Ontario police course hopes to recruit aboriginal youth against tough odds
- Ontario police course hopes to recruit aboriginal youth against tough odds
By ROGER WARD
TORONTO (CP) - It's long been one of the most significant challenges facing Canadian police forces anxious to improve diversity in the ranks: getting aboriginal youth interested in a career in law enforcement.
Police in the northern Ontario city of Sudbury are hanging their hopes on a unique high school course designed to help lure young aboriginals into a profession that urgently needs their cultural contributions.
"What we're trying to do is to get kids interested in the law or some variation of it, whether it's social work, corrections, police work, then bring them into a police environment," said Sudbury police Chief Ian Davidson, who's helping to develop the course.
What began as a plan for a simple mentoring program soon blossomed into a vision of a full-blown course of study that teachers, officers and social services workers could deliver through police departments themselves.
While focusing on police work, the course would also be designed to interest aboriginal young people in justice-related fields, said Davidson.
"You plant seeds and you water those seeds and where it takes that person is pretty much up to them," he said. "But until you provide somebody an opportunity. . . they may never get that dream and run with it."
Northern Ontario is far from alone in its struggle to develop aboriginal police officers.
Try as they might, urban police services across Canada have long had little success in their efforts to recruit aboriginal police officers, said University of Ottawa criminology professor Wade Deisman.
That's largely because aboriginal culture often doesn't lend itself to the traditional policing model, Deisman said.
"It's definitely not for a lack of political will or initiative on the part of government to get aboriginal people involved in traditional approaches to policing," he said.
"Definitely there's a spiritual element because it is not their way of approaching conflict issues, by having someone who is in a position of elevated authority . . .it's a community approach instead."
In Saskatoon, high-profile allegations of police abuse have soured relations with the aboriginal community, said Const. Craig Nyirfa, who works as an aboriginal liaison for the Saskatoon Police Service.
In 2001, two Saskatoon constables were found guilty of unlawful confinement involving Darrell Night, an aboriginal man they arrested and then abandoned on the outskirts of Saskatoon on a frigid winter night.
The case led to a groundswell of complaints from aboriginal people who alleged such abuses were typical, especially because several other aboriginals were found dead under similar circumstances.
As a result, native recruiting - which experts agree would go a long way towards healing the rift - is all but impossible.
"Just the focus that's been given to Saskatoon, that in itself can be something where you have a person say, 'Well, I wanted to be a police officer but I don't want to be with Saskatoon,"' Nyirfa said.
"We clearly value diversity, so if we become a police department that is more diverse, what you have is nothing but positives."
But it's not just police conduct that's keeping aboriginals away. Vince Pawis, a former police officer who now works with Sudbury's White Buffalo Road counselling service, said aboriginal law enforcement has traditionally been the purview of native elders.
"Policing in our community was handled in a different way," he said. "Locking (people) up and throwing the key away was not the way of our people."
Interestingly, aboriginals are less resistant to the idea of working as police officers on native reserves, where they can collect a paycheque without having to pay federal income tax, said Nancy Cada, a civilian native liaison officer with Sudbury police.
"There's no taxation on First Nations policing, so (urban police forces) are competing with that factor," Cada said.
"It's more attractive to go somewhere where you don't have to pay heaps of taxes."
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