Chief Myron Demkiw acknowledged the Black community’s lived experiences of anti-Black racism and systemic discrimination and said the Toronto Police Service (TPS) is actively addressing the unfortunate reality.
“I know that the challenges that many members of Black communities have faced in our city have been exacerbated by high-profile events that occurred in Toronto as well as tragic incidents that occurred miles away,” he said at the Canadian Black Clergies & Allies (CBCA) Prayer Breakfast on February 23 in Scarborough.
He singled out of the murders George Floyd and Tyre Nichols by police officers as some of the awful tragedies that have greatly affected Black communities across the world, including Toronto’s Black communities and TPS members.
“I share the feelings of anger, frustration and sadness that many of you are experiencing in relation to these events,” noted Demkiw. “We are here today to celebrate Black excellence and develop partnerships. I also want to share my deepest sympathies for, and condolences to the respective families, friends and communities of George Floyd and Tyre Nichols as well as the Black communities in Toronto who have been affected by these murders.”
The Chief said it is important for him to acknowledge the mistakes the Service has made in the past that have significantly impacted Black communities.
“While we have learned from these mistakes, we have much learning still to do,” he said. “As a police service, we are especially grateful for so many community leaders and leaders of institutions, including the Ontario Human Rights Commission, here today who, over the years, have helped us see our challenges and have given us clarity on the impact of our missteps. Thank you for caring enough to point out how we can improve as an organization and for helping me improve as a leader. I appreciate you. We appreciate you. And we are getting better because of you.”
The CBCA emerged in 2020 in the wake of the George Floyd murder in Minnesota.
“We were formed to give a viable voice in the discussion and to change the narrative on how to dismantle anti-Black racism in society,” said Bishop Ransford Jones, who is the organization’s chair. “Our vision is to create an environment of hope, equity, justice and prosperity for our people so they can breathe in all spaces and places. We want to be a table where substantive engagements and deliberate dialogue can be forged to include our perspective so that policies and legislation can be established and implemented for radical and substantial changes.”
He acknowledged that a barrier still exists between Toronto Police and the Black community it serves.
“There is still mistrust and we want to change that narrative,” said Jones. “We want to bridge that gap with honest dialogue and tangible action. We want to build bridges of cooperation with law enforcement to dismantle systems that still suppress our people. We need our faith leaders to join us to make this a movement and not a monument.”
Since becoming the TPS Chief Information Officer two years ago, Colin Stairs and a dedicated team have been looking at data to ascertain where systemic racism exists in the Service and how it affects people.
“In the last six months, I have been doing town halls with different groups trying to understand how they see it and how they feel it,” he said. “A lot of that is tied to the race-based data and a lot isn’t. Sometimes, the conversations in those setting have been tough. This is a much easier room because we share a commonality. Whether you are clergy or police, you are involved in the struggle between good and evil that cloaks itself in lies, misinformation and self-deceit. If we are going to understand the problems, we need to look straight into the light which causes pain.
“Only through truth and light do we start to understand where we are wrong and where we need to amend ourselves.”
TPS Chaplain Wendell Gibbs and Staff Superintendent Rob Johnson played vital roles in organizing the event.
Gibbs said the CBCA will be the extending its reach to other faith-based organizations.
“We will be going to mosques and temples,” he said. “We are doing the charge as a Christian community. However, we want to make a charge to the faith community. We want to marry ourselves with our local Divisions around that and create greater partnerships with the Superintendents, the Inspectors and other officers so that the churches and local Divisions can work much better together.”
Ontario Human Rights Commission Chief Commissioner Patricia DeGuire, Member of Provincial Parliament Mitzie Hunter and Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Thomas Carrique also took part in the breakfast.