These Extraordinary Women Part 1

Women in Policing Part 1 Blog Header
Women in Policing Part 1 Blog Header

I will be discussing diversity in policing regularly in this blog. It's a vast topic of great importance to the profession, and to our  society in general, and because of that it is front and centre in our country's national dialogue on a daily basis.  This week I'll start with a discussion of gender diversity in policing.

Since retiring, I do a lot of work on gender equality issues, as well as domestic and sexual violence prevention. It is very clear to me that this is a hard issue for everyone, but especially for men.  Discussion around these issues can raise feelings of defensiveness, which, while understandable, are a barrier to learning and progress if left unchecked.  So I ask the reader to remain open minded, but also to seek out credible sources of information about gendered violence and the concept of privilege.  This discussion is not about shaming men, it is about understanding how society works.  None of us, as individuals, is solely responsible for the state of sexism in our society; we are, however, responsible for our own behaviour.   

Understanding the impact of sexism within Canadian society is critically important for police officers because sexism is a root cause in domestic and sexual violence, two of the most serious and ubiquitous crimes that the police investigate on a regular basis.  These crimes are present in all communities regardless of size or geographic region, and they have a long term detrimental impact on those who are victims, and their families, regardless of gender.  Historically, the police have had a poor track record in dealing with gendered violence. The rise of mandatory charging policies for domestic violence, and woman abuse protocols in the 1980s and 1990s, is largely a result of poor practices within the justice system, but principally with the police. Both sexist and misogynistic policies and attitudes have been changing,  and there has been incremental improvement over the last 20 years, but we have a long way to go.     

The dynamics of sexism also have an impact on the police as an institution because they shape both the character and demographics of the agencies.  For example, women currently account for only 20.8 % of police officers in Canada[1], even though women make up just over half of the population[2] of our country. Montreal has the highest proportion of women police officers at 32%, with Quebec City, Regina, Saskatoon, Vancouver, Ottawa, RCMP Ontario, and Sherbrooke, all reporting in the 20-29% range.  But it's all downhill from there throughout the rest of the country.   Not surprisingly, the number of women at the executive level of policing -Deputy Chiefs and Chiefs- is even lower.  From my time in the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP), from 2004-2012, both in the general membership as well as the association executive, I can tell you it was a white man's world. And while many of these men I worked with through CACP were, and continue to be, visionary leaders and strong supporters of diversity within policing, nevertheless, they are overwhelmingly older white men, which cannot help but colour their worldview.

Achieving diversity targets in recruiting is a tricky business, and I won't try to tackle that in this post.  But suffice to say, being a woman in a male-dominated profession has never been easy. The indicators of just how difficult it can be for women are all around us, with the RCMP's troubling record in dealing with harassment complaints by women as a recent and public example.  While Commissioner Paulson is openly committed to a strategy of addressing the cultural issues, it will be a long road.  When I graduated from the RCMP Training Academy in 1986, the training environment was segregated into male troops and female troops, and it was de rigueur for some instructors to make sexist and misogynistic remarks about the women recruits.  Changing a culture is not done overnight, and as a colleague of mine quotes in her email signature block, "Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast."

I will continue this discussion next week in Part 2.


[1] Police Resources in Canada, 2015. Mazowita and Greenland, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, March 2016.

[2] Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report.  Statistics Canada, July 2011.