Wed | Nov 30, 2022

Community advocate ‘concerned’ at appointment of new Toronto police chief

- Two Jamaicans involved in selection process

Published:Saturday | September 24, 2022 | 12:06 AMNeil Armstrong/Gleaner Writer

TORONTO:

At least one community representative has raised concerns about the appointment of Toronto’s new police chief, Myron Demkiw, to the post, and how it could influence any improvement in relations with the black community.

Paul Bailey, executive director of the Black Health Alliance and an urban planner, says, with the city facing significant issues with policing, there should have been a greater focus on identifying solutions, including candidates with a clear plan to address these.

“Top of mind for me is systemic anti-black racism inside and outside of the police force ... within its ranks and as it relates to things such as strip searches and use of force that we’ve seen in terms of the data recently released by the police,” says Bailey.

He notes as well “major community safety issues ... such as gun violence and the ways that TPS cannot do that kind of work alone”.

He said, while police responses do not address those issues, they have to be open and willing to deal with them in a collaborative and open fashion. He says he cannot see the roadmap for how these situations will be addressed with the new appointment.

He also said that, while his engagements with Demwik have been good, and “I have found him to be open to engaging in conversations with the community, I am concerned with that selection”.

“To date, I have not seen that willingness from the police, and the appointment of Deputy Chief Demkiw to me signals status quo. It doesn’t signal a great willingness and a great push to actually address those issues in a serious fashion. “

But Ryan Teschner, TPSB’s executive director and chief of staff, says policing issues and inclusion had been a focus of the selection process.

“One of the board’s most significant responsibilities is to select and appoint the chief of police. Recognising the significance of this decision, and the deep public engagement on policing issues we have seen recently, the board undertook the most comprehensive selection process in its history, which included gathering input from both internal and external stakeholders, as well as members of the community.”

The two-part selection process included Phase One, a wide-ranging public consultation led by Environics Research, and Phase Two, which involved the support of Boyden, an executive search firm with expertise in chief of police recruitment, which helped the board to conduct an extensive international search.

Two Jamaicans were involved in the selection process.

TPSB board member Ainsworth Morgan and former Jamaican Canadian Association president Audrey Campbell, sat on the board’s Search Advisory Committee.

Morgan is also the co-chair of the board’s Anti-Racism Advisory Panel, and Campbell, an external member of the committee, is a long-time community advocate and co-chair of the Policing and Community Engagement Review (PACER).

The board says it established the committee, which, for the first time, and in response to feedback received during the public engagement, included individuals who were not board or board staff members.

It notes that the committee was engaged at all stages of the search process, and provided advice to the board on its ultimate selection for appointment.

Campbell praised the process as thorough and inclusive. “I was happy to be brought into a process that included community voices. Kudos to the search firm Boyden Canada, and the board staff for creating such a stringent search and evaluation process. It surpassed my expectations. As a community voice on the Search Advisory Committee, it was important to me that the person we chose had a keen understanding and appreciation for Toronto, this culturally diverse city. In the chief, we wanted an accountable leader who is willing to work across communities, with the goal of building meaningful partnerships with the public; all of which, as community members, we have voiced over the years,” says Campbell.

Demkiw’s appointment as the new leader of the over 7,000-member police force, comes two years after Mark Saunders resigned from the Toronto Police Service as police chief.

On Tuesday, the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) announced that Demkiw, a Ukrainian Canadian, would fill the position vacated by the UK-born Saunders, who is of Jamaican parentage and who served as the top cop from 2015 to 2020.

Since his departure, interim chief James Ramer had been carrying out the duties of the position until a new chief of police was hired.

Demkiw is a 32-year veteran of the service and is currently the acting deputy chief of the Specialized Operations Command. He will assume his new role on December 19, following a three-month transition period, and at that time will outline the priorities for his three-year term.

Regarding his selection, Demkiw said he was honoured to be the next chief of police and that he is deeply invested in the city of Toronto and its people.