Suelyn Knight believes the Toronto Police Service can be a beacon for social change.
“I’ve met a lot of great officers during my career who are very passionate about how we make this city a better place. Those officers asked the necessary questions to understand the unique needs of individuals and communities,” says Knight, the new Diversity & Inclusion Manager for the Service. “I believe that the Toronto Police Service can be a leader in social change, a beacon.”
She aims to connect officers to communities by creating mechanisms to let communities tell them about their perceptions of police, while also reaching out to communities to help them understand the role of police officers.
“I want to challenge the thought that the police are on one side and the community are on the other,” says Knight, paraphrasing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Our destinies are inextricably linked… the truth is simply that we need to be able to rely on one another. Our future lies in our ability to work together, tear down barriers and build trust.”
Success at creating an inclusive workforce, and trust and respect among diverse groups and communities is crucial as racialized individuals are projected to be 63% of Toronto’s population in 2031 according to Statistics Canada. Not secondary to that is that people with disabilities make up nearly 15% of the population over 15 years old in the country.
Our future lies in our ability to work together, tear down barriers and build trust
She says many great initiatives are happening right now as many officers, including Neighbourhood Officers, work with youth and partner with the community as well as formal partnerships like the FOCUS tables that have police partner with public and non-profit partners to get people the supports they need.
Knight has worked in many roles, most recently for the Anti-Racism Directorate leading the Anti-Racism human resources policy within the Ontario Public Service to eliminate systemic racism to help people reach their unique potential and fully participate in society.
She also worked specifically on the Anti-Black Racism Strategy, examining child welfare agencies, the education system and the Anti-Racism Data Standard which sets out how race-based data could be used to improve the lives of racialized communities, including Indigenous and Black communities. She has also worked for the Ministry of Children and Youth Services developing strategies to help NEET youth (Not in Education Employment or Training).
Knight has also worked on the Black Experience Project that resulted in a report to provide a better understanding of the lived experiences of Black individuals within the GTA, especially youth, including the factors leading to their successes and challenges. This seminal research study had also received funding supports from the Toronto Police Services Board.
“We all have biases, the question is whether we allow those biases to negatively impact our working environment and interactions with the community,” she says. “This institution is weighed down by negative interactions because they involve life and death scenarios.”
Her office is also focused on delivering on ensuring the Service is in compliance with Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act standards.
The role of Diversity & Inclusion is greater than any one group or issue, she says, noting that her focus will also be on a healthy workplace for people regardless of age, race, religion, gender identity or disability.
“People have the need to feel supported by colleagues and their organization, to feel they can bring their full selves to work,” she says. “We want the Toronto Police Service to be a healthy environment where people feel supported and also where we champion mental health.”