The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has collaborated with the Toronto Police Service (TPS) and its board on a landmark human rights project.
Initiated three years ago to address human rights concerns brought before the province’s human rights tribunal, the Human Rights Project Charter’s completion was recently celebrated at the historic St. Lawrence Hall.
“I think what was obvious to all of us was that dealing with the important issue of bias was not something that was going to happen through individual complaints,” said OHRC Commissioner Barbara Hall. “Having a complaints system is important, but if we wanted to see real significant systemic change in policing in this community, we had to do something differently.
“I think we came together looking for solutions, parking our egos somewhere else and saying how can we take this issue on in a different way…If we are going to create the kind of culture of human rights across the city, this province and indeed the country, the thing that people at the human rights commission dream of is that we have to be open to doing it in new ways.”
Mayor David Miller said the TPS has now become the leader in how it’s going to ensure that the human rights of everybody, regardless of their background, are respected.
“I think that’s an extraordinary statement in a city in the 21st century that we have found a way to make a police service the leader,” he said. “And that speaks very much to the values of each and every serving officer and a willingness to learn and to do things a little bit differently.
“The work that has been done so far is leading in this city and the country and it’s already making a profound difference.”
Representatives of the three organizations looked at human rights issues in the employment policies and the delivery of police services, examining recruitment, selection, promotion and retention, police learning, accountability and public education.
The partners agree that through research, analysis, dialogue and the exchange of new ideas, real progress has been achieved in all the areas.
“Today is a celebration of a milestone that acknowledges some of the very important work that has gone on, perhaps out of the public eye, but work that’s crucial and makes a difference in the quality of people’s lives in this city,” Chief William Blair said. “We do not deny the lived experiences of the diverse people of this city who have experienced interactions with the police and who believe that they have been singled out unfairly and discriminated against because of the colour of their skin…In acknowledging their experiences, we undertake in our service to change the way we do business.”
TPS board chair Dr. Alok Mukherjee said Canada’s largest municipal police service, as one of the biggest public sector employers in this city, takes human rights seriously.
“All of us expect a great deal to come out of this project and, to that end, we have made a personal investment in its success,” he said. “It is my hope that this policy will serve as one of the key founding blocks for building an equitable and inclusive organization.
“For our board, this is a matter of the highest priority…We know our work is not done yet. But through our vigilant, our united effort, continued determination and our shared will, we will build upon our successes and continue to make the necessary changes.”
Ryerson University has been earmarked to audit the project and release its findings by the end of this year.