Peel police chief 'very concerned' after Sikh officer denied promotion because of race

The chief of Peel Regional Police Service described an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ruling that an officer was denied a promotion because of his race as "very concerning" and said the force has since adopted different advancement criteria.

Staff Sgt. Baljiwan Sandhu focused on South Asian community, which superiors said wasn't 'real police work'

Peel Regional Police Chief Jennifer Evans responded in a video statement to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario's decision regarding allegations of discrimination on Tuesday. (YouTube)

The chief of the Peel Regional Police Service described an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ruling that an officer was denied a promotion because of his race as "very concerning" — and said the force has since adopted different advancement criteria.

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario found Friday not only that Staff Sgt. Baljiwan Sandhu had been denied a promotion to inspector based on his race and cultural background — but that Peel Regional Police didn't consider the portion of the 28-year veteran's work in diversity relations as "real police work."

Chief Jennifer Evans did not respond to CBC's questions about the ruling.

Instead, she issued a video statement Tuesday in which she said that such ambassador roles are critical to the success of Peel police.

"It's important to note that since 2013, Peel Regional Police have introduced changes to our promotional process," the chief said in the video. "The enhancements ensure all officers are recognized for the area they work in, be they front line or support services." 

Not 'real police work'

While Sandhu's lawyer said his client was harassed since he was a cadet in 1989 — including an alleged incident in which fellow officers asked whether anyone ordered a cab when they saw Sandhu — it was the fact that his superiors didn't value the work they'd assigned him that prompted the complaint in 2013, Barry Swadron said.

Sandhu emigrated to Canada from India in 1981; he speaks fluent English, Punjabi, Urdu and Hindi.

The tribunal found that the officer's cultural and linguistic background resulted in his superiors routinely seconding him for assignments involving the South Asian community.

And yet while those skills were considered an asset for those portfolios, his superiors said he needed more "traditional" front line policing experience to become an inspector, according to evidence submitted to the tribunal.

What he wants is the police chief and the senior brass to recognize that there is a significant problem concerning race relations within the Peel Regional Police.- Barry Swadron, Staff Sgt. Baljiwan Sandhu's lawyer

"The superiors in his particular case said that the work he did in diversity where he was an absolute star didn't really count because it wasn't real police work," Swadron said in an interview.

"To think that the brass of the Peel Regional Police Service take the position that diversity or officers who are not white are to be undervalued, it was too much to swallow."

Other officers 'had no more experience' but had support for promotion

Among the 33 officers who applied for promotion to inspector in 2013, only Sandhu and another applicant failed to get the backing of their immediate supervisors. That support is required for an applicant to move forward.

The other officer, however, met only the minimum requirements. Sandhu had held the role of staff sergeant or detective sergeant for about four years at the time, the tribunal adjudicator found in his decision.

And many of the officers who moved on to the next round of process also "had no more experience supervising front line officers than did the applicant," the adjudicator found.

Staff Sgt. Baljiwan Sandhu was denied a promotion based on his race and because diversity relations work was undervalued by Peel police, the tribunal adjudicator found. (Peel Regional Police)

In fact, one of the two inspectors who rejected Sandhu's application earned his own leadership experience by working in community support and internal affairs.

Sandhu, meanwhile, excelled in his work with the South Asian community, earning 21 awards, including the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal.

"One South Asian newspaper in 2011 selected him as one of the three most influential South Asians in law enforcement in the country, along with Harjit Sajjan, who has since become Canada's Minister of Defence," the ruling reads.

'Troubling' findings: police board

In an emailed statement, the police board's chairman, Amrik Ahluwalia, described the tribunal's findings as "troubling."  

Ahluwalia noted, too, that the police service recently hired a contractor to conduct an equity audit of its hiring practices to see whether its officers and staff reflect the diversity of their community. 

The police chief echoed that commitment to equitable hiring and promotion in her video statement. 

What it means for Sandhu

Sandhu has 35 days to request "remedies" from the police force.

Due to the stress caused by his dispute with the force, he has been on long-term disability for the past three years while the human rights hearings were underway, Swadron said, and it's unclear whether he will decide to return.

"What he wants is the police chief and the senior brass to recognize that there is a significant problem concerning race relations within the Peel Regional Police Service and it should be remedied."

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Laura Fraser

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With files from Shanifa Nasser