Moose Jaw police chief apologizes to city's LGBTQ people

·3 min read

Speaking broadly and not pointing to one specific incident Tuesday morning, Moose Jaw police Chief Rick Bourassa took the unprecedented step of apologizing to the city’s Queer community for what he called a long-term “failure” on the part of the service to protect and serve LGBTQ people.

“We haven’t protected you. We haven’t been as inclusive as we should and must be … we have allowed fear and mistrust to continue. We have not done what should have been to be inclusive,” he said as part of his speech.

“For that, I am truly sorry.” He said he and the police service “own” such failures.

Bourassa made the apology at the culmination of a 14-month period during which the service and Moose Jaw Pride formed what they called a planning circle in 2019 to address how police members in the city interact with Queer people.

The planning circle, which included three members from Moose Jaw Pride and three members from the police service, gathered data and information from the city’s LGBTQ community about its interactions with police.

It used that data to inform the chief’s apology.

He and Moose Jaw Pride vice-chair Cole Ramsay also jointly signed a letter of commitment to maintain the planning circle on an ongoing basis.

Due to an unexpected, unspecified incident, Bourassa was unavailable for an interview with the Leader-Post on Tuesday.

Moose Jaw Pride executive director Taylor Eden Carlson talked about what the apology means.

Carlson said the planning circle found LGBTQ people are not likely to report being victims of crime “if they feel they would have to disclose they're gender or sexual orientation in the process of filing that complaint.”

That means they “don’t feel that police services, police officers, would support them in that type of situation, that they can't come out to them,” and there’s a fear of “being perhaps victimized … if they're not understanding and inclusive of that person.”

Carlson, who identifies as non-binary and uses the pronouns they/them, said in the past that might have meant an officer not recognizing a person’s sexuality or gender identity while taking a person’s statement about a crime.

Even though, to their knowledge, there aren’t incidents on the public record of Moose Jaw police members targeting Queer people in the city, Carlson said police forces have historically served discriminatory laws.

“Queer men and women and non-binary people for a long time were criminalized or medicalized as ill. Police services, including the Moose Jaw Police Service, had to enforce that law.”

Gay sex was criminalized in Canada until 1969, when Bill C-150 decriminalized it. Police-led bathhouse raids were common in the 1980s through to the next century, including an infamous one in Toronto in 1981 and more recently in Calgary in 2002. Same-sex marriage wasn’t legalized until 2005.

In 2017, federal Bill C-16 amended the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity and expression as prohibited grounds for discriminating against people.

Carlson said growing up Queer and being kicked around or harassed because of it can instil in a person the sense “we are undeserving or are unlikely to have fulfilling full lives where we are loved … and able to participate fully in community life.”

It can add to a person’s belief police are “not there to protect us.”

Police service Staff Sgt. Kevin Pilsworth confirmed to the Leader-Post Tuesday’s apology also marked a commitment that all employees have received diversity training for more appropriate interactions with people in the LGBTQ community.

The training couldn't have come soon enough; in August a trans girl was allegedly assaulted by her teenage peers and one adult. If Moose Jaw police find the assault happened because of her gender identity, hate crime charges are an option.

Evan Radford, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Regina Leader-Post, The Leader-Post