Recent comments by Mr. Jagmeet Singh, leader of the federal New Democratic Party, regarding the successful de-escalation of an incident on July 2, 2020 involving an armed suspect at Rideau Hall in Ottawa requires a response by police leaders. Specifically, Mr. Singh suggested that police would have purposefully handled the situation differently if the suspect had been a person of colour and that the incident was “what systemic racism in policing is all about.” When Mr. Singh asserts that he is speaking about systemic racism, what he is, in fact, doing is attacking individual officers who day in and day out make life-saving decisions involving armed people from all backgrounds and cultures. This is a direct attack on the professionalism and dedication of the more than 68,000 Canadians who serve as police officers across our country.
In our view, Mr. Singh’s comments are not about legitimate public concerns regarding systemic racism in policing, something that Ontario’s police leaders have acknowledged as existing in our profession just as it exists in any social institution. They are a direct attack on all police officers who are ready to give their lives to ensure the health and safety of their fellow citizens. As police officers and leaders in our organizations, we will not accept such baseless attacks on our people. We will stand with the thousands of police officers who make a difference by doing the important public safety work assigned to them.
Mr. Singh’s comments fail to acknowledge the thousands of calls that police officers handle each and every day successfully; calls that are de-escalated successfully; calls where individuals in crisis are provided with medical and other forms of assistance; calls where our officers literally put themselves in harm’s way to protect people in need, regardless of who they are; calls that reassure people that they belong and have infinite value as Canadians.
Rather than lauding the officers who de-escalated a serious public safety threat based on their extensive training, Mr. Singh has taken the opportunity to undermine public trust in police services and imply that police officers – as individuals and as highly trained and accountable law enforcement professionals – engage in conscious, racist behaviour when responding to incidents such as the one at Rideau Hall. He has used this incident to promote the argument that police officers handle calls for service differently based on the race or ethnicity of individuals involved. As police leaders, we hold our people to high standards of unbiased service and accountability for their actions and provide extensive and ongoing training in the handling of serious incidents (including training in de-escalation and bias-free policing).
The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) has clearly stated that racism in any form is evil, that systemic racism does exist in policing as an institution, and that we as leaders must take constant and resolute action to remove anything from our profession that stands in the way of providing unbiased public safety services to everyone in our communities. However, we will not let politically motivated attacks on our people by public officials go unchallenged.
Mr. Singh should apologize to the women and men who serve their fellow citizens every day as police officers with professionalism and dedication. He should publicly thank the officers who were called to the grounds of Rideau Hall, who de-escalated a very dangerous situation in a professional manner. The OACP also calls on the Leader of the Official Opposition in Ontario, Ms. Andrea Horwath, to distance herself from the comments of her federal party leader.