Annette Ejiofor
Annette Ejiofor

Friday 21 August

by Annette Ejiofor, Associate Editor

A recently released report shows the Ottawa Police made 4,405 street-checks in 2014, compared to 8,240 in 2010. In Ottawa, Black individuals account for 5% of the population but made up 20% of the people street-checked over the past five years. Middle Eastern individuals make up 3% of the population, but accounted for 14% of street checks. According to the Globe and Mail, “Between 2009 and 2011, Toronto Police entered 1,104,561 names into its carding database, according to the force’s own figures, a staggering effort disproportionately targeting minority groups.”  On August 21st, 2015, from 4-6pm at Carleton University, The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services arranged a workshop (a public meeting/discussion group) regarding police streets checks. In seeking to regulate police street checks, they sought input from members of the public through a workshop held at Carleton University.

In addition to event organiser MPP Yasir Naqvi, the workshop featured may notable individuals from Ottawa’s diverse community: Professor and author Irvin Waller;  Ottawa Police Service Community Development Coordinator, Hamid Mousa; Director of Policy Minister’s Office, Melissa Bantfield; Government and Public Relations Officer for the Canadian Police Association, Michael Gendron; President of the Ottawa Police Association, Matt Skof, and Ottawa Police Superintendent, Uday Singh Jaswal. These individuals played roles as either facilitators and/or were in attendance as mere listeners of the conversation.

Michael Gendron, Matt Skof, and Uday Jaswal, were those individuals in attendance to listen to what was being said. Thankfully, I was able to speak with these men and asked about the biases that police services are known to have regarding race. Superintendent Jaswal spoke about the Ottawa Police following a “bias- neutral” narrative. Bias-neutral means being able to leave all biases at the door once you arrive at work. It was well understood that every individual worldwide has their own biases and in following a bias-neutral stance, the effects of the biases while at work will be reduced and hopefully exterminated. I ended our talk with asking what the best way to be an ally for positive change would be. Michael Gendron believes that there is a definite need to walk a mile in the other person’s shoes, listening and understanding each other’s perspectives being key. Gendron understands that we all want the same goals and just need to figure how to reach it collaboratively. Matt Skof believed that being engaged, getting members perspectives, engaging in community events, and dialogue, were the keys to being a good ally. Skof was of the view that being a part of the events and issues within the community leads to the path of being a positive ally. Finally, with Uday Jaswal, on being a good ally, public trust was necessary, trust being a two-way streak between the community trusting the police but also the police trusting the community. That connection is an asset. Superintendent Jaswal asserted that the Ottawa Police conducting themselves in a bias-neutral way would add to being a positive ally.

During the workshop I was honoured to sit and listen to the discussions ongoing at the multiple tables. Each table were given a list of questions, asking for answers and/or feedback, in English and French. The questions were: 

  • How would you define a street check?
  • If a police officer stops an individual, asks them questions, and records their information, what rules do you think should be in place to govern these interactions?
  • What oversight can the government apply to ensure that these interactions are conducted properly?

 Irvin Waller spoke of the City of Toronto attitude believing that carding was the best solution. Waller stated eloquently, that if you have a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail. Waller advocates smart prevention, targeting economic, societal, issues. Societal issues was additionally advocated by Hamid Mousa. Waller advanced that society needs more targeted social policing; gun violence for example is better targeted through the smart prevention.

This workshop opened my eyes to the fact that police carding is a increasing problem. It alerted me that although there are better ways to solve the issues of crime, reduced crime, the Ottawa Police is still advocating the addition of police officers as opposed to targeting social and economic issues. Finally, I was alerted that the Ottawa Police are listening to our shouts and cries and are making waves for positive change within our communities. It gave me an opportunity to see into the minds of those who are leading us. I want to believe that our leaders are adamant about these changes. I want to believe that these workshops are more than a way to mute an already screaming audience. The truth is, the Ottawa Police, and The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, are trying. We should extend our trusts a little further towards our leaders, whilst keeping a watchful eye. Trust can be hard in our time and day, but given that we are the voices that are being heard, we hold the power never sought before. We are the ones steering the ship. In the end, we will be the ones to accept or deny their actions. Knowing this, should aid in trusting our police service. I know it certainly helps me.