3 min

Setting the record straight

Defending the Police Liaison Committee

For over 10 years the Ottawa Police Liaison Committee has worked hard to provide an avenue of communication between the GLBT communities and the police. The committee exists primarily to develop active strategies that enhance the overall safety of all members of the GLBT family against crimes of violence and harassment.

As a member of this committee for the past four years, I have observed how it has been fully inclusive of any and all members of the GLBT communities, regardless of race, religion, age, gender or disability.

For this reason, I have to praise this committee for its hard work and take aim at wrongful accusations that it’s not fully representing all members of the GLBT community and that the committee was exclusive and only concerned with matters affecting the white norm.

In an article written for TO BE (March, 2003) by Elizabeth Hall and Adrienne Sefton, founders of PAD (People Against Discrimination), the committee becomes the subject of faulty allegations.

Cynthia Cousens, chair of the Liaison Committee, was misquoted in this article as saying that diversity and race relations are not relevant to our community.

To set the record straight, Cousens’ quote was taken from a Capital Xtra article (Committee asks province to train police officers earlier, Dec 6, 2002 issue of Capital Xtra). She was referring to the current training standards at the Ontario Police College, where (at that time) only race and diversity were part of the curriculum and not issues specific to the GLBT community, for which race and diversity are certainly a part.

Hall takes this quote out of context to beef up her accusations of a committee gone astray.

Allegations go on when Hall and Sefton assert their view that the committee has “a troubling undercurrent of exclusionary tactics and silencing” and only addresses issues important to what Hall and Sefton call “a select few ‘White-Skinned’ gay men.”

Why is there no legitimacy to Hall and Sefton’s criticisms against the committee? Is it perhaps because Hall was intimately involved in creating the exact things she is criticizing?

If you look closely at the history of the committee, it was at one time a two-tiered organization with the principal committee consisting of the chair and the membership, and an executive branch consisting of five paid members, including Hall.

The executive branch was to provide administrative support to the Liaison Committee, such as minutes, updating memberships list and keeping mail and e-mailing lists up to date. They were also tasked to do outreach work in the community and were ultimately responsible for the issue of inclusiveness, ie membership.

For over a year, the executive branch struggled with the issue of inclusiveness, to no avail. The chair of the committee was not part of this executive and therefore was not made privy to any direction nor was any input solicited from the committee. As a result, the chair was not able to be proactive.

Since the mass resignation of the executive branch between September and November of 2002, the Liaison Committee has made more progress in the past five months to improve the committee’s inclusiveness of GLBT communities than the executive branch made in over a year.

The committee has made headway with police recruitment initiatives for visible minorities and GLBT persons. At a recent community meeting on hiring initiatives, the committee chair was approached by members of the Somali and Jamaican community inviting her to speak to their communities about our GLBT issues and hiring initiatives.

The director of the Ontario Police College has welcomed the work of the Liaison Committee and has encouraged them to continue helping develop additional mandatory training for police officers on racism and diversity.

The committee and all its members are valued and respected individuals and none are considered to be tokens, as Hall and Sefton have implied. I agree that the committee lacks representation from various segments of the GLBT community, a major concern the committee has admitted on numerous occasions. It hasn’t yet reached its full potential because the community has yet to step forward with more adequate representation. But this is by no means a fault to be laid on the committee.