Making Bold, Courageous ChangeInterview with Jacqueline Edwards, recipient of the 2021 OACP President’s Award of MeritJacqueline Edwards (right) receiving the 2021 OACP President’s Award of Merit from Chief Antje McNeely.On October 5, 2021, the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) awarded the 2021 OACP President’s Award of Merit to Jacqueline Edwards during a ceremony at the association’s annual conference. The award acknowledged Edwards’ work as President of the Association of Black Law Enforcers as well as A.B.L.E.’s important, ongoing work in addressing the needs and concerns of Black and other racialized groups in law enforcement and the community. A.B.L.E.’s membership includes police officers, correctional officers, probation and parole officers, immigration officers, customs officers, court services officers, by-law enforcement officers, sheriff’s officers, special constables and community members.OACP Director of Government Relations and Communication, Jose Luis (Joe) Couto, interviewed Ms. Edwards about her work in promoting collaboration and change in the justice system.Jose Luis (Joe) Couto: How important is addressing systemic racism in policing today?Jacqueline Edwards: It is critically important; it touches the fundamental needs that people have around feeling safe and secure, because systemic racism erodes people. It erodes their overall well-being. It erodes relationships. It impacts their day-to-day living because of the power that the police profession has. So, if we allow systemic racism to be a part of what police personnel do, it will fundamentally affect and impact people’s safety, security and well-being.JLC: What advice can you give to police leaders who make the decisions – the ones who hold everybody in their organizations accountable – about making fundamental changes?JE: Be courageous. And act in a bold, courageous, intentional, knowing way, [understanding] that the effects of not doing that far outweigh the effects of leaving things as they are. In terms of changes, identify where in the [police] structure the leaky pipes are, and don’t just put a band-aid or tape over it. Expect the leak to just move to another area of the structure. So really look at the structure, look at what needs to be changed, and boldly make the decision to make those changes.I would encourage them to engage the community so that they are informed and community-oriented in every aspect of what they do as [police] leaders. I think there needs to be a bolder, more courageous and more intentional approach to being police in today’s time of social unrest, and in today’s knowledge of what systemic racism is doing and causing in people’s lives.JLC: How important are issues around recruitment, retention and promotion of Black, Indigenous, and people of colour in policing?JE: It speaks of the importance of having police services reflect the diversity of the communities that they police. It is important because the standard of excellence will not be met in the absence of a truly diverse, inclusive and equitable service delivery.JLC: If there was one thing that you could change in policing or the justice system, what would that be?JE: I would change the system itself. If I could magically, instantaneously make a change in the justice system, broadly speaking, it would be to weed out the system of all the “isms.” If the system continues to have the “isms” in it, then it is a broken system. We have to rid the system of all forms of racism. And how do we do that? It goes back to leaders with bold, courageous, intentional leadership abilities, who say, “This not going to happen on my watch. I’m going to model the behaviour that I’m expecting of people. I’m going to hold myself accountable, and then I’m going to hold all of them, everybody within my team, I’m going to hold them accountable.” So, I would say increase accountability to get rid of the “isms” within the system. I really think it’s that collective voice. And I think it’s that collective decision.I speak with a sense of urgency. I think we need to strike a sense of urgency. In addressing systemic racism, we need to strike a unified sense of urgency around the issues that we all know; they’re not foreign to us. No more reports. I was reading the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security report. It concluded that transformative national effort is required to ensure all Indigenous, Black and other racialized people in Canada are not subject to discrimination and injustice that is inherent to the system as it exists today.So, it’s not that we don’t know what to do. The question then becomes, why are we not doing it? It’s not as though we have to diagnose it. We know who are being impacted; we know what is causing the impact. And still, we are not sounding the alarm and saying this needs to stop.I do think we need to co-create change, but once and for all, we need to come to a space and create the opportunity for real change. And what does real change look like? It’s that if I am of a different sexual orientation, if I am of a different gender, if I’m of a different religious belief, if I’m of a different age than somebody else, that is not going to be used against me, but it’s going to be seen as helping; it’s going to be valued. It’s going to be seen as a value, not a hinderance, not a detraction, not a deterrence.Jacqueline Edwards is a manager with Correctional Service of Canada.I really think we need to look at systemic racism as a safety, security and well-being issue. I think when we start looking at it through those lenses, and not through the race or the geographical location of people, I think everybody can relate to wanting to be safe. Everybody can relate to the importance of security, and everybody should be able to relate to the need to feel well and to be well. And use those lenses to look at this this horrible issue called systemic and structural racism, because it affects us all.
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