Uniting Through Faith
Every month for the last 18 years, Toronto Police Neighbourhood Officers in 23 Division and Black faith leaders have walked through Etobicoke, meeting community members and engaging them in prayer.
Led by Andrew King and Carmen Lewis, the Etobicoke Strategy could soon be implemented in every Division across the city.
On April 11, 2024, officers and faith leaders will walk in every Division.
“We propose to take this strategy into every Division across this city,” said Chief Myron Demkiw to loud applause at the Canadian Black Clergies & Allies (CBCA) Prayer Breakfast on November 30 in Scarborough.
He was the keynote speaker at this year’s event.
In what the Chief said are unprecedented times, he acknowledged the Service’s partnership with the faith community, adding he will continue to rely on them on their leadership and guidance.
“We very much need and rely on the faith community to partner with us on this journey,” Demkiw said. “I deeply, deeply appreciate you and your commitment to helping us be better. I know that our officers work hard every day to improve trust in the Toronto Police and they do this consistently because they know that every interaction and relation matters and trust will be built and rebuilt.
“Despite the progress being made, we still have a long, long way to go. I am pleased that we can break bread and pray together while also celebrating Black and all of our faith leaders for everything they do. While we can’t always see attributes such as faith and spirituality, we know that Toronto’s diverse spiritual landscape reflects the multitude of faiths, cultures and backgrounds that co-exist peacefully in our city.”
Recognizing that faith often plays a significant role in nurturing and enhancing well-being, the Service’s Wellness Unit increased the number of chaplains this year by three to 16.
The newcomers include a Buddhist monk, Catholic priesst and Sikh lecturer and counsellor.
“We are incredibly proud of the contributions of our chaplains, some of whom are here today, that help us unite in our faith,” Demkiw said. “Uniting through faith can provide a source of strength and comfort to individuals and communities while helping them navigate difficult circumstances. Faith can offer a sense of purpose, hope and resilience in challenging times. Events like this breakfast foster more inclusive and open-minded communities in environments of mutual respect and appreciation. By coming together, we can build relationships and create a support network that can help us emerge stronger individually and collectively while cultivating an enhanced sense of community and inter-connectedness among Torontonians everywhere.”
Since the beginning of unrest in the Middle East on October 7, there has been a significant spike in hate crimes in the city.
Toronto Police has committed a number of resources to curb the spike.
“I assure you we continue to make every effort to restore a sense of safety and security for the people of Toronto while also ensuring that the right to self-expression is protected,” Demkiw said. “In doing so, we continue to be able to rely on our faith community. Coming together with our faith can be a powerful force of support and comfort in difficult times. For some of us, it is truly more important now than ever before.”
Chief Administrative Officer Svina Dhaliwal said the collaboration between the police and the community in fostering dialogue and building relationships is vital and necessary.
“In order for our solutions and approaches to be representative of the needs of the community so that everyone ultimately feels safe, secure, valued and respected,” she said. “These partnerships, like the ones we are building in this room, enable us to co-design, co-develop and co-deliver community safety. Faith leaders play an invaluable role in our communities in fostering a sense of community and providing support and guidance in both good and bad times.”
Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) member Nadine Spencer said police and community faith leaders uniting in fellowship sends a powerful message.
“We look to you, our faith leaders, to help build a strong, caring and inclusive society filled with hope,” she said. “You play a critical role, especially in challenging times when our community turns to faith and prayers, drawing strength from the wellspring of hope. This very special event speaks to the importance of the wonderful experience of fellowship and the power of spirituality in our lives.”
Chief Superintendent Andre Phelps represented the Ontario Provincial Police at the breakfast.
“The OPP recognizes and shares the CBCA vision of creating an environment of hope, equality, justice and prosperity for Black Canadians,” he pointed out. “Partnering with faith-based organizations is a critical component of our commitment to keeping communities safe while respecting the dignity, civil liberties and well-being of all people.
“We rely on organizations such as this to help address the evolving social matters that exist with our communities. The OPP remains committed to building and maintaining relationships with our very diverse communities across Ontario to further meaningful change and a brighter future. Through opportunities like this one today, we continue to learn from our past and shape a more equitable and inclusive future.”
The CBCA emerged in 2020 in the wake of the George Floyd murder in Minnesota.
“This is a powerful indicator of the relationship that has been developed in the past three years,” said Bishop Ransford Jones, the CBCA Chair. “We believe that a vibrant, balanced voice of the Black Clergy and allies is important to change the temperature and improve relationships with law enforcement and our community.”
Jones thanked TPS members for their sacrifice and service.
“Without you, our streets and in our communities will be filled with misery and mayhem,” he added. “The new criminal phenomena of the carjacking and the increase of hate-motivated incidents have stretched you recently. Thank you for putting the resources, the personnel and the strategy to counteract these acts of criminality. Thank you Chief for leading the charge in our city.”
Daniel Wiggers, the Youth & Young Adults Director at Evangel Temple Toronto, presented a copy of, Behind the Badge: 365 Daily Devotions for Law Enforcement, to the Chief who read the prayer for November 30 – Good Intentions to end his speech.
The First Baptist Church Choir and saxophonist Dave McLaughlin provided musical entertainment at the breakfast.
Inspector Paul Rinkoff, of the Community Partnerships & Engagement Unit, and Reverend Wendell Gibbs of First Baptist Church were the co-Masters of Ceremony.