Women Making Their Mark in Policing

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 9:30 a.m. March 8, 2021

A growing number of women are taking their seat at the table and making their mark with the Toronto Police Service.

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Superintendent Stacy Clarke recently became the first Black woman to hold her rank at the Toronto Police Service

Last month, Stacy Clarke was promoted to superintendent, making her the first female Black officer to hold the rank in the Toronto Police Service’s 183-year-old history.

To mark International Women’s Day (IWD) celebrated on March 8, she joined female members in recognizing the importance of diversity at the leadership table.

“It provides us with an opportunity to amplify the voices and lived experiences of our members and our communities,” said Clarke.  “The very presence of this workplace culture is perhaps the single best way we can affirm our commitment to diversity and inclusivity in our organization.”

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Constable Carmen Wong is the Service's LGBTQ2S Liaison Officer

Const. Carmen Wong, of the Community Partnerships & Engagement Unit, agreed with Clarke.

“Perspectives from people with different lived experiences strengthens our ability to provide inclusive ideas and solutions,” the Service’s LGBTQ2S Liaison Officer noted. “It also helps us build better relationships with the people we serve.”

Retired Peel Regional Police Deputy Chef Ingrid Berkeley-Brown and former Governor-General Michaelle Jean inspired Suelyn Knight, the manager of Diversity, Inclusion & Human Rights.

“Both of these women showed deep compassion and concern for community and managed to remain authentic through their challenges and successes,” said Knight. “It’s important that we have diverse role models in leadership to continue to show the world and ourselves what’s possible.”

Last year, history was made as 50% of Toronto Police’s cadet class was comprised of women.

“My view has always been ‘if you can see it, you can be it’,” said Insp. Joyce Schertzer. “I never thought I could be a Homicide investigator until I saw Supt. Pauline Gray in that position. Seeing someone you can relate to resonates and helps you see the possibilities.”

Insp. Kelly Skinner’s inspiration for becoming a police officer was another woman who opened her eyes to new possibilities and supported her dreams.

Her advice to young women considering a policing career is simple.

“Seek out women that you admire for guidance,” said Skinner, who joined the Service in 1998 and became just the third Black female officer to enter the senior ranks after Sonia Thomas, who is retired, and Stacy Clarke. “And remember to reach back to guide the women who are following you. When women support each other, incredible things happen.”

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Superintendent Lauren Pogue

For Supt. Lauren Pogue, of 13 Division, her inspiration was retired Supt. Kathryn Martin.

“She was an honest and courageous police leader who experienced many firsts as a woman in law enforcement,” the Division’s Unit Commander said. “She supported, inspired and encouraged me to pursue my goals. There are countless opportunities for women in policing. After 32 years on the job, I still love my job and continue to learn every day.”

Since the late Ferne Alexander became the first woman to crack the Toronto Police senior ranks in July 1963, women have been elevated to senior roles in the organization.

Kris Kijewski became the first female president of the Toronto Police Service Senior Officers Organization in 2001 and, four years later, she was promoted as the first female civilian director.

Jane Wilcox was the first female Sex Crimes unit commander, Brenda Radix was the first female civilian promoted to the position of Unit Commander in charge of the Property and Evidence Management unit, Judy Sandford became the first woman to head the Records Management Services Unit and Kathryn Martin was the Homicide Squad’s first female Unit Commander.

Two of the current Deputy Chiefs – Barbara McLean and Shawna Coxon – are women.

“Globally, we have been reminded over this past year how women excel at leading, especially in crises,” said Coxon, who has been tapped to be the first Canadian to be Deputy Commissioner to An Garda Síochána, Ireland’s National Police and Security Service. “But while talent is universal, opportunity is not. We need to keep working together to create opportunities for the incredible, diverse, talented women making their way forward in every aspect of policing. We are stronger together.”

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Deputy Chief Shawna Coxon

Deputy McLean has been seconded as the Investigations Director for the Mass Casualty Commission, the Joint Federal/Provincial Inquiry into the April 2020 Nova Scotia Mass Casualty.

International Women's Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

“This day is all about women all over the world celebrating their dedication, hard work, talent and achievements while empowering one another,” said Const. Ramandeep Sandhu of 23 Division.

For Const. Leanna Gill, the day is a celebration of the strength, wisdom and tenacity of women.

“It’s my hope that this day continues to inspire women everywhere to pursue their dreams, accomplish their goals and break through every barrier,” said the 43 Division officer.

Supt. Lisa Crooker, of People & Culture, said IWD is a day to celebrate the incredibly talented women who are part of the country’s largest civilian police service.

“It’s a day, I hope, where all women will truly embrace their accomplishments while supporting and inspiring younger generations of women,” she added. “I am so very proud to be part of the Toronto Police Service and I think that celebrating the women who work here and those who hope to work here is something we should do every day.

This year’s IWD Theme is ‘Choose to Challenge.’

Supt. Kim O’Toole said International Women’s Day and the daily struggle for gender parity is intensely personal and can mean something different to each woman.

“This year’s theme encourages women to continue to challenge the status quo,” she said. “They should make it personal, use their voices, reflect on progress made both worldwide and in their own life and push for the change needed to create a world where we are free from gender-based discrimination – a world where women do not have to struggle for basic human rights and equal opportunity.”

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Constable Leanna Gill

In the last 12 months, the Service has focused on inclusive leadership and addressing internal systemic barriers.

Knight and her team are leading the charge.

“This includes providing mentoring, coaching and other learning opportunities for members to understand how to lead in a way that supports everyone’s growth and potential in our organization,” she said.  “We have also focused on targeted outreach and supports for women interested in policing to learn more about our organization and feel supported to apply. We have been examining our practices to ensure that we are mitigating any biases in how we recruit, promote and provide opportunities to women and diverse members. We have a long way to go, but we are certainly set on a course that will lead to successful equitable outcomes because we are committed to moving the needle in this important area. 

“We know that strong leadership is required to maintain momentum, and that it has to be strong inclusive leadership that is reflective of the communities that we serve. Women all over the organization have been making impactful contributions to the Service day in and day out. Through our efforts, we want to bolster their contributions as organization and community role models and be the Service that champions diversity and equity in all its forms.”

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Diversity, Inclusion & Human Rights Manager Suelyn Knight
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