New Windsor police board member hopes to help 'drive change' as organization faces scrutiny

The newest and only female member of the Windsor Police Services Board is coming into the role with an "open slate" and an eye for change at a time when the organization is facing some scrutiny.

This week, Denise Ghanam was appointed to a three-year term on the board. She's recently retired and has a "strong background" in equity and diversity issues.

"I think the Windsor Police Services Board is at a moment of change," said Ghanam, speaking to CBC News from New Zealand.

Under investigation

She's accepted the position at a time when the police board is under investigation by the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) amid human rights cases. The board also doesn't have any visibly diverse members around the table. 

... I think obviously with a new chief on board that certainly is a time to drive some change." - Denise Ghanam

But Ghanam said her background and experience will help bring different voices and perspectives.

"I think in general, as a society, we are understanding that there's value in having any organization reflect the face of the clients that they serve," Ghanam said.

Connections to diverse communities

People can learn that "different perspectives can bring value or can improve the way that we make decisions," she added.

She's the founding chairperson of the Windsor Equity Network about 30 years ago. Her most recent work as a volunteer was with the Windsor Essex County Local Immigration Partnership.

"I have a lot of those connections to various diverse communities and to organizations that are working with those diverse communities," said Ghanam.

Numbers released during the most recent Windsor police census from 2018 show 83.7 per cent of its workforce is white, despite the community being among the most diverse in Canada.

And roughly 17 per cent of its sworn officers are female, according to the latest numbers from Statistics Canada in 2018. Windsor police has one of the lowest percentages of female officers, when compared to other agencies across the country.

Denise Ghanam/Twitter

In an interview with CBC News, the Windsor Police Service's first female chief Pam Mizuno said she's committed to adding more women to the ranks. Back when she started 26 years ago, Mizuno admits it was "an old boys network."

'Time to drive change'

For Ghanam, a former Navy reservist, she's aware of some of those struggles first-hand.

"I'm familiar with sometimes how those large bureaucratic organizations can sometimes feel like it's a bit of an old boys network," said Ghanam.

"So I think, as with any organizational change, there has to be leadership from the top and I think obviously with a new chief on board that certainly is a time to drive some change."

As Ghanam begins her new position, she said it'll be an opportunity for her to learn what Windsor police does well, and where they have some challenges.

"As a board member you need to know how to play to the strengths. You also need to know where the weaknesses are, where those opportunities for change are going to present themselves," said Ghanam.