BY SURJIT SINGH FLORA
How far is too far when it comes to protecting the public? The role of Peel Regional Police has been a hot topic among city councillors and residents as of late after a series of high-profile engagements that have led to questions about their responsibilities and response to individuals in mental distress. Peel boasts the third-largest police service in Ontario and the fourth largest municipal police service in the country, serving more than 1.4 million residents across Brampton, Caledon and Mississauga. The population is growing very fast – but crime and other problems are also increasing at the same time.
Pearson International Airport sees an estimated 35 million people pass through every year, and is the primary channel for drug smugglers to import-export from one place to another. This puts even more responsibility on Peel Police to address crime through call response, investigations, enforcement and police visibility. With over 2,000 police officers and 800 civilian employees, the force has an annual budget of about $446 million. They are responsible for maintaining the safety of the citizens and its law. As emphasized in recent town hall calls and community initiatives, the force’s policy is to provide the best possible service to callers, without discrimination of any form.
The duties of police officers are to protect life and prevent injury, protest property, prevent crimes, preserve the peace, enforce municipal by-laws and lay charges when there is evidence to prove an offence. The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has sparked outrage and mistrust against the police in all major Canadian cities, including Peel Region. Some organizations have called for a reduction in the police budget, which worries people who are already fearful of rising crime. On June 20, the killing of 62-year old Ejaz Choudry at his apartment in Malton sparked outrage against Peel Police.
While the facts of the case are still being investigated by a Special Investigations Unit, initial reports stated that Choudry had barricaded himself in his apartment and did not pose an active threat to anyone, including the police. Some people do not believe in the SIU’s mandate, and claim that the unit’s previous record is “biased.”
For a week after the killing of Choudry, protestors surrounded Malton’s main square and police kept their distance for several days. In these circumstances, police were still trying to reach out to the public. Crime, theft, robbery, traffic irregularities, burglary, fraud and sexual harassment are rampant in Peel, and Brampton is no stranger to these problems. The citizens of Brampton are very concerned and have expressed their concerns through various channels. On Wednesday, July 8, two Peel Police officers were invited on a local Punjabi radio station and took calls from residents.
During the call, speakers told the police about multiple problems in their areas, including cases of harrassment, both physical and sexual, and traffic violations. Callers told the police how young girls are harrassed in the streets by other youths, and how racial jokes, particularly from gang members, have impacted them or their families.
However, both officers in this radio show marginalized the problems, saying that while they understood the concerns, the incidents did not violate any law. Specifically, the officers referred to the consumption of alcohol and belligerence in front of stores and malls as ‘freedom of expression’. Apparently, you can get a police response if someone starts dancing to loud music in their house in the middle of the night, but if a group of students dance and blast music at the same time in front of plazas and stores in the middle of the night, that’s just “freedom of expression”. Never mind that we’re still trying to get past a pandemic, and these large assemblies are violating bylaws setup to stop COVID-19.
This is apparently not a problem for the police. “If the police can’t stop sexual harassment and gangs in front of stores, we can tell our daughters, sisters and mothers that this kind of thing is happening in Brampton,” said a distressed caller. The role of police continues to be examined and evaluated as we come to grips with the new normal – but that requires laws that are enforced equally, not laws that ignore still pressing concerns in our community.