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Peel council slammed over response to councillor's 'racist' texts

An anti-racism organization is criticizing Peel Regional Council over its response to comments made by a councillor, in which she disparages Peel police's deputy chief and says the only reason she was promoted is because she is a black woman.

Coun. Carolyn Parrish referred to Peel police deputy chief as 'black female' who is 'awful'

Mississauga Ward 5 Coun. Carolyn Parrish came under fire in recent weeks over comments she made in text messages about deputy chief Ingrid Berkeley-Brown of Peel Police. (Aaron Harris/The Canadian Press)

An anti-racism organization is criticizing Peel Regional Council over its response to comments made by a councillor, in which she disparages Peel police's deputy chief and says the only reason she was promoted is because she is a black woman.

It's the latest fallout stemming from a report from the region's integrity commissioner, over text messages sent from Mississauga Ward 5 Coun. Carolyn Parrish to the chair of the Peel Police Services Board.

In them, Parrish gripes about deputy chief Ingrid Berkeley-Brown, who is black, and bemoans how Berkeley-Brown addressed residents at a community meeting earlier this year about the closure of a police station in Malton.

"Quite a protest in Malton last night re the closing of the Community police station at Westwood and the re-purposing of it," Parrish texted. "I had to defend the change because the black female Superintendent is Awful! Terrible answers. Weak."

This one sentence I regret deeply.- Coun. Carolyn Parrish

In another text, she writes, "It seems being black and female qualifies people for promotion which is dead wrong."

Councillors voted to adopt the integrity commissioner's recommendations last week to dock Parrish's pay for five days and send her to sensitivity training.

However, some lamented that they only had "one side of the conversation," and argued that Parrish deserved a second chance for speaking "in anger." Seven councillors — of the 24 who represent the region — voted against reprimanding Parrish at all.

In an open letter, the Black Community Action Network of Peel said Parrish's comments reflect a "deeper, perhaps even unconscious, bias about black people."

"We believe that the response from Councillor Parrish and several other councillors was highly disrespectful and disingenuous, failing to address the core issues of the incident, while minimizing and justifying a racist comment that is unbecoming of an elected official and indicative of systemic anti-black racism that subtly remains embedded within our public institutions," the group's letter reads.

Parrish says she 'deeply' regrets comments

In the letter, the group demands a written apology from Parrish that "acknowledges the racist implications" of her messages, and calls on the council to establish a sub-committee with a focus on anti-racism and equity to "advise council on matters concerning anti-black racism and anti-racism."

Parrish said in an email to CBC News that her lawyer has advised her to not speak about the issue publicly due to "pending litigation."

Deputy police chief Ingrid Berkeley-Brown said in a statement that Parrish's comments were discriminatory. (Peel Regional Police)

But at a council meeting on July 12, Parrish said her comments about Berkeley-Brown amount to "the only sentence" in her career that she has ever regretted.

"This one sentence I regret deeply," she said. "It's not how I think, it's not how I feel, wake me up with a flashlight in the eye in the middle of the night, it is not me. Never has been, never will be."

'These things happen,' councillor's colleague says

Other councillors stood up for Parrish at the meeting, too, including Coun. John Sprovieri.

"From a human perspective, understanding sometimes the emotions and the passion that we councillors have to deal with and the situations we deal with, I understand why we sometimes we say things that maybe are off the cuff and probably not … politically correct," he said.

"These things happen."

In a statement released last week, Berkeley-Brown said Parrish's text messages offended her, and many other officers at Peel police.

"The comments not only attacked my performance at the meeting, but were discriminatory, bringing into question my character and Peel Regional Police promotional practices," she said.

"For the past 32 years, I have worked diligently alongside my fellow officers and with members of our community to ensure Peel Region remains a safe and inclusive community. Peel Region is one of the most diverse communities in Canada and I am proud of that. The suggestion that my promotion to Deputy Chief or Superintendent was based on my race or gender is an affront to the values of the Peel Regional Police and something I take very seriously."

adam.carter@cbc.ca

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Carter

Reporter

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

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