By Yvonne Sam
We do not need to look back very far in the history of Quebec and Canada, to see some of the most notorious examples of systemic racism: behaviors that undermine the ability of certain ethnic groups.
Additionally, we see other ways in which people are systematically disadvantaged. Racism can only end if we contend with the policies and institutional barriers that perpetuate and preserve the economic and social inequality that we see all around us.
In a 2016 CBC News survey of all the major police forces in Canada, only one city (Halifax) staffed a police force as racially diverse as its community. All other major law enforcement agencies, across the country, failed to reflect their communities’ diversity among their ranks, leaving large swaths of visible minorities and Indigenous populations without representation. www.cbc.ca/news/canada/police-diversity-canada-1.3677952.
Despite Montreal being considered a racially-diverse metropolis, its police force has failed to reflect such a fact.
According to the 2016 census, visible minorities make up 34 percent of Montreal’s population, and eight percent of the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM), an increase of one percent in the last five years, according to the city’s annual report on efforts to combat racial and social profiling.
In order to reflect the cultural make-up of the city, there have been renewed calls for the SPVM to hire more minority officers.
The call has become louder following a report, commissioned by the City of Montreal, and published in 2019, showing that Black and Indigenous people suffer clear systemic discrimination from officers, and are four times more likely to be arrested than White people.
To explain the absence of diversity among applicants of color, a multiplicity of factors have been proffered, among which include, lackluster recruiting efforts, coupled with poor relationship with some ethnic communities.
According to Inspector, Andre Durocher, encouraging young Blacks to join the city’s police service is an extremely challenging task; for superimposed on parental admonition of career selection, is a widely-shared negative viewpoint of law enforcement work. www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/diversity-spvm-montreal-police-1.5172214.
But is the SPVM truly committed to diversity, or is there succinct duplicity?
In February, the Montreal Police held a diversity recruitment session in an effort to encourage visible minority groups to join the force.
“This was the second year that the fair is held, to see the citizens and recruit citizens from the diversity,” said Miguel Alston, Police Diversity Recruitment Officer.
The career fair, organized by the SPVM, was held in St. Michel, a multicultural area, located in Montreal North, and inhabited by people of Haitian, Italian, Middle Eastern and Hispanic origin.
What about the borough of Cote-des-Neiges, located at the geographical center of the island of Montreal, and one of the most densely populated and ethnically diverse neighborhoods in Canada, with over 100 different ethnic communities, predominantly: Québécois, Filipino, West Indian (Black Canadians), South Asian (Tamils and Bengalis), Jewish, Latin American, Iranian, Chinese, Arab, Vietnamese and, most recently, Eastern European and African?
Furthermore, it is also one of the few Montreal neighborhoods, where neither the French nor English language dominates.
Is this not a sterling representation of diversity at its quintessential best?
This community was overlooked as a possible locale, at a time when recent controversies reminded all and sundry of the fragile nature of the relationship between police and minority groups, and how potentially divisive allegations of racial bias can be.
It is clear to see that, as regards recruitment, the issue of diversity was not being considered seriously. Further, attestation of the SPVM’s insincerity in approaching diversity, is the fact that, for research purposes, the services of Montreal’s Mc Gill University has never been requested.
Recruiting minorities effectively means capitalizing on the unique assets of the specific community, however the SPVM’s diversity recruitment strategy have been relegated to mere rhetoric, as minorities are often not properly targeted.
The relationship between the SPVM, its representatives and the public it serves, is the single most important factor in its success. Accordingly, public support is its most cherished asset.
In 2019, police efforts to diversify the force fell flat, despite outreach. This was clearly due to the use of the unproductive recruiting strategies, while hoping to achieve different results.
Taking all into consideration, it behooves the SPVM in their quest for diversity hiring, to take a second look at the wisdom of their ways, acknowledging the reality that individuals within communities and communities within larger populations, differ in many ways. www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/diversity-spvm-montreal-police-1.5172214.
Any and all attempts to attract candidates from demographic groups will fail if the target audience has not been adequately notified of law enforcement interest. Besides, it is common for most recruiting teams to comprise mostly of White officers.
While not claiming intentional discrimination, nevertheless no overt racism is necessary for the imbalance in racial representation to be present. This is due to the fact that humans naturally depend on subconscious motivations and stereotypes, tending to gravitate towards people who are like them.
Cultural diversity is a fact of life. If the SPVM is ever to achieve its diversity goal, it must immediately recognize that generic recruitment strategies and unfocused diversity management will never attain the desired advantages of diversity.
However, they must also purposely follow strategies that are tailored to be effective in their specific communities. If the SPVM continues to fail in achieving cultural diversity, both their efficacy and community relations will continue to diminish.
Yvonne Sam, a retired Head Nurse and Secondary School Teacher, is the Chair of the Rights and Freedom Committee at the Black Community Resource Centre. A regular columnist for over two decades with the Montreal Community Contact, her insightful and incursive articles on topics ranging from politics, human rights and immigration, to education and parenting have also appeared in the Huffington Post, Montreal Gazette, XPressbogg and Guyanese OnLine. She is also the recipient of the Governor General of Canada Caring Canadian Citizen Award.