Ottawa Police Service's first Black superintendent retires

·3 min read
In 2020, Isobel Granger became the first Black superintendent on the Ottawa police force. (Supplied photo - image credit)
In 2020, Isobel Granger became the first Black superintendent on the Ottawa police force. (Supplied photo - image credit)

After 28 years on the force, Isobel Granger — the first Black woman to be promoted to inspector and later the first Black superintendent with Ottawa Police Service (OPS) — has retired.

The former superintendent's policing career began in Zimbabwe (then called Rhodesia) in the late 1970s, when the country's police service was segregated.

Granger became the first Black officer to work in an all-white police force in her home country before going on to become one of the first Black female officers to join the Ottawa Police Service in 1994.

But her journey wasn't without its challenges.

"Were I to go back and know what I would be going through, I probably would not have agreed because it's been a heavy lift for 33 years," Granger said, reflecting on her career on CBC's All in a Day.

"But it's also been incredibly rewarding."

Granger said she knew right from the start that part of her role would revolve around challenging the status quo within the police service.

She recalls coming to that realization after dealing with racism from the white women on her squad in Zimbabwe.

I do believe that OPS is on the way to cultural competence. - Isobel Granger, Ottawa Police Service

"I had a rude awakening then, a very stark awakening that this was not about me. It was so much greater than myself."

While she eventually became good friends with many of her colleagues, Granger acknowledges that their racist attitudes may not have changed had she not been present on the force.

Repairing the relationship between OPS and the community 

Throughout her career with OPS, Granger has lead initiatives aimed at helping the Ottawa police repair its relationship with the community and has been recognized for her work advocating for victims of intimate partner violence and sexual abuse.

Granger said she's most proud of leading the Ottawa police outreach liaison team, a temporary unit created after the fatal arrest of Abdirahman Abdi to understand how community members felt toward the police.

In 2020, two years after rising to the rank of inspector, Granger became the force's first Black superintendent, during which time she led the OPS Respect, Values & Inclusion Directorate.

If you look at my career, it's taken me twice as long or three or four times as long as other people to get to where I've gotten to. - Isobel Granger, Ottawa Police Service

"I'm proud of leading the Respect, Values & Inclusion Directorate because I do believe that OPS is on the way to cultural competence," she said.

"I think that there's a willingness in the leadership to do that. It's just now … learning the way how."

Despite these achievements, Granger said she hasn't considered taking a run at becoming chief of police.

"The system is not ready for the kind of change that the system says it needs," she explained.

"If you look at my career, it's taken me twice as long or three or four times as long as other people to get to where I've gotten to. When people think of leaders … it doesn't come packaged this way, even if I have the credentials and the ability to lead."

Future of the force 

When asked about the progress she's seen in the force over the years, Granger said they're becoming more diverse but some challenges they face are outside of their control.

"You know, we have this conversation of defund and detask [the police] … happening in society right now. But what is not being talked about is that we can't just take away and do something different," she said.

Granger said it's important to ensure there are enough people on the force to meet current needs, "even if it's deemed that certain tasks are better done by others."

"You shouldn't remove resources before we figure out where responsibility lies," she said.

"I think we need an entire systems approach."

Granger's last day with OPS was on July 15. On Monday, she'll be starting a new job with the Royal Canadian Mint.

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