Reflecting on Reconciliation
Chief James Ramer acknowledges there is much work to be done to mend relations with Canada’s Indigenous communities as many forge the path toward reconciliation.
Just over a year ago, the remains of Indigenous children were found near the former Kamloops Residential School.
“That was a terrible reminder of the harm that was done to Indigenous people by Canadian residential schools and the intergenerational trauma that continues to this day,” he said, at the Toronto Police Aboriginal Consultative Committee 24th annual National Indigenous Peoples Day celebration at police headquarters on June 7. “It is a dark and shameful part of our history.”
Grasping an understanding of the past, noted Ramer, is the first step towards reconciliation.
“By educating ourselves and our young people, we can truly embrace the meaning of truth and reconciliation and ensure the legacy of residential schools is never forgotten,” the Chief said. “For the Toronto Police Service, it also means acknowledging that the systemic discrimination faced by Indigenous Peoples in our city continues. The fact remains that not all people in our city benefit equally from the services that we provide and mistrust continues to exist between police and Indigenous communities.”
Ramer said the Service understands that greater efforts must be made to build trusted relationships with Indigenous peoples and organizations.
“Today and every day, we must take time to listen and learn,” he said. “We must also gain a greater respect for and a deeper understanding of Indigenous peoples and their diverse cultures. We must all recommit to reading the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the many related resources available to us. And most importantly, we must speak openly and truthfully about our past and acknowledge the systemic barriers that Indigenous people continue to face, including in policing.”
The theme of this year’s celebration is Reconciliation.
There were also traditional songs and dance performed by the Red Bear Singers and the All Nations Drum group that included traditional dances.
Senator Suzanne Brunelle of the Toronto & York Region Metis Council provided the opening blessing.
Aboriginal Consultative Committee co-chair Frances Sanderson, Executive Director of Nishnawbe Homes, said recognizing the past is important to moving forward.
“We can recognize mistakes made in the past and honour the strength of those who survived,” she said. The committee brings together members of the police service to work directly with leaders in the Indigenous community on forging a better relationship.
Staff Sergeant Patrick Coyne, of the Learning Development & Standards Section at the Toronto Police College, spoke about the in-class Indigenous Experience course for all frontline police officers and special constables.
“At the College, we recognize that our role in training gives us an important responsibility and we are committed to delivering the best possible training available to our members so they can provide the best possible service to our communities,” said Coyne.
Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) Executive Director and Chief of Staff Ryan Teschner said this month we both celebrate the Indigenous peoples and cultures, we also recognize a painful past and better way forward.
In acknowledging this painful past, Teschner said recognition and reconciliation requires everyone to acknowledge that the trauma is ongoing, that this was a reality for far too many, and that discrimination persists.
“We must acknowledge and come to terms with the reality that, sometimes, and sometimes in horrific ways, the powers of the state have been used to do harm,” he said. “At the same time, there is hope. I think back to my previous role as Ontario’s Chief Negotiator in developing the first legislative framework for First Nations Policing in the province. In my work, I developed a friendship with a residential school survivor. And, I will never forget the tears of joy in his eyes when our collective work – including a system of civilian governance for Indigenous policing based on our police board model – became law.
“Our model of civilian police governance was the model that these Indigenous communities were actively choosing to adopt as their model. We should, collectively, be proud of this and what it means. And, we should see this as an example of what a respectful process of truth and reconciliation can unlock. We recognize that we learn best from those upon whose traditional territory we now humbly live. We know that there is still much healing that needs to take place. We can and must do more and it is critical that we commit ourselves – wholly, sincerely and humbly - to this work.”
Teschner said the Board is examining what TPS is doing to improve positive and trusting relationships with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities in the city.
“We are reminded of the great importance of the relationship between the police service and the public, a crucial partnership that must be fostered and celebrated,” he added. “Through today’s celebration, let us honour that relationship and re-dedicate ourselves to making it even stronger for the future.”