Prince Albert Police Service Chief Jonathan Bergen and PAPS Chaplain Nora Vedress provided an update on the work currently being undertaken by the Prince Albert Police Service Women’s Commission during a media conference on Friday morning.
The Women’s Commission is chaired by Elder Liz Settee and Vedress and is made up of 12 local leaders in fields such as addictions, mental health and wellness, gender and sexual diversity, integrity management, indigenous tradition, and supports for victims of trauma and violence.
“[We] recognize the value it brings, having a diverse group of women from across the community with diverse backgrounds and experiences and knowledge coming together and working with connecting the police service and the community towards healthy change,” said Bergen.
Bergen mentioned they had a higher then expected interest in individuals wanting to join the Women’s Commission when the police service put out a call for applications in 2022, leading them to create a larger committee than was originally planned.
“It was great to see that there were so many voices from the community that wanted to bring some energy to that working table to drive positive change,” he said.
Formed in 2022 with a focus on leading and advising the Chief, the Women’s Commission held their first meeting last June where they developed their mission statement, “In partnership, we are the voices of change that will empower and influence our community and police service to balance trust”.
Two other meetings followed since then, where they discussed available services and programs for vulnerable residents and identified opportunities to further support the police service in working with the Prince Albert community. The results from those meetings were over 20 action items for the Prince Albert Police Service to focus on.
Reminiscing on their first meeting, Vedress said she was in awe of the group of women she was surrounded with; their strength, determination, experience, wisdom, and courage.
“We know we have work to do and that’s why we’re here,” said Vedress. “We need to grow and push, and this group of women aren’t afraid to do that.”
The Women’s Commission recently reviewed the Final Report from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Justice, with the aim of determining where the police service is achieving and where more work can be done.
The Calls for Justice call on police agencies to acknowledge historical practices that have harmed Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQIA+ people, and build relationship based on understanding and awareness.
Indigenous representation is strong within the Women’s Commission, with Vedress being the only member that isn’t Metis or First Nation.
“There was no hesitation in asking questions of the chief of police. There was no hesitation of asking for us to go deeper, to really look in, to see what the police service is doing about these Calls to Justice that are specific to policing and incredibly relevant to a community we serve here in Prince Albert,” Vedress explained. “I’m encouraged to see (the) building (of) relationships with gender and sexually diverse community within our city and working on these steps towards reconciliation and really wanting to focus on some of those Calls to Action with missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. (We’re) just really focusing on what we can do to make to make the trust within our community better, and our members and our community members feel safer and just be stronger together.”
Some of the work accomplished by the Women’s Commission so far include taking a look at the relationship between police and Indigenous women, girls, and the 2SLGBTQIA+ community and speaking about victim services and the support required for addressing crime and the experiences that victims go through.
Bergen and Vedress also discussed some of the efforts that PAPS has made to encourage diversity within the organization. This includes the creation of a new Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) committee and work on the national Canadian Chiefs of Police EDI committee, adding orange epaulettes to police uniforms in recognition of National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, organizing an event with Chief Cadmus Delorme as a guest speaker, offering Cree language classes to officers, and the continued work to recruit police members through mentoring partnerships with the Prince Albert Grand Council and Metis Nation – Saskatchewan.
PAPS has seen a 100 per cent success rate through the mentorship programs, according to Bergen. Two Metis Nation – Saskatchewan mentors joined in 2021 and three from the Prince Albert Grand Council joined in 2022. All five are now serving members with the Police Service.
“Ongoing education is incredibly important and definitely, we are committed,” said Bergen. “Cultural awareness, cultural training is something that’s provided and offered through the police college, but we know we can always do more and that’s what we’re doing.”
Bergen said one of the things they’re proud of is leading nationally in Indigenous representation; upwards of 30 per cent of total membership are Indigenous compared to 4 per cent across the country.
Currently, female officer membership is a bit behind national standards. Roughly 17 per cent of membership for city police are women, whereas the national average is 20 per cent.
“Some of our recruiting goals are to increase our membership, but this Women’s Commission definitely brings that woman’s voice to the police service, which we know is incredibly important,” said Bergen.
From her experiences as Chaplain, Vedress said there is a deep desire from Administration to hear what the Women’s Commission has to say.
“There was an understanding that there was a gap in perspective,” said Vedress. “I think that with everything, there is always space to grow and get better.”
The next meeting of Prince Albert Police Service Women’s Commission is scheduled to take place in March.