There was a time when relations between Toronto Police and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Queer (LBGT) community were fragile and flammable.
The Service now opens its doors to the LGBT community with pride for the kick-off to the annual celebration and is very engaged with the community year-round.
Chief Bill Blair has witnessed the evolution.
“In the early part of my career, my first interaction with the LBGTQ community was standing on the opposite side of the barricades,” he said at the opening the LBGT Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Conference hosted by the Toronto Police Service. “I stood in front of headquarters situated at 590 Jarvis St. at the time as they burned the Chief of the day in effigy.
“Some of those same people who were on the other side went on, a generation later, to become some of the people I admire and respect the most, people who I consider not only great friends, but great partners in community safety and helping us make this a better and more livable city for everybody. Those were the people I first met across those barricades as they chained themselves to the front door of police headquarters.
“It is therefore for me a true celebration as I stand here today looking across this room and I reflect on the incredible World Pride celebration that will take place here in the next few days and how far we have come. But I don’t suggest for a moment we don’t have a greater road to travel. It’s important to reflect on how we got there and that has been the direct result of some heroic people in our city and society who chose to make a difference and who overcame that anger and resentment that characterized our early interactions and committed themselves to coming to the table and helping us make a difference.”
It’s important to reflect on how we got there and that has been the direct result of some heroic people in our city and society who chose to make a difference and who overcame that anger and resentment that characterized our early interactions and committed themselves to coming to the table and helping us make a difference.
Toronto Police Services Board Chair Alok Mukherjee reminded delegates that their conference is an important component of the first World Pride celebration to be held in North America.
The conference theme is “Together, We Can Make it Better.”
“There is a no better option than partnership and collaboration between our institutions and the community, marked by shared interest, open dialogue, mutual respect and accountability for addressing the needs of the community, the hopes and aspirations of members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Tri-sexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, Questioning and Two-spirited communities in society generally and within the law enforcement and criminal justice sector particularly,” Mukherjee said.
“I believe it’s only through such a relationship that we, as an institution, can succeed in fulfilling our obligations as the provider of an important service and as a major employer in the community. As I look back over the years of my own engagement with the issues that mattered to those communities in my roles as head of the province’s human rights commission in the early 1990s and as chair of our police service’s board in the last 10 years, I note with satisfaction the evolution that has occurred in the relationship between the communities and public institutions like the police service here in Toronto.
“From the time when change happened only through complaint, protest, advocacy and community action, we are in a time that is marked by greater acceptance of dialogue and consultation. A relationship that was marked by mutual suspicion, apprehension and antagonism has given way to one characterised by willingness, trust and cooperation. For this, a great deal of credit must go to the communities and at the same time, I must recognize the efforts and role of those in power institutions who rejected the past and sought a new relationship. However, this is a comparatively new development and it needs work to be sustained, strengthened and made to yield meaningful results.”
The TPSB helped sponsor the three-day conference that ends on June 27.
Deputy Minister of Correctional Services Stephen Rhodes said that building and nurturing a relationship with the LBGT community within the Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services is essential for a fair and functioning justice system.
“We are dedicated to breaking down stereotypes and eliminating discrimination in the workplace,” he said. “…I believe that to introduce meaningful and sustainable change, conferences like this must always have the bigger picture in mind. Conferences like this help bring this into clear focus.”
Rhodes congratulated the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police diversity committee for the excellent work it did in developing a guide for best practices in LBGTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer) communities in Ontario.
“I know that over 30 police services and the LBGTQ community worked together on these best practices and I know there is a model that many people are looking at,” he said. “I think this is the sort of partnership that underscores what this conference is all about which is working together to make LBGTQ law enforcement in criminal justice better in Ontario and hopefully building a model that will be an inspiration for other jurisdictions.”
Superintendent Chris Fernandes, of Divisional Police Support Unit, which worked closely with the Service’s LBGT consultative committee to organize the conference, acted as master of cermony.
“We created an opportunity for information-sharing, which will assist in promoting change in policies, practices, benefits and opportunities in the workplace,” he said. “This change will benefit all employees, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and or expression.