Policing Through Human Rights Lens

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A Human Rights Project Charter evaluation found Toronto Police have applied a human rights lens to recruitment, selection, promotion and retention and made more recommendations on how the Service can improve.

Initiated by the Service, the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) and the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) seven years ago, the charter seeks to identify and eliminate discrimination in the employment practices of the Service or in the provision of police services to the community.

All three parties came together to review its practices, processes, policies and procedures to ensure there is no discrimination or bias in the workplace. In 2010, the formal partnership concluded but the work of the project charter continues to this day.

The Ted Rogers School of Management’s Diversity Institute at Ryerson University was contracted to evaluate the project charter. Dr. Wendy Cukier, Ryerson’s vice-president of research and innovation reported to the Toronto Police Services Board on March 13 at police headquarters.

“When we looked at recruitment, selection, promotion and retention, we saw evidence of much more attention to human rights at every stage of the human rights function. We saw improved awareness of the need for better data collected around diversity. In the police service, we found new support mechanisms put in place, but we still found that more measurement and tracking were really required. When we looked at the accountability issues, when we looked at procedures and directives, we saw that there was evidence of a human rights lens being applied, but again more work is required in order to evaluate this.”

The 10 recommendations are divided into four sections: improved data collection and analysis, strategy and organizational sustainability, communications and training.

Evaluation of the Human Rights Project Charter

The evaluation suggested that leadership at the senior and middle management levels continue to make human rights and diversity a strategic priority within the Service by continually promoting and sustaining these values and mainstreaming them through policing strategies, policies, procedures and performance metrics.

“We view diversity, inclusion and human rights as obviously fundamental to policing in a democratic society, not just from the point of view of compliance or values, but from the point of view of developing high performance organizations,” Cukier said at the public meeting. “We know that getting these issues right have a profound impact on your ability to attract, retain and motivate high-performing professionals and staff. We know that organizations that look like the communities that they serve are often able to provide better services. We know that having a diverse workforce and good relations with the community also enhance innovation and the development of new approaches and we all know the cost that we incur if we don’t get this right.

“We also see diversity, human rights and inclusion as a progression and something we continuously need to improve. One of the purposes of this project was to look at the human rights charter and its impact, but also to identify areas for further improvement.”

Chief Bill Blair noted that the Project Charter was a major milestone for the Service.

“We appreciate the recommendations made in Ryerson’s report and we will incorporate them into our continuing evolution in addressing discrimination and bias,” he said.

Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) chief commissioner Barbara Hall said the Project Charter was a big step forward in applying a human rights lens to all aspects of policing in the city.

“Advocates and community groups, particularly the Black community have long expressed concerns about discrimination and about racial profiling,” she said. “We originally approached the Board and the Service because we wanted to see if some of the issues that were being raised in many complaints at the commission could be resolved outside the complaint’s process. In particular, we were looking for remedies for issues that seemed to be systemic or built right into the organization.”

Andre Goh, who heads the Service’s Diversity Management section, said the project charter is a groundbreaking document.

“This document is very, very important because it assesses all the things we said we would do and we did.” he said. “Overall, it says there are still some gaps that you need to work on and the Service acknowledges that we are doing that by actually reviewing other areas more specifically. An example is Police & Community Engagement Review (PACER). We believe that what PACER can accomplish what it sets out is because a foundation has already been laid by Project Charter. We already commenced a rigorous human rights training in all the training initiatives we do and we reviewed our recruitment, promotional and developmental opportunities to ensure they are more transparent and more inclusive.”

Goh said the partners have come a long way since they first met with OHRC peers seven years ago.

“It was not a cosy relationship at all,” he said. “Service members were uncomfortable with OHRC staff telling them what to do and the OHRC, to an extent, came in with a biased perception of what police members were.”

Hall concurred with Goh.

“When we began, there was resistance to data collection,” she said. “The OHRC tried to make a case to collect more data related to human rights, but not everyone bought into that. But the conversation today in 2014 has changed from whether data should be collected to how do we do it right and we see that in the PACER report where it’s clear that collecting high quality information that can be properly analyzed and tested is vital.”

This was the first project charter of its kind and, based on this experience, the OHRC has started project charters with other police services in the province.

“We didn’t have a road map,” Hall said. “In a sense, all of us were learning on the job about how to do organizational human rights change on a massive scale. The evaluation report provides a good overview of how we can all do this better… The lessons learned from the charter project are helping us in the Commission to work with other police services. In the past, there was a lot of resistance to human rights work from police services and today, we get requests from services across the province who are watching this process and have identified needs in their organization.”

Chair Alok Mukherjee said the TPSB is extremely proud of the project that was built on a successful and collaborative partnership.

“It arose out of the Board’s desire for a comprehensive and concrete culture change in how the Service treats both members of the public and its own members,” he noted.

In addition to Goh, other members of the Service’s advisory committee were Staff Superintendent Richard Stubbings and TPSB researcher Karlene Bennett.

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