The second World LGBTQ Conference for Criminal Justice Professionals is a platform for Toronto Police to showcase its diversity, said Chief Mark Saunders at the opening ceremony on June 19 at the Sheraton Hotel.
Toronto Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police co-hosted the three-day conference that attracted delegates from 13 countries.
“Diversity and inclusion is the cornerstone and foundation of policing in this city,” said Saunders. “When we look at our agency and we look at the fact we have diversity, we still aren’t satisfied with who we are and the importance of continuous learning become so critical for policing in today’s environment.”
The conference theme was, ‘Coming Together to Inspire Change’.
Saunders said the theme resonates with him.
“It is so important that we as a police service represent, understand and have similar lived experiences to the communities that we serve,” he said, at the conference. “The key to strengthening partnerships and connecting with the community is active listening. The ability to have those tough conversations consistently and continuously requires trust. With 13 countries represented here, this conference represents the power of partnership as inclusion is what helps us become stronger.”
The conference was held during Pride Month and just days before the Toronto Pride Parade which is one of the largest in the world.
“Your conference taking place during this extraordinary symbolic month pays tribute to the advancements we have made in many important areas while at the same time it also recognizes that there is much work that still needs to be done,” Toronto Police Services Board Chair Andy Pringle said. “The information sharing and discussions that will result will help to effect change in policies and practices to enhance the workplace for all members of police organizations and to build and strengthen relationships will all members of our community, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression. The important work that you are doing will very much inform our policy development process and we must ensure that the voices representing a cross-section of the community are heard and incorporated.”
Clergyman and LGBTQ2+ rights activist Rev. Brent Hawkes was the keynote speaker.
He has led protests against police raids but has been willing to sit across the table to work with police.
“We came back the next year and the next year until we got progress,” he said. “I have been there when it was clear the police was seen as a threat and not an asset. Yet today, I consider Chief Saunders and the previous two Chiefs as my friends. The current Chief is a trusted friend. I find trust in his heart and I trust his decisions. I have his cell number in case we have to talk.
“We have made progress in many ways and many places. The gains we have made, we need to remember, are very fragile and we need you to continue that work… A vast majority of our community want a good relationship with police. We pride ourselves when we have that good relationship. We look forward to the day when the dysfunction within our community no longer exists and when Toronto Police is fully welcomed back to the Pride Parade wearing whatever they want to wear.”
The inaugural World LGBTQ Conference for Criminal Justice Professionals was held in Amsterdam three years ago.
“By choosing to come to Toronto so soon, it shows that Toronto is a world-class city with an international footprint when it comes to LGBTQ rights and issues,” said Deputy Chief Barbara McLean. “It proves that we are at the forefront directing those conversations and encouraging people to have dialogue so that we can make our organizations inclusive and welcoming. In this way, they will be much better and that will translate into better services for LGBTQ members.”