Kitchener-Waterloo

University of Waterloo asks province to reconsider renaming campus police

Changes to the province's Community Safety and Policing Act means special constables on university campuses in Waterloo and Guelph will no longer be able to call themselves police.

Special constables on university campuses will no longer be able to call themselves police

The University of Waterloo is asking the province to reconsider a decision that would mean special constables on campus cannot call themselves police. The province says it's had a 'number of productive conversations with its university partners.' (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

The University of Waterloo has asked the province to reconsider a decision to prevent on-campus special constables from calling themselves police.

The change comes as part of Bill 68, which alters the Community Safety and Policing Act and includes a provision that bans anyone but police from calling themselves police. 

Locally, the move will impact University of Waterloo and University of Guelph.

"The University of Waterloo has written to the Ontario government asking it to reconsider the effect of Bill 68 on our campus. We look forward to working toward a resolution," Matthew Grant, UW's director of media relations, said in an email.

In the 2018 annual report for the service, it noted on-campus special constables responded to 15,772 calls for service, laid 35 criminal code charges and issued 39 provincial offence notices, including for intoxicated people, liquor offences and trespassing.

In Guelph, the university's webpage for campus community police notes the on-campus service was established in 1967 and is one of the longest serving campus police services in the country.

Officials at the University of Guelph have a slightly different request, having asked the province for an exemption to the new rules.

In a statement, Guelph's vice president external Daniel Atlin said the university "has concerns" with Bill 68, "including how the change will affect campus safety as well as the costs associated with implementing the name change."

"We have communicated our concerns to government and have asked for an exemption. We look forward to working with the government on a resolution," Atlin said.

The move will also affect University of Toronto, the University of Windsor and Western University in London.

'Special constable' title confusing

The change in title is expected to cause confusion, says Sarah Kennedy, vice president of the Ontario Special Constable Association.

Special constables on college and university campuses may respond to emergencies, they conduct criminal investigations and "they have the powers of the police to do so," she said.

But Kennedy says many people don't realize special constables do the work of police. When a special constable asks for identification, or if they decide they need to arrest a person, she said, "a lot of people don't really understand that that's not negotiable."

"Everybody understands what's expected of them when they're speaking to a police officer and most people understand what's expected of them when they're dealing with a security guard, but we find that a lot of people do not understand what's expected of them with a special constable," she said.

Changing the name of campus police to special constables will lead to "misunderstanding and ambiguity."

"Perception is huge and it's not insignificant or trivial — it really does make a huge impact on the interactions day-to-day," Kennedy said.

She added it will also cost money to change the name of the services on things like emergency light posts and campus vehicles.

"The cost of this name change on the services it impacts is huge, the financial cost as well as the social one," she said.

Ministry, schools having 'productive conversations'

Andrew Morrison, a media relations officer with the Ministry of the Solicitor General, told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo the Community Safety and Policing Act creates a new framework for special constables to "clearly define their roles and responsibilities as separate and distinct from police officers."

Morrison said the government is working on developing some regulations before the act can come into effect.

"The ministry has had a number of productive conversations with its university partners and looks forward to consulting with them and other special constable employers as we move forward," Morrison said.

The University of Guelph Campus Police posted this photo of one of their vehicles to the service's Facebook page in July. Under new rules by the province, the service wouldn't be allowed to call itself "campus police." The university has asked the province for an exemption to this rule. (University of Guelph Campus Police/Facebook)

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