All-white Windsor police board shows disconnect from diverse communities, advocate says

Amna Masoodi is a University of Windsor engineering student who thought she could bring a diverse perspective to the Windsor Police Services Board. (Jason Viau - image credit)
Amna Masoodi is a University of Windsor engineering student who thought she could bring a diverse perspective to the Windsor Police Services Board. (Jason Viau - image credit)

Windsor city council's decision to appoint another white member to an already all-white police services board shows "how disconnected they are from the minorities" in the region.

That's according to Amna Masoodi, who says she feels strongly that police need to reflect the community they serve, including members of the oversight board.

The police board oversees the service and select chiefs, as well as deputy chiefs. The University of Windsor engineering student was one of 48 people who applied, but wasn't given a spot on the board.

Instead, council made an in-camera decision on Jan. 16 to appoint Sophia Chisholm. She previously held the position from 2016 to 2018 and isn't a member of a diverse community.

Masoodi isn't surprised she didn't get appointed as she lacks professional experience. However, she said it's important to have someone BIPOC on the board to help address the "terrifying bias" that exists within policing.

"A giant a group of white people is just not capable of taking care of all the minorities in the city without help and guidance from the actual minorities who live in the city," said Masoodi.

"So to suggest that board members be appointed on the basis of a specific agenda or operational prerogative would set a dangerous precedent for any police service board." - Drew Dilkens

Provincial legislation requires diversity on boards

There's also a provincial legislative requirement saying municipal boards should accurately represent a community's diversity.

"Every municipality that maintains a municipal board shall prepare and, by resolution, approve a diversity plan to ensure that the members of the municipal board appointed by the municipality are representative of the diversity of the population in the municipality," says the Comprehensive Ontario Police Services Act, approved in 2019.

Windsor police
Windsor police

Mayor Drew Dilkens remains the chair. Coun. Jo-Ann Gignac has returned after one term away, and the province renewed appointee Robert de Verteuil's three-year term. The province didn't renew Denise Ghanam's term, leaving a vacant seat Ontario will fill.

City should actively seek diverse applicants

Instead of simply asking for applicants, Masoodi says the city should make a more targeted effort to seek out qualified, diverse people for the police board. She says that "critical" voice is missing.

CBC News asked Dilkens why council didn't appoint a diverse community member.

In an emailed statement, Dilkens highlighted that there are two women on the board.

"The role of the board is not to direct police operations in any way, shape or form — so to suggest that board members be appointed on the basis of a specific agenda or operational prerogative would set a dangerous precedent for any police service board," said Dilkens.

He said senior police leaders are committed to working with marginalized, vulnerable people as well as diverse communities.

"This work should be measured through results on the ground and not by the composition of a five-member board," said Dilkens.

University of Windsor
University of Windsor

Still, University of Windsor law professor Danardo Jones, who researches policing, said it should be a priority to ensure the board represents the community's diversity.

"We would hope that the folks who are setting the policy [the board] would be able set what I think is the proper tone for police services," said Jones.

"We're not talking about operational directives, but setting the tone. What exactly do we mean when we talk about effective police?"

Historically, he said, policing has been a white and male-dominated field lacking diversity. That includes the boards overseeing those sworn officers.

"[They are] usually devoid, I would say, of some of the underground realities. Today's policing culture needs to get out of that way of thinking," said Jones.

Mayor responds to former councillor's criticism

Last week, former downtown councillor and police board member Rino Bortolin highlighted those concerns. He called council's public appointment of Chisholm a missed opportunity to get diversity on the board.

"I was dismayed that Rino Bortolin would unleash a torrent of online hate against a dedicated female community volunteer," Dilkens said in his statement.

Bortolin made it clear his comments are not "a personal slight on her abilities" and he realizes she can do the job. However, he said, a diverse voice from communities police interact with on a regular basis would have been a better choice.

Chisholm has not responded to a request for comment.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

CBC
CBC