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On Monday June 29, the Peterborough Community Race Relations Committee (CRRC) and the Peterborough Police Service (PPS) teamed up to begin an Instagram live event series called “Tough Conversations with Peterborough Police.” The event series aims to discuss policing in Peterborough, racism, and related issues in light of recent events across the country and continent.
June 29’s hour-long event featured CRRC Executive Director Angela Connors in conversation with Inspector John Lyons of the PPS Operations division.
The discussion began by looking at the PPS staff. Connors noted that according to a 2019 Trent University study, Peterborough has a white population of 94 percent. The PPS staff is currently 96 percent white, which is slightly overrepresentative of the city’s population. Inspector Lyons stated that there is a strategic plan for the PPS which is going to be released soon which considers this, and said that the PPS is “looking for diversity in hiring.”
“We aren’t just looking for people to come to the Peterborough Police; we want them to be part of the community,” he said.
Part of any workplace recruitment strategy is an understanding of workplace culture, or the shared values, beliefs, and behaviours of a workplace. When asked about the PPS’ internal culture – which has a role both in recruiting and retaining people of colour on staff, and in the experiences that people of colour have with the police – Inspector Lyons said that the PPS is “developing internal police curriculum” that includes increased cultural awareness.
“It’s easy to be white and not have to worry about some cultural differences or stigmas or stereotypes,” he explained. “I’ve chosen to become educated… to become an ally, to become a support.”
“If you’re going to do this kind of [diversity hiring or any kind of hiring], you’ve got to include anti-racism and anti-racist competencies as part of the [qualifications],” Connors said.
If you work for the PPS and are experiencing discrimination, you can refer to the internal policies and procedures, or you can take your case to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal (OHRT).
Connors then spoke briefly about her personal experiences of apprehension about interacting with police in general as an Indigenous woman. She noted that, like many other Black and Indigenous people, her first instinct has been one of self-surveillance when approached by police: “‘Oh no, what did I do?’”
Though this has since changed, that instinct was still intact for Connors when the PPS reached out to the CRRC regarding hate crimes and racist harassment in Peterborough a few years ago.
The PPS reached out about local white nationalist Kevin Goudreau of the Canadian Nationalist Front. Goudreau held one impromptu and small white power rally at Peterborough Square in March 2017, and attempted but failed another rally at Confederation Square in September 2017 that was met with counterprotests. He has since been seen at demonstrations outside the city and is a well-documented figure within the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.
Inspector Lyons explained that the PPS had identified a gap in knowledge and wanted to work “with a community agency as a partner.”
He spoke about the difficulty of translating hateful and harmful rhetoric into criminal charges.
“If you look at the Criminal Code, there is no such thing as a ‘hate crime,’” he said, but explained that if hate or discrimination is part of a proven motivation of a crime (i.e. violence, vandalism, harassment), a judge’s sentencing must be harsher than if the crime occurred without hate or discriminatory motivations.
However, there are actions, such as posting imagery or recording oneself making gestures not directed at a specific person, that are not crimes but that are still hateful and hurtful.
“It is inappropriate that we have nothing to capture that,” Inspector Lyons said.
In Peterborough, you can report incidents of racist or otherwise discriminatory behaviour to the PPS so that a record for the discriminatory person is kept. This record can then be used at a later time if and/or when a crime occurs to help prove a motivation of hate, he said.
This prompted Connors to ask further about what the police do and do not do. Gesturing to a previous incident with which the PPS was involved, she asked how someone who has experienced racism can explain their perspective to the police.
“Asking those questions so that you can fully understand that situation… you have to have that conversation,” said Inspector Lyons.
However, he noted it can be hard to navigate these conversations to fully understand a person’s motivation for action or reaction to a given situation while also respecting the right to silence.
“I’ve lived [racism] vicariously through friends,” he said, “[but] I don’t know what it’s like to feel the sting of discrimination.”
If you experience or witness a dissatisfactory interaction with the PPS, you can make a comment or complaint with the station over email, phone, fax, or by mail. You can also file a complaint with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD).
The conversation then turned to the city budget allotment for the PPS. The city’s 2020 budget gave the PPS $26.4 million. Roughly 90 percent of the police budget goes towards staffing, while the remainder accounts for all other costs. Inspector Lyons noted that the PPS station is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so costs are to be incurred by maintaining operations.
Connors asked the question that has been a popular topic over the past six weeks: “How do we defund the police?”
The city has to deal with the PPS union, the Peterborough Police Association (PPA), as well as contracts and arbitration to defund the police in a meaningful way, the two discussed.
Inspector Lyons was also quick to point out that section 17 of the Ontario Mental Health Act gives police specific powers to intervene in the name of public safety. He is concerned that other institutions that have been called on to take on community safety roles, such as those with social workers or mental healthcare professionals, may not have the authority or capacity to carry out.
“Don’t come to me with a problem without a solution,” he said.
Inspector Lyons then recalled last year’s “Tent City” predominantly in Victoria Park on Water street. The PPS, whose station is at McDonnel and Water, was criticized for not doing enough to rid the park of the so-called “eyesore” of people unable to be sheltered at the Brock Mission location on Murray street. However, the PPS took a “hands-off approach.”
“[Taking down tent city] would have been easy, but it wouldn’t have been smart,” he said.
City Council has begun deliberations for the 2021 budget. Council’s General Committee meets next on Monday July 6 at 6 p.m. The Finance Committee meets next on Monday July 13 at 5 p.m.
Inspector Lyons encourages community feedback and engagement with the PPS to address citizens’ comments or concerns. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the PPS hosted “Coffee with Cops” drop-in events and PPS town halls, though presently are corresponding over phone or email.
The next “Tough Conversations with Peterborough Police” will be with PPS Sergeant Ted Branch, who is in charge of staff training, on Monday July 6 at 12 p.m. EST on the CRRC Instagram page @racerelationsptbo.