I grew up on Canadian army bases.
I’ve seen my share of uniforms, marching, and parades. What I don’t understand is why police services copied that model.
Police reform is in the news these days, with the horrific murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, RCMP brutality against Chief Allan Adam, and the mysterious death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet who fell from a high-rise Toronto balcony while police were in her apartment. These three incidents are only examples of violence that has occurred in the presence of police in the recent past.
We will be hearing a lot about reforming police services over the next few months.
North Bay had a head start years ago by changing the name to police service, from the police force. The term “police force” should be abolished everywhere.
In my opinion, we can start with the uniforms and militaristic structure. Why do police dress like they are in the armed forces? Why do they march? Why do they salute? Why do they have their ranks on their sleeves, or lapels, or braids on their caps?
They are not an army. They are a police service.
Why not dress in golf shirts and ball caps? Put their names on their shirts so we know who they are. We don’t have to know their ranks. In a police service the size of ours, every officer (and why do we call them officers?) knows everyone’s rank. As civilians, we don’t need to know.
I have never met Chief Scott Tod but I have seen him interviewed on YourTV many times. He seems to be a thoughtful, intelligent, compassionate person. I believe his predecessors have been in that mould as well. I have encountered a few North Bay Police officers and they all appear to me to be very good at what they do. I have seen them de-escalate people in emotional distress. Having a mental health and addictions professional with them on these calls would be a huge asset.
We are hearing calls in the U.S. to de-fund the police. That does not sound like a sound idea to me. Replacing some officers with mental health and addictions professionals would be a good idea. But de-funding makes no sense.
Chief Tod is examining the use of body cameras for all police officers. That is probably a good idea. I would go even further and ban the use of military-style uniforms and rank insignia, to make the police officers look less intimidating.
I have been involved in immigration and anti-racism issues for many years, and have spoken with immigrants who would never approach a police officer for assistance. It may be that in their home country the police are corrupt and dangerous, or they have had bad experiences with police in their home country. When they see a uniform and a gun they are not inclined to approach that person.
I was thrilled to learn so many people came out for the anti-racism events in North Bay this past weekend. I would like to think the many years, since 1989, of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination events and curriculum in our schools, had something to do with the large turnout.
I have lived through the racial protests of the 1960s and all the ones that came after them. This time it seems different. The George Floyd death and non-stop television exposure has touched a nerve. It is not the time for commissions or fact-finding missions. It is time for action.
Let’s bring in the body cameras. Let’s abolish the uniforms, marching, and the saluting. Let’s make our police service look more like us, the people it serves. Let’s get more people of colour and indigenous people on our police services.
While we’re at it, let’s look at police unions. Like all unions, they protect their members, bad apples and all. It’s time to take away some of their power so police chiefs can fire the bad apples, without taxpayers paying their salaries for years while the judicial system, which hasn’t changed in my lifetime, but that’s another story, grinds its way like a barely moving glacier to a conclusion.
Protesting, marching, and posting on social media is great. But now it’s time for action. We need people of colour and indigenous people on city council, boards of education, college and university boards, corporate and charitable sector boards.
City hall looks pretty white to me. The time for change is now.
I hope those who marched on the weekend won’t think the fight is over. It is just beginning. Get on a board. Run for public office. Get a job at city hall. Change won’t happen if you aren’t in the room when decisions are made.
Editor’s Note: Don Curry is a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant living in North Bay.