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Two male RCMP officers stand in front of a colourful mural.

Making connections helps officers serve diverse community

Students in Surrey, B.C., painted a mural to honour Indigenous Peoples, under the guidance of the Semiahmoo First Nation and support from the local RCMP. Credit: RCMP


Members of the RCMP's Diversity and Indigenous Peoples Unit in Surrey, B.C., work to listen to and understand the communities they serve.

It's a long-term approach that's vital, says Rosy Takhar the Unit's Crime Prevention and Community Services manager.

"In a city as diverse as this one, if we don't reach out to the people who live here, we're going to face an uphill battle when we need to talk with them in our policing duties," says Takhar.

Surrey has a population of about 520,000, with many of its residents of South Asian, Chinese and Filipino heritage. Land-based First Nations in the area include the Kwantlen, the Katzie and Semiahmoo.

Tahkar says in 2019, the unit — which consists of civilian employees and uniformed officers — was involved in 132 public-safety presentations to more than 6,000 people.

Those efforts included participation in cultural community events, outreach to places of worship and neighbourhood safety meetings for newcomers in their own language.

"There's a diversity in our community. It's complex and it's something we have to work harder to understand," says Sgt. Ray Stanford, who is in charge of the team.

He says it's also important for officers to recognize that newcomers may have had radically different experiences with police in their home countries.

Stanford uses an example of a call for service to a family home. He says in some cultures, the head of the house will do the talking even when an officer's questions are directed at other family members.

"In that situation, we have to recognize it may not be a matter of someone being evasive," says Standford. "It's just what they're used to and we have to understand that."

Cst. Troy Derrick has spent 14 years working to break down barriers and build greater acceptance for police among First Nations communities.

In the early days of his career, Derrick was challenged by local First Nation leaders who questioned his and the RCMP's commitment to serving Indigenous communities.

"They were tired of seeing officers come and go," says Derrick. "And instead of telling people what they should be doing or that's just the way it is, the community leaders wanted to know why police don't ask them what they would like to see."

Derrick, a member of the Gitxsan First Nation, says that encounter stuck with him, as has his commitment to keep working with local and urban Indigenous communities.

"We have to keep recognizing the place First Nations people have in our society, acknowledge their history and accept responsibility to work together with them in the future," says Derrick.

One recent effort he was involved in was the creation of a mural in Surrey to honour Indigenous Peoples. The 150-foot art piece was painted by local students under the guidance of the Semiahmoo First Nations to honour all Indigenous Peoples in Surrey, says Derrick.

He says the mural has many themes, including acceptance and understanding.

"We all have challenges, but it's important to remember no matter who you are, you're never looking down on anybody," says Derrick. "The only time you would do that is when you're helping them up."

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