Calgary chief embraces 'difficult conversations' at international forum for women police

Calgary's police chief says he looks forward to difficult and important conversations this week as officers from 35 countries meet in Calgary for the International Association of Women Police (IAWP) conference.

Conference's theme this year is 'Leading Change'

Women from police forces around the globe listen attentively during the International Association of Women Police conference in Calgary Sunday. (Audrey Neveu/Radio-Canada)

Calgary's police chief says he looks forward to difficult and important conversations this week as officers from 35 countries meet in Calgary for the International Association of Women Police (IAWP) conference.

The conference's theme — "Leading Change" — is one that feels apt for its host city this year, as Calgary has publicly struggled in recent years as female officers raised concerns of toxic workplace behaviour, from being told their careers would stall if they went on maternity leave to sexual harassment.

"It's important to us to be participating here as it is to host it," said Chief Roger Chaffin.

"What we've learned in these past few years is how much work we have yet to do. We can bring employees into the organization and create a better set of demographics, but we still have to create a better environment and better leadership model so long-term we'll be successful in the field of gender equity."

Women make up roughly 19 per cent of Calgary's police force. 

There has been harm created in the past, people have been marginalized or injured or hurt or made to feel unsafe in policing.- Calgary police Chief Roger Chaffin

Sue Anne Ford, co-director of IAWP, said she feels like the Calgary Police Service's culture has improved over the years.

"There's always challenges, always struggles, but it's always moving forward," she said.

Ford said it's also important to recognize the role men play in making policing a better industry for women.

"Our committee has 40 per cent men on our team … we need men working with us."

Topics at the conference include workplace culture, harassment, investigative strategies, leadership and recruiting.

Maame Yaa Tiwaa Addo-Danquah is a deputy police commissioner with the Ghana Police Service. (Audrey Neveu/Radio-Canada)

Maame Yaa Tiwaa Addo-Danquah, a deputy police commissioner with the Ghana Police Service, was excited to be attending her fourth conference.

"I have always wanted to be a police officer from childhood because of my experience with policing when I was growing up," Addo-Danquah said. "Women in policing is not different from what the men do, we do everything the men do."

Another attendee, Deputy Chief Kateryna Pavlichenko of the National Police of Ukraine, heads up a group that supports women in law enforcement.

"We had, we have, and we will have challenges," said Pavlichenko.

"Unfortunately, there are some gender stereotypes and the Ukraine is not an exception to this rule. There is the stereotype that women cannot occupy managerial positions. But to change the situation we have created an association of women in law enforcement and we are hoping for better."

Law enforcement officials from Guyana march in a parade that opened the International Association of Women Police (IAWP) conference in Calgary Sunday. (Audrey Neveu/Radio-Canada)

Chaffin said as the conference is not only about celebrating and recognizing the role of women in policing, but finding ways to attract women into the profession and improve their workplace experience, that will include "unpacking some issues that have faced policing in its history.

"I don't think there's any model of policing that's successful if they're not willing to listen to difficult conversations, they're not willing to recognize there has been harm created in the past, people have been marginalized or injured or hurt or made to feel unsafe in policing," he said.

"If you can't recognize that, if you can't embrace that discussion, you will simply leave people in the shadows."

The International Association of Women Police was founded in 1915, and this is the first year the conference is being held in Calgary. It runs from Aug. 26 to 30.

With files from Audrey Neveu