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Kingston Speaks Inclusion: Initiative connects KCHC, Police, community for dialogue about racism, diversity, inclusion

Muhammed Sani, Program Coordinator for Kingston Immigration Partnership speaks to the press while members of Kingston Police and KCHC look on. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

Kingston Community Health Centres (KCHC) and Kingston Police (KP) announced that they would be partnering in a new initiative, ‘Kingston Speaks Inclusion: Community Consultations Hosted by Kingston Police & Kingston Community Health Centres,’ in a press conference on Monday, Jul. 12, 2021.

According to their press release, “The goal of this project is to conduct a series of community consultations to hear feedback on how the Kingston Police can increase equity, diversity, inclusion and indigenization (EDII) throughout their organization.”

An opening statement was made by Muhammed Sani, Program Coordinator for Kingston Immigration Partnership (KIP), a community planning table and multi-sector partnership working to strengthen Kingston’s capacity to welcome immigrants and improve integration outcomes through enhanced economic, social, political, and civic participation. 

Sani explained that this initiative would partner KCHC and KP with diverse community members for consultations and dialogue, “And I think that really is weighted within the mandate of KIP itself, because KIP definitely does not exist without its partnerships. So this new partnership between the Kingston Police and KCHC sets the stage for a sustainable community, through community-wide consultations based on constructive conversations, and honest feedback, in ways that would allow us to build trust and relationships, especially between the police and marginalized communities in Kingston.”

In her remarks, Wendy Vuyk, KCHC’s Director of Community Health, said, “I am optimistic that engaging with our community members on the topic of racism in this way will foster a renewed sense of hope, as individuals who may not have felt safe in sharing their thoughts and feelings about their experiences with the police in our community will now have an opportunity to do so in a comfortable and caring environment. This work will allow us to gather meaningful information from our most valuable resource: our community members.”

In this vein, Constable Bryan McMillan was introduced in his new role of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Officer with the Kingston Police. He explained that this was a new role within the KP and stated, “My goal is to work to develop open and honest communication between the Kingston Police and the community. In every respect, I will be learning from our community members and relying on their feedback and input.”

Newly appointed EDI officer Constable Bryan McMillan introduces himself and his new role at a press conference on Monday, Jul. 12, 2021. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

“Most importantly,” he emphasized, “I realized that I am a white, heterosexual male with tremendous privilege. In this new role, I will be thinking about what that privilege means and will be learning as much as I can about how underrepresented groups experience the police in Kingston. I look forward to working with our Chief, our CORE Unit, our Board, and members of our community to make equity, diversity, inclusion, and indigenization a priority, and I look forward to learning and growing in this new role with guidance from our community.”

Vuyk further explained, “Through our community health programs, we hear lots and lots of stories from our clients and our families and our patients. And for many years now, those stories have been rooted in trauma that people have experienced and adverse childhood experiences, and many, many barriers to being able to thrive, and for people to be able to focus on good health and well being.”

Without getting into specifics, Vuyk continued, “Some of those stories have included experiences people have had with the police. And the hope that I have right now is that this partnership will help us change the nature of those stories.” 

For her part, Chief of Police Antje McNeely explained the impetus for this initiative.

“Recent events have brought increased awareness to the need to re-examine Canada’s history and the legacy of residential schools. This is a painful time for Indigenous communities, and the Kingston Police would like to be allies in the healing process,” she said. “However, we cannot be allies unless we critically reflect on our past and put a plan in place for our present and future that will be inclusive of the communities that we serve.”

According to the release, in January 2021, the Kingston Police partnered with De Anita Jack-Davies, founder of Mosaic Cross-Cultural Solutions and the Badges2Bridges law enforcement program, to support them with their strategic planning on EDII. This past spring, Dr. Jack-Davies led preliminary consultations with members of Kingston’s Black community. These consultations provided a guiding point in the creation of this new partnership.

The Kingston Police reached out to KCHC as a leader and a trusted organization that has worked tirelessly in the Kingston region to support equity-seeking groups. McNeely added, “We are hoping to learn about the experiences of Kingston residents by tapping into KCHC’s vast community network. We believe that this partnership will help us learn about the thoughts and concerns of Kingston residents in ways that we may not be able to, if we were to work alone.”

“As a Community Health Centre, and a member of the Alliance for Healthier Communities, we see systemic racism as a public health issue. KCHC is thankful to partner with the Kingston Police to assist with their community engagement plan and help begin to address systemic racism in our community,” Mike Bell, CEO of KCHC said.

“The voices of all equity-seeking populations are all too often unheard. We believe that this work must be community-led, and therefore, we are eager to create safe opportunities for all community members to share their thoughts and experiences related to discrimination. Only then, can we begin to build trusting relationships in order to move forward in our community in a meaningful way.”

How will this consultation occur? The KCHC team will be working closely with the Kingston Police’s CORE team (Community Oriented Response and Engagement), and many of the project outcomes will be shaped by community input. The summer months will be spent in an outreach phase, making connections and building relationships for this project.

Wendy Vuyk, KCHC Directorof Community Health, makes remarks at the Monday, Jul. 12, 2021 press conference. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

Vuyk assured that the KCHC would use multiple methods and resources to collect information and ideas, stating, “What we’re trying to create is a sort of a safe, comfortable space for people to share their opinions and they may be folks who may not have felt safe in the past. We want them to be more comfortable so there will be in-person opportunities, but also virtual and paper and digital so people can express their opinion in any way.”

When asked if this would include seeking out people who might not be comfortable in a meeting situation due to mental health or housing issues, Vuyk said, “We will be spending the summer months designing sort of the outreach strategy, and it really needs to be multifaceted so nobody feels uncomfortable — so, say if someone can’t leave their stuff, we can go to them.”

Also, she explained, “We have our group rooms here and one of the things we try to do almost 100 per cent of the time is provide food. So it’s an opportunity for people to come and have something to eat and in a comfortable atmosphere — sort of the concept of breaking bread together and having food together — it’s certainly a multi-pronged approach to reach out: it’s important to us to meet people where they are.”

Roger Romero, KCHC’s Manager of Youth Services, sees this as a real opportunity to ensure that the Kingston Police are hearing feedback from people they may not otherwise connect with. “We all want to ensure that diverse voices are captured as opposed to the same, recurring ones that are present when they do ‘town hall’ style community engagement. Equity-seeking voices are often drowned out due to vocal participants. We will work together over the summer months to get out into the community and build trusting relationships in order to foster constructive feedback conversations from the community.”

One of the outcomes of this process, as suggested by Chief McNeely, is the eventual creation of a community advisory circle that will guide Kingston Police’s EDII work into the future. Many of the other outcomes of this project are not pre-established, but rather will be shaped by the results of the community consultations.

The Kingston Police have created an EDII webpage at www.kingstonpolice.ca/diversity that currently shares details about what constitutes hate/bias-motivated crimes and incidents. It also outlines and connects to KPs Reassurance Program where lines of communication are established between victims of such offences, and a glossary of commonly used terms. In future, it will contain updates on the progression with community consultations and the Community Inclusion Council, according to the participating parties.

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