no longer be white,” she said.

Historically, the relationship between the police force in Canada and indigenous peoples has not been good, with children being snatched from their families by the police and placed in boarding schools. Jacobs said this is another valuable reason for an Indigenous voice to be heard at police headquarters.

Ontario police departments are tasked with hiring chiefs and deputy chiefs and establishing policies that ensure effective police service.

“[It] is still having an impact on the direction police can take in the city of Windsor. Building better relationships as indigenous peoples is what governance is all about. … It’s a big job to heal the relationship between tribal peoples and the police,” said Jacobs, who also teaches at the university’s law school.

Jason Viau/CBC

Jason Viau/CBC

The city received 48 applicants for the police council position, including people from various communities, such as Natalie Delia Deckard. She is founding director of the Black Studies Institute and a professor of criminology who has researched the relationship between law enforcement and marginalized communities.

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens, who is also the chairman of Police Headquarters, previously told CBC News he supports Chisholm’s appointment partly because he is “very comfortable with her”. This decision was made during an on-camera meeting.

“She is extremely well suited and extremely competent to serve on the board of Windsor Police Services,” he added.

CBC News reached out to Chisholm for comment but received no response.

Jason Viau/CBC

Jason Viau/CBC

Camille Armor has spoken out on social media about Dilkens’ response to a lack of diversity on the Police Board. She is a founding member of the group Black Women of Forward Action.

She called his comments disappointing and smug.

“No matter how well-intentioned or articulate a white person is, they can never educate better about issues affecting black and brown people than a black or brown person. They might think they know, but they don’t know any better and that’s a problem,” Armor said.

“Change isn’t easy and it has to start somewhere,” Armor said. “It was a missed opportunity.”

She said some of what is happening at the Windsor Police Service is not working. Armor points to data showing an over-representation of people of color “in terms of negative interactions with the Windsor Police Service.”

“It cannot be symbolized. There really needs to be real processes in place to listen and make sure the voices of the indigenous people are heard at these tables lest it become a show. – Beverly Jacobs, Senior Advisor to the President of the University of Windsor on Indigenous Relations

Windsor Police Use of Force data shows that 16 percent of the civilians in these interactions between September and December 2022 were black. Blacks make up about five percent of the population in Windsor and Amherstburg. Windsor has been monitoring the latter since 2019.

“So much is said about Windsor [being] one of Canada’s most diverse cities, but if there’s no inclusion, then it doesn’t matter,” Armor said.

“It is what it is,” said one council member of the lack of diversity on the Police Commission

CBC News has reached out to all 10 Windsor councilors. Jo-Anne Gignac, Mark McKenzie, Fred Francis and Fabio Costante did not respond. City councilor Renaldo Agostino declined to comment.

Gary Kaschak declined an interview but said, “It’s kind of old news.”

“It is what it is. I’m not going to comment on this one,” added Kaschak.

Councilman Kieran McKenzie said this could spark deeper discussions about promoting diversity in local councils.

Ed Sleiman, representing Ward 5, said the council’s appointment to the police council is someone who “does a lot for the community”.

Mykhailo Kovaliv

Mykhailo Kovaliv

Division 7 councilor Angelo Marignani agrees that there should be adequate representation on boards, but declined to discuss the lack of diversity on the police board.

“As of this writing, I will stay away from it,” he told CBC News.

Councilor Jim Morrison said this raises questions about how the police council could be expanded to include more voices.

“From what we had to choose from, we went with two women,” he said.

New legislation in Ontario requires diversity in local councils

The Comprehensive Ontario Police Services Act, which is yet to be passed or enacted, will eventually require local councils to “represent the diversity of the population in the community.”

CBC News asked the mayor’s office if Dilkens was aware of this upcoming legislation prior to Chisholm’s appointment and if he was reconsidering the decision.

In response, Dilkens’ chief of staff, Andrew Teliszewsky, pointed to upcoming legislation that would allow the board to expand to seven or nine members with council approval.

“If that happened, additional positions would become available,” he said in an email.

Jason Viau/CBC

Jason Viau/CBC

There is one vacancy on the Windsor Police Services Board to be filled by provincial appointment. That seat was recently left vacant by Denise Ghanam, whose term was not renewed.

Currently the Police Council consists of Dilkens, Gignac, Chisholm and Provincial Officer Robert de Verteuil.

Armor and Jacobs agree that’s not good enough.

“One of the simplest steps would be to include brown and black voices in setting policy for a police service that has negative interactions with brown and black people. There is a problem and it would be logical to help address that through consultation with Brown and Black,” Armor said.

“It cannot be tokenized. There really needs to be real processes in place to listen and make sure the voices of indigenous peoples are heard at these tables so it doesn’t become a show,” Jacobs said.


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