The face of Canada — and the RCMP — is changing.
As of 2016, more than 7.6 million Canadians identify as visible minorities, representing just over one-fifth of the population. As Canada's national police force, the RCMP strives to recruit officers who are reflective of that diverse population.
"Canada is made up of many colours, ethnicities, cultures and social backgrounds," says Cst. Jacquie Gahimbare. "We need that representation in policing, too, and I wanted to be part of that."
Gahimbare came to Canada in 1991 as a 20 year old from Zimbabwe. After graduating university, she worked in banking for more than 15 years. But she couldn't shake the feeling that she wanted to do more to give back.
So last year, at the age of 47, Gahimbare pursued a career with the RCMP.
"I thought, how can I repay a country that has embraced me and allowed me to stay and call me its citizen?" says Gahimbare, who graduated earlier this year. "What I really wanted to do was serve, and I felt like I could serve not just my municipality, but on a national scale."
Now working for the financial crime unit in Ottawa, Gahimbare says her diverse life experience and cross-cultural background has proved to be an asset in her new role as a police officer.
"I bring a different perspective to share with people," she says. "I'm able to have those frank conversations, whether it's about skin colour or stereotyping or unconscious bias. I feel like I can change people's perceptions."
Much like Gahimbare, when Cpl. Dave Fouche came to Canada from South Africa 17 years ago, he felt compelled to give back. He had previously worked in the South African navy, sailing on an icebreaker to Antarctica, and targeting piracy on the east coast of Africa.
"I always wanted to go into policing, but in South Africa it was too dangerous," he says. "I wanted to make a more tangible difference, so when I came to Canada I set my sights on the RCMP."
In 2007, Fouche joined the force. Since then, he's worked in British Columbia as a front-line police officer and on specialized teams like the Integrated Child Exploitation Unit, the Drug Section and Surrey's Youth Unit. But his biggest passion has been his role as a trained crisis negotiator.
One case in particular stands out to him — when he was called to talk down a suicidal Iranian immigrant. The man was having trouble adjusting to life in Canada, and was about to jump off his 15th floor balcony.
When Fouche arrived, the man's story resonated with his own experience.
"I connected with him and told him that I was an immigrant, too, and I knew what it was like," he says. "I told him the first few years are incredibly hard but it gets better, you just have to open yourself up to change."
After hours of talking, the man finally came off the edge of the balcony to safety. Fouche credits the success to the empathy shared between immigrants.
"In order to resonate with the public and inspire the confidence we need, we must be reflective of the people we serve," he says. "The police are the public, and the public are the police."
You can do it
For Cst. Omid Nezami, making a difference in people's lives was his main motivation for joining the RCMP. He immigrated to Canada from Afghanistan with his family when he was seven years old.
"I really love Canada, and I wanted to serve Canadians," he explains. "Service was a big thing for me."
Nezami worked for the Canada Border Services Agency until 2011, when he decided to join the RCMP. After spending several years doing front-line police work, he joined the recruiting team. Now, he visits schools, community centres and career fairs to inspire people of all ages and backgrounds to apply for jobs with the RCMP.
"The message I always give is this: if I can do it, you can do it too," he says. "The more diversity we have, the stronger we are. We are more open-minded, more flexible and we can overcome the challenges of policing to serve all people and all communities, better."