Women in policing both rewarding and challenging

As of October 3, Treaty Three Police Service (T3PS) welcomed newly appointed Acting Inspector Cheryl Gervais and Acting Sergeant Major Tricia Rupert in their new roles. Both women had recently been honored with awards for their service in policing and shared with the Times the importance of female representation.

“If you talked to me as a young kid growing up in Shoal Lake, I would never have thought I would be here today. I was shy, I still consider myself shy,” she said, explaining that the acting inspector role is one of the first inspector positions within T3PS.

In the rankings, the acting inspector stands between the sergeant major and deputy chief positions. Due to the novelty of the inspector position, Gervais isn’t certain what the new role will entail, but believes that there will be room for her to create a vision based on the needs brought to light. “I'm hoping it will give me an opportunity to be able to be creative in the work I'm doing internally and externally with our communities.”

Gervais was initially interested in becoming a lawyer; however, co-op opportunities with the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) helped her realize that policing was what she wanted to do. “It wasn't until probably grade nine or ten that I was sure in my career path to be a police officer… And I started gearing my volunteer or my work experience towards that after.”

Throughout her career, Gervais has always been passionate about community engagement, especially for youth. She believes that it’s important to look at the organization’s “bigger picture” to ensure that decisions align with strategic goals and objectives. An upcoming event fostering community engagement is the “All Girls Gathering” hosted on November 25 which is open to all Treaty #3 youth ages 13 to 18. The event will take place at Seven Generations Education Institute in Kenora, Ontario, focusing its message on anti-human trafficking and education awareness.

Two grant projects will be running at the same time—the Spirit of Hope project and the Maanaji’iwin project. The Spirit of Hope program addresses sexual violence, haraassment, and human trafficking. The Maanaji’iwin project supports female Indigneous students moving to bigger city centers for post secondary education.

Gervais said that many young Indigneous females who grow up in a small community can experience shock when relocating to big cities. She herself understands the predicament many young Indigneous females face because she had moved to Toronto in her earlier years for school, but grew up in Iskatewiizaagegan No. 39 First Nation, also known as Shoal Lake #39, an Anishinaabe community located 16 kilometers south of Ontario Highway 673 off of TransCanada Highway 17. The registered population consists of 585 band members while its reserve population is roughly 297.

“[The Maanaji’iwin project] is about empowering our women and girls and giving them tools to feel empowered and to and to be safe in our communities,” Gervais said.

“Growing up in a small community, I didn't necessarily have that one role model to look up to. I found I had to kind of pull pieces from different people to make a role model for myself. ‘This person is good at public speaking,’ ‘this person has a strong work ethic,’ ‘this person is passionate about this.’And I think that's what I enjoy most, that's what gives me purpose within my work—being able to provide that one role model for youth in our communities.”

All Girls Gathering events hosted in Fort Frances and Dryden will be held in January 2023.

In February 2021, at the 23rd annual Ontario Women in Law Enforcement (OWLE) awards, Gervais was the successful recipient for the major award category of Community Service which recognized her community service and commitment to the force. She said that while she does her best on the job because of her love for the community, she appreciates the acknowledgement, especially on a platform alongside other women in policing across the province.

“Learning and growth happens when you're uncomfortable,” Gervais said, quoting a professor from her leadership course with the Rotman School of Management. “Looking back at my career, you have to challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone to be able to have that growth and build your confidence.”

Acting Sergeant Major Tricia Rupert joined T3PS in 2006. In her new role as sergeant major, she continues to do investigative work, but focuses on investigations around the Code of Conduct which holds officers accountable to maintain the integrity of the service.

The past few weeks Rupert has been on the road at conferences and training programs across the country, to strengthen her knowledge on diversity and inclusion in policing, and build connections with other police officers such as at the International Association of Women in Police annual conference.

“Women put a lot of pressure on themselves to be perfect,” Rupert said. “We have a career, we have to be our best at work, but we also have to be our best at home with a family and kids. You always have this ideal of what you think you should be, but at the end of the day, that's not necessary. You just have to be yourself and do your best.”

Rupert said that oftentimes, moving into new roles at work is accompanied by lack of confidence and a pervasive feeling of doubt. She provided the example of a woman who sees a job posting outlining 10 qualities the company is looking for. The woman may see that she has eight out of ten qualities listed and still think she can’t do the job, whereas a man may see that he has five out of ten qualities and feel confident that he’ll get the job. “So it's situations like that, where you doubt yourself where you're just as capable of doing the job as the guy with the five qualifications. You always second guess yourself when you really shouldn't.”

“Being a woman in policing is challenging [and the conference] solidified that what I was feeling was normal,” Rupert said.

Last Tuesday, at the First Nation Chiefs of Police Association AGM in Calgary, Rupert and her father both received awards. Her father received the lifetime achievement award which Rupert had the honor of presenting to him, and she received the distinguished policing award. “I feel like that's what I do every day—it's my job. But to be recognized is definitely an honor.”

Rupert’s father worked for the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) for 30 years, and later for T3PS, which had exposed her to policing at a young age. “It just seemed like everything in my life was moving towards me being here. And I feel like I meant to be here.”

At 19 years old, Rupert often helped her father on the job in administrative roles such as writing memos and letters. “I kind of always knew the demands of what it would take to be a police officer. I just knew that it would take a lot. It's a big commitment, and it takes you away from your family for long periods of time sometimes,” Rupert said.

“I just wanted to be a part of it, you know? I want it to be a part of the bigger picture in progressing the service. I think my end goal here is to get better resources and to be able to provide a better service to the communities.”

A distinction between T3PS and the OPP lies in the funding and resources available to them and the geographical area that they respond to, Rupert said, noting that their team trained with the OPP and worked closely together with them, but in comparison, T3PS funding and resources is minimal.

“I think because of those lack of resources, it affects the health of our members. We have high call volumes, we have long distances to travel, our crime severity index is three to four times higher than our OPP partners in our areas. So we often run short because we have members off due to their health… So that's something that I really want to work towards fixing and making better moving forward,” Rupert said.

Gervais also commented that T3PS has struggled with recruitment. “We're just not seeing the number or the volume of applications coming in when we're posting it,” she said.

“We need to pivot and move away from the traditional recruitment kind of strategies we follow. I think we need to start doing more outreach, you know, going into the communities and actually approaching people using the connections that our frontline officers have. Our frontline officers deal with the community even more than I would in my role.”

“That person may not even consider policing as a career. And maybe it's that one tap on the shoulder that gets them thinking about applying,” Gervais said. She highlights that T3PS has many positions available beyond being a police officer or frontline patrol officer, and especially welcomes diverse representation within the police services.

“It’s great to see that Indigenous, female representation in our police services as a good thing, whichever service you're with, because I think we bring different lived experiences, different ways of thinking. And we need to be at the table,” Gervais said.

“I just think it's important to develop a support group within your peers at work. To be able to collaborate and work together to build your confidence, to be a better supervisor, to be a better leader, but also to be authentic and to be yourself,” Rupert said, when asked what advice she would give to young people, especially women, who are considering joining the police force.

“Because I know in this male dominated profession, you would feel the tendency to maybe mimic or act the way they act like that men act, when that's not who you are. And to be a caregiver or a caring person isn't wrong. You know, be who you are, and be authentic.”

Elisa Nguyen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort Frances Times