Toronto police recruiters on Saturday held special trial runs with an eye on hiring a specific segment of the population — Somali-Canadian officers.
More than 50 young men and women participated in the information session, which was part of a plan to restore trust between the community and law enforcement officials by putting more Somali-Canadians in Toronto police uniforms.
Following instructions from police trainers, the aspiring officers pushed weights, performed timed shuttle runs and hauled 150-pound dummies.
For Mousa Thalil, who grew up in the troubled Dixon Road area, the training day was a chance to prove he has what it takes to keep the peace on Toronto's streets.
Until recently,Thalil said, his dream of becoming a police officer didn't seem plausible to him because of his background.
"I've always had the stereotype and didn't think I would fit in, but now I think I do," Thalil said.
"I've been fortunate up to this point, so I'd like to give back to the community," he added.
Currently, only two officers on the force identify as Somali. But the city's Somali-Canadian community is growing.
Const. Wayne Jackson, a Toronto Police Service recruiter, said bringing more diversity into the force is essential.
"Being the most multicultural city in Canada, we have a duty to hire from the community to represent the community on the police service," he said.
Officers admit their relationship with Toronto's Somali community has been strained, particularly after the June Project Traveller raids at a Dixon Road apartment complex.
'Let's put in the positive element'
The raids resulted in more than 40 arrests, but community members argued Somali-Canadians were unfairly targeted, and alleged police brutality and the destruction of property.
Toronto police Deputy Chief Mark Saunders said the mission now is to build better relations with the community.
"We've removed that criminal element, now let's put in the positive elements so that the quality of life can improve and build trust in the police," he said.
One initiative that has helped was the police's Somali Liaison Unit, established earlier this year.
But community advocate Faduma Mohammad, with Positive Change, says what's desperately needed is more Somalis in police uniform.
"It will help with investigations because of the language and culture barriers and also build a bridge within the community and a trust with police," she said.