Saskatoon sergeant becomes 1st female Canadian cop deployed to train Iraqi forces

Saskatoon Police Sgt. Erin Coates is the first female Canadian police officer to be deployed to Iraq to train that country's police force. Her work included training Iraqi female officers.

Sgt. Erin Coates recently returned from year-long deployment

Sgt. Erin Coates (right) works with the Saskatoon Police Service. Last year, she was deployed to Iraq to help train police there as the country rebuilds. (Submitted/Erin Coates)

A 19-year veteran of the Saskatoon Police Service is back from a year in Iraq, which included training Iraqi women as police officers.

Sgt. Erin Coates was deployed to the country —  a first for a female Canadian police officer —  as part of the team that provides training to the Government of Iraq's civilian and security officers. She also had a hand in enhancing and implementing a policing course for female Iraqi officers.

"I walked into a room full of 133 students and thought, 'OK, I can do this,'" said Coates.

"Every country is so different. And that's why we talk to the students a lot to see what their experiences are and what actually happens when they go to a crime scene."

Coates worked alongside a coalition of other officers from the Italian and Czech forces, who taught in several languages with various approaches.

Women in the force

Canada has been a trailblazing country in appointing women to oversee the training mission in Iraq, Coates said.

That sentiment is echoed by Joana Cook, a research associate at the Department of War Studies at King's College in London, who got her first degree in political science at the University of Regina. 

"Canada is really recognized abroad, I think, for really leading with a feminist foreign policy," said Cook, the author of A Woman's Place: US Counterterrorism Since 9/11, a book which includes research about women in policing.

"It's something you see really being put directly into practice in places like Iraq or Ukraine or Mali."

She has found that 21 per cent of officers in Canada are female while that number is only two per cent in Iraq.

Joana Cook is an associate researcher at King's College in London, U.K. Her book about women's role in counter-terrorism efforts will be released at the end of August. (Ivan Seifert/Submitted)

Overcoming hurdles

Women in conflict zones are increasingly filling roles that before were closed off to them because of their gender, said Cook, but she noted hurdles still exist.

The idea can persist that women may not provide sufficient security or that they might not have the same abilities or authority as men, she said.

"By not having female officers there it means you're not representative of your community," said Cook.

"Very sensitive issues like sexual or gender-based violence or domestic abuse or things might be very sensitive for women to approach security forces [with]."

Female police officers can also help address gaps in security, she pointed out, for instance, by being able to pat down or search female suicide bombers who may otherwise be able to infiltrate security.

Coates and her colleague pose for a photo with a child, while the pair worked in Iraq. (Submitted/ Erin Coates)

Coates said she feels she has helped move the forces further when it comes to training.

While she has since returned to Saskatoon from her leave, she said her experience in Iraq has stayed with her.

"It was life-changing."


Bridget Yard is a journalist and content creator based in the Greater Toronto Area. Originally from Schumacher, a small mining community in northern Ontario, she spent a decade pursuing a career in journalism close to home, then in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan with CBC.

with files from Saskatoon Morning