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Police agencies, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Provincial Corrections and the Canada Border Services Agency came together at the Dhaliwal Banquet Hall in Surrey for the one-day forum called Being Anti Racist in Public Safety.

Hosted by the British Columbia Law Enforcement Diversity Network (BCLEDN), the event’s focus was on how individual, institutional, and systemic racism can have deep impacts on those working in public safety, and how public safety professionals can go beyond being merely “not racist” to being actively “anti-racist” in support of one another and the broader community.

The BCLEDN, a subcommittee of the British Columbia Association of Chiefs of Police Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee (BCACP EDI), was formed by public safety workers who saw an opportunity to strengthen their organizations by connecting with one another in dialogue and action around equity and inclusion. The BCLEDN brings together 18 public safety agencies from across the province, representing federal, provincial, and municipal organizations.

While historically much of the work done by the BCLEDN has focused on external community engagement, the network recognizes the importance of supporting those working in public safety by addressing inequities that are connected to race, sex, gender, ability, and faith.

Speaking at the Being Anti Racist forum, Deputy Chief Constable Harj Sidhu, Co-Chair of the BCACP EDI Committee stated, “Today, we will consider how racism and discrimination permeates in overt ways, such as language, but also in subtle ways, such as biases in our systemic structures that impact our sense of belonging both within our organizations and in society at large”.

The BCLEDN Co-chair and Vancouver Police Constable Alison Hill emphasized that diversity is only the beginning in the journey to belonging. “Our agencies can establish diverse groups of employees, reflecting the communities we serve, but without belonging this diversity is at risk of amounting to tokenism. This means recognizing and removing systemic barriers within our agencies so that all of us have opportunities for growth and evolution.”

The group heard from Gurpreet Hara, Canadian Border Service Agency’s Chief of Operations at Vancouver International Airport. A member of the BCLEDN since 2016, Chief Hara shared a journey spanning 60 years that was shaped and scarred by racism, first and repeatedly directed at relatives, and then at him. Some of the attendees saw themselves in Chief Hara’s story, while others considered their roles within his story.

The BCLEDN’s goals in holding the event were to normalize difficult conversations around racism, better equip their colleagues in terms of understanding the principles of being anti-racist, and for participants to return to their home agencies with practices that promote anti-racism.

“We built this forum around our mandate to champion equity and inclusion in public safety. We are encouraged by the response, with broad representation from 18 agencies, and energized by the commitment from those who attended to be actively anti-racist. This is a strong step in support of our agencies and in support of the communities across British Columbia that we serve,” said BCLEDN Co- chair and Canadian Pacific Kansas City Rail Police Inspector Rupert Sutherland.