Waterloo Regional Police Service suspends 'diversity' cruisers after community backlash

The Waterloo Regional Police Service has suspended its plans for so-called diversity cruisers after a community backlash that included criticism over artwork aiming to "capture the spirit of Canadian newcomers."

No 'pats on the back' for doing 'right thing': Teneile Warren of the African, Caribbean and Black Network

The first Waterloo regional police cruiser in a series of four was launched March 29 and received mixed reviews from some in the community. (Mark Araujo / Waterloo Regional Police)

The Waterloo Regional Police Service has suspended its plans for so-called diversity cruisers after a community backlash, including a petition that garnered thousands of signatures.

The program, launched on March 29, was quickly criticized by people in the Waterloo region, including from the Black and Indigenous communities. 

The first of four planned cruisers features artwork that "aims to capture the spirit of Canadian newcomers," according to a police news release.

The artwork includes a woman wearing a traditional Nigerian head wrap, a Sikh man, and a Muslim man and woman. 

By Friday afternoon, more than 4,000 people had signed a petition calling for police to cancel the project. The police service has not committed to cancelling the project, saying Friday it has been "suspended."

It's unfortunate it took this much for them to listen to the community.- Teneile Warren, ACB member

"It's unfortunate it took this much for them to listen to the community," said Teneile Warren, a member of the African, Caribbean and Black (ACB) Network of Waterloo Region, in reaction to the scrapping of the cruisers. 

"But you're not going to get any pats on the back from me for doing the right thing.

"There have been longstanding conversations with the WRPS since the [Black Lives Matter] march in June to take real action, and this wasn't it," said Warren in an interview with CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.

The police service said while the project had "many" supporters, "others expressed concerns about its concept and were offended by the visual design elements on the cruisers."
One side of the vehicle shows a woman wearing a Gele (traditional Nigerian head wrap), a Sikh man, and a Muslim man and woman. (Mark Araujo / Waterloo Regional Police)

WRPS said that as a result, it is suspending the campaign and apologizing to anyone who was offended.

"I certainly think this was the right decision," said Jessica Hutchison, who started the petition. "But I also think this should never have happened in the first place.

"Nobody from the community asked them to 'start conversations' about racial and cultural diversity. They've been asking for real structural changes."

She said that includes:

  • Less carding.
  • Less use of force against Black people.
  • Removing school resource officers.
  • Eliminating neighbourhood surveillance.

Call for town-hall consultations

While WRPS said the diversity cruiser program was developed in consultation with the service's Equity, Inclusion and Diversity Unit, in a news release released late Friday afternoon, the police service said that unit will look to consult with the region's diverse population to better serve and reflect it. 

Warren said for those consultations to be genuine, they need to be public.

"And if a community is not consulted, they are publicly able to look at these town-hall formats and say: 'My community was not part of this conversation. Why is that?'"

Hutchison told CBC she still wants to see the program cancelled outright, not just suspended, and expects police to provide a public accounting of the full cost of the program.

That money should be redistributed to Black and Indigenous-led community safety programs, she said.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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With files from Tiffany Mongu