It doesn’t take an expert to conclude that police work has not always been particularly open to having gay and lesbian police officers.
“Twenty years ago, if you’d asked me if I wanted to work in the police, I would have laughed,” says Brenda Landry, a longtime member of Ottawa’s queer community. “They were the ones that harassed us in the bars.”
At least on the surface, today’s police environment is a lot more welcoming to the queer community.
Louise Lafrance is the Mounties’ director of recruiting in Quebec and Ontario.
“The RCMP in general is looking for people of all backgrounds; sexual orientation is not an issue,” says Lafrance.
“We accept resumes from anyone who wants to be on the force,” echoes Pascal Laplante of the City of Gatineau. “All you need is a diploma from Quebec’s national police college and no criminal record.”
The Sûreté du Quebéc has also taken measures to “augment” the presence of women and minorities, says communications director Gregory Gomez del Prado. He adds that in the Sûreté du Quebéc employment contract the word ‘spouse’ (conjoint in French) encompasses spouses of the same sex.
Landry, for her part, is the volunteer coordinator at Ottawa Police headquarters, and calls 474 Elgin “a great place to work.”
Success stories like Landry’s are the kind the Ottawa Police want to hear. Since 2006, she and 17 other Ottawa Police employees, officers and civilians, have served as Outreach Recruitment Champions for the OPS.
“Our purpose is to be able to recruit people from diverse communities to policing,” says Landry. “A lot of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people hadn’t seen that as an avenue open to them.”
“Our goal is to reflect the community,” says Sgt Mike Ryan, OPS human resources officer. “If 51.2 percent of Ottawa’s population is female, we should at some point have 51 percent female officers.”
As of the most recent OPS internal census in 2005, the Ottawa Police Service was 85 percent white and 60 percent male. Just under 4 percent of responding employees declared they were gay or trans — approximately 45 people in total. More recently, Floyd Hutchinson of the OPS recruitment team estimates there were “at least five or six” gay, lesbian or trans officers in the most recent OPS recruiting class.
Other police forces across the region, while making no specific overtures to the queer community, are sending the same message to those who might not fit the police stereotype.
“The RCMP is looking for people of all backgrounds,” says Lafrance. “We have people working in proactive recruiting who go to different communities and make contacts.”
Attending community events also forms a large part of the recruitment process for the Ontario Provincial Police, which had a booth at Toronto Pride earlier this summer and plans to hold a symposium on gay and lesbian recruitment in the coming year. The OPP promotes the openness of its work environment to prospective officers.
Margaret Pomeroy is a civilian recruitment officer with the OPP.
“At the OPP’s diversity symposiums, a video is shown to all participants,” says Pomeroy. Two queer officers “were open enough to be a part of that,” she says, adding that both are still with the force, although neither could be reached for comment.
Recruitment, however, is only part of the puzzle.
“If we are making efforts to hire people and we can’t keep them,” says Ryan, “it’s counterproductive.”
Both the Ottawa Police and the RCMP have taken heat recently for the difficulties they’ve encountered in retaining underrepresented groups. Alex Munter, the former mayoral candidate now at the head of the Youth Services Bureau, exposed two internal Ottawa Police reports in the fall of 2004 which revealed, in his words, that gays and other minorities “adhere to a code of silence, failing to complain about workplace harassment for fear of repercussions.”
The reports, based on 116 interviews with Ottawa police conducted in 2003 by police staff and Carleton University researchers, revealed a largely unwelcoming attitude on the part of white male officers and widespread frustration among other members of the force. The report also concluded that queer officers “to some extent experience discrimination and harassment.”
“I thought we were past that,” said a disappointed Chief Vince Bevan at the time.
Ottawa’s current campaign to bring minorities into its ranks was launched following the report, as a three-year pilot program. The program dedicates a sergeant and five constables to outreach recruiting, in which they attend community events and give orientation and mentoring sessions. Ryan, who has headed the program for eight months, considers it a success. He says that the OPS will hold on to their new, more diverse, recruits.
However, with no statistics kept about the retention of officers recruited through the program, how can they tell?
Recently, the RCMP was shaken up by the case of Ali Tahmourpour, an Iranian immigrant and aspiring officer who says he was forced out of training because he was Muslim. The force was later required by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to reinstate Tahmourpour and award him $650,000 in back pay. Lafrance declines to label his case as a racial issue.
“I don’t know of any issues about people being minorities and having to leave the force,” she says.
Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives records show a gay RCMP cadet named James Stiles fought a similar battle in the late 1980s, challenging dismissal based on sexual orientation. He settled out of court and was reinstated. However, it does not appear that he stayed with the Mounties long afterward; RCMP Inspector James Stiles of Alberta said the Archives citation did not refer to him and a database check did not reveal another James Stiles now on the force.
Lafrance does not believe harassment of queer officers is an issue at the RCMP.
“I know of two [male officers] who got married in their red serge,” she offers.
David Connors was one of the grooms in 2003 [see sidebar], and he agrees. He says the RCMP knew about his sexuality when he was going through recruiting. Coming out “really didn’t faze anyone I told,” he says. “Certainly from my experience, the RCMP has been an accepting environment.”
He adds, however, that he does know some queer officers who are not out to their colleagues.
“I’ve never had a problem,” he says. “But you’re always afraid what’s going to pop up.”
If anyone tried to discriminate, says Connors,” they would be breaking RCMP regulations.”
Well, that and the law. But strong workplace harassment and respect-in-the-workplace policies are certainly a point of pride for police forces looking to hire a more diverse corps. Ryan says all Ottawa Police employees, “from the chief to the building contractors” are required to take a ten-hour course on respect in the workplace.
“It’s all common sense,” he says. “It’s about respecting the people you work beside.”
OPP officers are similarly required to attend “diversity symposiums” and focus groups on diversity issues, says Debbie Percival, an OPP civilian human resources officer.
“It’s part of the OPP promise to respect all members of the community,” she says. “The message is always there.”
Complaints of on-the-job harassment, she says, are handled by the Professional Standards Bureau.
At the RCMP, says Lafrance, complaints of harassment “are taken very, very seriously.”
“If a person feels discriminated against, they can make a complaint and we’ll investigate.”
Percival says an accepting workplace is “something we need to live and breathe.” But she concedes that an officer’s work environment can be much different outside the office. “Officers start out as constables on the beat,” she says. “It’s unpredictable, and it all depends on who you work with.”
In coming out, Connors found an opportunity to teach his RCMP colleagues.
“I had to educate them about gay culture. Knowing me made my coworkers realize that gay people were no different than straight people; it was nice to give them [that] understanding.”
Landry says that everyone she has worked with at the OPS has been very respectful.
“I’ve been very lucky,” she says. “This is not to say there isn’t any difficulty; there are definitely folks that aren’t comfortable coming out. But every year it gets better and better.”
Still, statistics about retention of gay and trans police officers remain hard to come by. The OPP and Sûreté du Quebéc do not track retention in terms of diversity, and no follow-up has yet been done to the 2005 Ottawa Police Service “census” to see if the percentage of out queer employees has risen or fallen.
However, Ryan acknowledges that he and others are struggling with attrition caused by the retiring baby boomer generation. These officers are leaving a police environment different from the one they entered, one in which people from all communities expect to be represented.
“Any organization not adopting diversity hiring standards is going to be in dire straits in the next ten years,” says Ryan. “We’re hiring to reflect the community now, so by the time we face challenges in hiring, people are going to want to work here.”