Ottawa police census reveals deep rift over diversity

The latest census of Ottawa Police Service members reveals a deep divide over the force's attempts to diversify its ranks, and suggests leadership has a long way to go to mend morale, CBC News has learned.

Police chief says 'growing pains' expected as force tries to better reflect community

The report, completed in April 2018 by the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion, reveals significant push back from white, male officers about the force's attempts to hire and promote more women and people of colour. (Judy Trinh/ CBC News)

The latest census of Ottawa Police Service officers and civilian employees reveals a deep divide over the force's attempts to diversify its ranks, and suggests leadership has a long way to go to mend morale, CBC News has learned.

The draft report obtained by CBC News is based on an anonymous survey of staff conducted by the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion last December.

It notes that while there's been a increase in visible minorities joining the force since 2012, there is also a growing perception of reverse discrimination among employees, who are overwhelmingly white.

The 2016 death of Abdirahman Abdi following a violent interaction with police spurred the service to examine its efforts to encourage better race relations, while last year's decision by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal in favour of Const. Barbara Sjaarda forced it to overhaul its hiring practices.

Ottawa police officers currently have four race-related human rights complaints before the courts.

Many white officers are worried those outside pressures are interfering with merit-based promotions, and believe they are losing jobs to less qualified candidates, the survey found.

Of 184 comments collected, 48 — about a quarter — dealt with that concern.

'Absolutely shameful'

"In 2017 OPS employees recognize and embrace diversity; however, the attitude of forcing diversity on us by changing transfer and promotion policy is highly counter-productive," one respondent wrote.

"Instead of jumping on the transparency and PC bandwagon, OPS should lead from the front and direct promotions and transfers to the employees that deserve them. OPS will eventually be brought into disrepute by doing what they are doing now."

"OPS has created a terrible environment for the people that want to give it their all, but don't fit into the ... accommodated spectrum," wrote another. "It is absolutely shameful."

"I don't care from what minority group as long that they're the best candidate," wrote a third respondent. "Internal position should be the same... choose the best person for the job not only because of race or gender. There are good people from all minority groups that do work hard. We need to stop pleasing [and accommodating] persons because they threaten to complain and reward the hard workers."

The report's authors note these concerns do not appear to be borne out by the latest staffing figures: researchers found that about 80 per cent of sworn officers are Caucasian and 77 per cent of supervisors are white, and both categories are overwhelmingly male.

"This suggests that employees making claims of reverse discrimination are not seeing how minority groups experience the workplace differently than they do," the report's authors wrote.

Minority candidates have different experience

The 2017 census found, by comparison, 13 per cent of police service staff are visible minorities, a four per cent increase in just five years, but still comparatively low for a workforce in Ontario, and much lower than the general population.

About six per cent of the service is Indigenous.

Anonymous comments from respondents in that group suggest police still have work to do to make the workplace more inclusive, starting with the hiring process.

"Background investigators are retired white males that screen out qualified diverse candidates," wrote one respondent. "This is where the bottleneck is when it comes to finding qualified diverse candidates."

Women account for 23.2 per cent of sworn officers. When civilian staff are included, women account for 38.5 per cent of staff. Researchers found that women are proportionally represented in senior leadership roles. However, in the comments section, several anonymous women raised concerns about sexism.

In all, 1,381 OPS employees — 72 per cent of the workforce — participated in the census. The researchers found fewer than half of the respondents felt valued or fairly treated by their employer.

The Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion report recommends Ottawa police examine its practices and culture to understand why people from visible minorities and women feel undervalued.

The study also recommends that programs be put in place to educate members on privilege, stereotypes and bias.

Draft report still being analyzed

Ottawa police received the draft report in April but has not publicly released it.

Chief Charles Bordeleau said the study is a draft and its findings are currently being analyzed to determine how it can aid plans to create a force that reflects the community it serves.

Bordeleau said he's not surprised by the pushback against diversification efforts.

"The community has told us before we join you we have to see ourselves inside you. And they're not seeing enough of themselves inside the police service," Bordeleau said. "Once you're here we have to make sure we are welcoming and that we're treating you from a professional perspective giving you equal access to opportunities.

"Do we expect growing pains? Absolutely."