‘Ottawa’ Police Force Must Diversify, Critics Say
There are calls to make the Ottawa police a more diverse force. But where the consensus ends is when it comes to talk about which hiring practices need to change.
A spotlight has landed on police hiring practices in the wake of a resignation by a background investigator who objected to the hiring of a recruit she alleged was unsuitable.
Margaret Parsons, meanwhile, the executive director of African Canadian Legal Clinic, said Tuesday the force should modify its hiring practices to ensure that its officers reflect the diverse community they serve.
Police need a “more rigorous recruiting effort to bring in more Somalis and other racialized people into the force,” she said.
She argued that Highway Traffic Act violations — such as those the Somali-Canadian recruit was found to have during his vetting process — shouldn’t bar someone from becoming a police officer, especially since people of colour often find themselves racially profiled, which can lead to a prevalence of such infractions.
Parsons said she is confident in the force’s hiring standards and doesn’t believe an officer would have been hired if the force believed he could not fulfill his duties.Police forces have changed hiring requirements before to accommodate women, by reducing the height requirement. To further increase diversity in the force, the Ottawa police force will have to examine its current standards, and if the changes in their requirements don’t fundamentally affect day-to-day policing, the officer’s ability to carry out their responsibilities and duties, and isn’t a security breach, it should be accepted, Parsons said.
It’s estimated that 85 per cent of the Ottawa police force is white. Eight other OPS employees — five officers and three civilians — describe themselves as Somali-Canadian.
Abdourahman Kahin, the founder of Muslim Presence, who works as a Somali-Canadian leader in Ottawa, said Ottawa police need to start reflecting the community they serve but that the commitment to increase diversity shouldn’t merely be in reaction to Abdi’s death. It must be a long-term commitment.
“They have to show that they’re willing to hire people,” said Kahin, who says he himself was rejected from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
“They are 40 years behind,” he said. “The face of Ottawa is totally different.”
Kahin said the Ottawa police need to “build a bridge of trust” with minority groups currently not represented within the Ottawa police. Currently he said, the Somali-Canadian youth don’t have positive role models within the police force — but if more diversity is represented it will increase young people interest in joining the force.