Ottawa

Racism, bias continue to plague police force, deputy chief says

Speaking at an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal hearing Wednesday, Deputy Chief Uday Jaswal described the culture within the Ottawa Police Service as rife with racism and bias, where it's assumed non-white officers are promoted because of their race rather than their merit.

Uday Jaswal testified at human rights tribunal hearing into fellow officer's complaint

Deputy Chief Uday Jaswal told an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal hearing Wednesday that he felt his own promotion to superintendent in 2013 was 'tokenism.' (Twitter)

Speaking at an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal hearing Wednesday, Deputy Chief Uday Jaswal described the culture within the Ottawa Police Service as rife with racism and bias, where it's assumed non-white officers are promoted because of their race rather than their merit.

"There's racism and bias in the department. We have racism and bias today, and no doubt we had in 1995," the year he entered the force, Jaswal testified.

The tribunal is hearing a complaint by Insp. Samir Bhatnagar, who alleges former chief Charles Bordeleau repeatedly denied him a promotion to superintendent, the force's third-highest rank, because of his race.    

Bhatnagar, who testified earlier this week, describes himself in tribunal documents as "brown-skinned and of East Indian origin." He became eligible to apply for promotion to superintendent in 2012, when Bordeleau became chief. 

'It felt like tokenism'

On Wednesday, Bhatnagar's lawyer, Paul Champ, asked Jaswal whether he felt "resistance" when he was promoted to superintendent in 2013.  

It certainly felt like they were checking a box, promoting a young brown kid rather than on my merit.- Deputy Chief Uday Jaswal

"It's not a perfect organization, and at times it felt like tokenism," Jaswal replied. "It certainly felt like they were checking a box, promoting a young brown kid rather than on my merit."

That impression came from both rank and file officers and senior leadership, said Jaswal, who was promoted to deputy chief last August following a brief stint with the Durham Regional Police Service.

Jaswal was slated to start serving as interim police chief in July, but bowed out because he's under investigation for misconduct while in Durham.

Bhatnagar was a "well-respected officer known for his skills and capability," Jaswal testified.

Insp. Samir Bhatnagar believes he's been overlooked for promotion to superintendent because of his ethnicity. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

'The Angry Five'

Asked whether he knew Bhatnagar was a member of a group within the OPS dubbed "The Angry Five," Jaswal said he'd heard rumours to that effect. 

"I heard his name as part of a group of people who were extremely frustrated with the senior leadership," Jaswal testified. "At times people may have called me a member of that group."

Jaswal told the hearing he'd never seen Bhatnagar acting in an "inappropriate or insubordinate" manner toward Bordeleau, despite earlier remarks by police service lawyers that it was Bhatnagar's openly defiant attitude, not his race, that cost him the promotion.

But Jaswal said he'd personally observed the former chief react badly when questioned.

"I didn't always endorse the conventional wisdom," Jaswal said. "I think a diversity of opinion was personally challenging for [Bordeleau]." 

Jaswal acknowledged Bordeleau attempted to improve diversity within OPS, but said barriers remain for both visible minorities and women, especially when it comes to gaining a foothold in the senior ranks.

Bordeleau is scheduled to testify before the tribunal Thursday.