Meet Fred Martin, the Service’s new Indigenous Engagement Specialist

By Stephanie Sayer, Toronto Police Service Published: 8 a.m. June 25, 2021

We are very pleased to welcome Fred Martin, the Service’s new Indigenous Engagement Specialist.

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Fred Martin is the Indigenous Engagement Specialist for the Toronto Police Service

As a member of the Equity, Inclusion and Human Rights Unit, Fred will play a key role in helping the Service strengthen relationships with Indigenous communities in Toronto and will be critical to the success of the Service’s Race Base Data Collection (RBDC) strategy.

The interview process for this important role began in February 2021. The Service was seeking someone with a balance of community engagement experience, engagement with Indigenous practices, and knowledge of Indigenous programs and services in the Toronto area. Fred was the successful candidate and began working with the Service in May 2021.

Fred was kind enough to provide some details about himself and his new role. See his responses to our questions below.

1. Fred, can you tell us a bit about your background? Why was this role such a good fit for you?

I am Ojibway with ties to the M’Chigeeng First Nations of Manitoulin Island, Ontario, on my Mother’s side. I am also Mi'kmaq with ties to the Qalipu First Nations of the Port aux Port Peninsula, Newfoundland and Labrador, on my Father’s side.

I have been in consultation and collaboration with the First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities for many years developing several Indigenous initiatives, strategies, programs, and training seminars that deal directly with traditional ceremonies, storytelling and knowledge, as well as understanding the historical record of North American Indigenous peoples from pre-contact to the present day. My emphasis has always been on treaties, policies and the rights of Indigenous Peoples, specifically as it relates to colonialism, confederation, the building and creation of Canada, as well as the legacy of mistrust and the reconciliation process that has followed.

Since 2016 I have been a volunteer member of many TPS panels and initiatives including the Aboriginal Consultative Committee (ACC), Community Police Liaison Committees (CPLC) and the Chief's Community Advisory Council (CAC).  

I see this new role as the next logical step in my journey of helping to broker stronger ties and a meaningful, lasting partnership between TPS and the Indigenous community.

2. What do you think success in this role will look like? What do you hope to accomplish?

Success in this role will be to ensure a positive community relationship is maintained through affiliations, priorities, protocols, and dialogue and that the unique context of colonialism is considered throughout the data analysis, interpretation, and reporting of findings.

I believe with proper guidance, TPS can develop a broader cross-cultural competency resulting in greater respect for and a deeper understanding of the Indigenous perspective.

Cultural competency requires an ongoing commitment to understanding and assessing the attitudes and actions of its individuals (leadership, management, and employees) and its own structures and processes – and then taking concrete and deliberate steps to improve.

To achieve the outcome of becoming a more culturally competent organization, TPS needs to have culturally competent individuals who are supported by intentional structures and effective processes. The ultimate goal is to have TPS officers and representatives in the community with a knowledge of, and sensitivity to, our shared history. With that combination we can advance reconciliation through education, equity, empowerment and engagement.

It’s no longer a question of whether organizations need to consider Indigenous cultural competency a priority. Indeed, no organization can provide safe, high-quality services without it.

3. Given the strained history between police and Indigenous communities, why did you decide to take on this role?

To put it mildly, there is a strained history between police and Indigenous communities, that is true. Broken promises, the impact of colonization, past and ongoing human rights breaches, and the consistent and chronic inequitable delivery of essential services to and for Indigenous Peoples, have contributed to the realities that many communities face today. 

No one can deny that police have played a pivotal role in Canada’s dark historical past of Residential Schools, the Indian Act, and the Sixties Scoop. Indeed, modern day policing owes its very origins to the draconian policies of assimilation, enfranchisement and forced relocation placed upon Indigenous Peoples for close to two centuries.

However, the way forward – that sees marches, protests and calls for radical police reform – must also include the slow arduous journey of education, competency building, policy writing, public awareness and acts of reconciliation.

My aim has always been to affect change from within the Toronto Police and realize the goal of expanding the TPS’s role in community policing and improving the relationships with First Nation, Inuit and Métis people living in Ontario.

However, the way forward – that sees marches, protests and calls for radical police reform – must also include the slow arduous journey of education, competency building, policy writing, public awareness and acts of reconciliation

4. It’s been said that traditional policing fails Indigenous communities because it overlooks Indigenous cultural traditions. Why is this so important?

Respect, Relevance, Reciprocity and Responsibility are the “4Rs” of engagement with Indigenous knowledge systems – when conducted by or with First Nations, Inuit, Métis or other Indigenous societies and individuals – it can be a useful self-reflection tool that can help organizations like TPS lay foundations for meaningful dialogue and build relationships in a good way and culturally appropriate manner.

Culture represents ‘patterns of being’ for a group of people and how those patterns are expressed. Culture shapes individuals’ experiences, perceptions, decisions and how they interact with others. It’s essentially how groups of people believe, think and act. Competency, on the other hand, describes the ability to do the right thing successfully, implying that the person or organization has the skills (do the right thing) and the ability (do it successfully).

Pulling it together, Cultural Competence means to know and behave in a way that respects and honours the beliefs of others. If you believe and know but don’t act, you’re not culturally competent. If you act but don’t know or believe, you’re not culturally competent. Cultural competency requires that you act based on what you know and what you believe.

Until police services and justice departments begin to understand the importance of competency of culture in tandem with the competence of law enforcement, then and only then will organizations such as the Toronto Police gain greater cultural awareness and professional development practices that will strengthen relationships with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities

Senator Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission once said: “We have described for you a mountain. We have shown you the path to the top. We call on you to do the climbing.”

5. June is Indigenous History Month. How can non-Indigenous people better educate themselves about the history of this country, particularly people in law enforcement?

Again, in the words of Senator Sinclair, “education is the key to reconciliation,” he said. “Education got us into this mess, and education will get us out of this mess”.

For police services across Canada, it is only through learning about history - their own oftentimes painful history - that the process of healing can begin, and true reconciliation and system reform can happen. Through education programs and training, the TPS will be made aware of the historic and ongoing legacy of colonialism and racism that pervades Canadian society, and the specific role that Government, and the colonialist systems of policy enforcement had in creating and perpetuating this legacy. 

Addressing the effects of Residential Schools and the Indian Act, closing gaps and removing barriers, supporting Indigenous culture, and reconciling relationships with Indigenous peoples will be the first steps toward building something better for generations yet to come. 

A future where each person at TPS must answer their own unique call to work for truth and reconciliation, which means noticing and responding to all particular circumstances and realities surrounding themselves individually as well as departmentally and systematically throughout the organization.

There are many national programs that deal specifically with reconciliation. Through this position I hope to shed light on many of these programs, develop our own and help to bring those resources to the entire organization. Ideally, the vision of a more just, equitable and inclusive organization can become a reality.  

6. What is one thing you want your fellow Service members to know about Indigenous communities in Toronto?

One thing I try to express to participants of Indigenous Cultural Competency Training and Blanket Exercises is the concept that the effects of the Indian Act and Residential Schools are not somehow locked in the past and unchangeable. The sad reality is that the colonial values underlying Canadian criminal laws, policies and practices that have had negative impacts on Indigenous peoples in the past continue to pervade into modern day society and effect ongoing relationships between police and the First Nation, Inuit and Métis communities they serve.  

Over representation of Indigenous people in the Canadian criminal justice system; the child welfare system; health/mental health care systems; all owe their shocking statistics to past historical policy, often with police directly in the middle of it. 

Legacies of these policies enacted by the Canadian Government and then enforced by police should be identified and analysed to determine the impact of colonialism on Indigenous communities, relate colonial policies to contemporary Indigenous contexts, generate strategies for reconciling Indigenous and Canadian relations and finally formulate approaches for engaging Indigenous community partners with an ethical approach

The main take away should be that Indigenous people were here first and they had societies and government, languages, cultures and identities long before European colonial contact sought to overcome, destroy, and eventually control every aspect of them. The genocidal policies didn’t eliminate our people or our cultures. We are a strong, resilient and proud people. Learn about us and learn from us. Nothing about us, without us.

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