‘Willingness to make change’: Hamilton’s new police-services-board chair on the challenges ahead

TVO.org speaks with Pat Mandy, a member of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, about protests, safety — and earning trust
By Justin Chandler - Published on Dec 07, 2021
Pat Mandy is Hamilton's new police board chair. (Justin Chandler)

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HAMILTON — Pat Mandy wasn’t looking to become Hamilton’s police-board chair, but when the opportunity came, she felt she’d better take it. “I wasn’t pining; it wasn’t my greatest aspiration, but I also know that in my journey in life, I keep getting pushed into these directions,” Mandy says. She took the role in November after the city’s mayor, Fred Eisenberger, stepped down and nominated her.

Knowing that the October 2022 municipal election could lead to turnover on the board, Mandy says she felt her leadership experience would be useful. After a career in nursing, she worked as a vice-president at Hamilton Health Sciences, then as the inaugural CEO of the Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant Local Health Integration Network. An Order of Canada recipient and past chair of the De dwa da dehs nye>s Aboriginal Health Centre board, Mandy had been a member of police-services board since 2018.

“My Indigenous spirit name means ‘People brings together woman,’” says Mandy, a member of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. “My Elders told me to follow my responsibility to that name … When I have this [sort of] opportunity presented, I take it if I feel like that’s my direction, part of my journey.”

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TVO.org speaks with Mandy about the experience she’ll bring to the role, challenges with policing in Hamilton, and how to build positive community relationships.

Agenda segment, November 24, 2021: Are Canada's police services in crisis?

TVO.org: For people who are unfamiliar with the role, what does a police-board chair do?

Pat Mandy: Well, it’s actually more what a police board does. Chairing a board is like any other organization, where you are just bringing folks together, encouraging discussion among them, and keeping them on track toward their vision. The board provides direction and oversight to police services. We look at a number of things, like budgeting and planning and questioning if there are issues that arise where we are seeing the public aren’t feeling as safe. Our mission really is to ensure that the communities that we serve are not only safe but also that the people who live in them feel safe.

The police service provides operations, but the board provides strategic direction and oversight.

TVO.org: How has your work in health care influenced how you think about policing and helping communities feel safe?

Mandy: Part of my work in health care and being on faculty at McMaster or teaching students and so on has been looking at cross-cultural differences and having people feel safe in health care and safe when they receive services. I’m particularly familiar with the Indigenous community and have done a lot of work with other health-care providers to provide education around what makes people feel safe, what some of the pressures have been over years, and having people understand the true history of Canada. We always knew it, but now it’s more public with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

In a lot of that, you understand that health isn’t just about the provision of health care — or even prevention. It’s around looking at all the determinants of health and how they impact people. You recognize that systems have been built over the years through a colonial lens and that the systems don’t always meet the needs of the people that they serve, because of the way they’ve been developed and imposed over the years.

In my studies, I read about the impact of the justice system, policing, and law in relation to Indigenous people and how there are more Indigenous people by percentage incarcerated than others. When there was first an opening on the [police-services] board, it was at a time when I was retired. I thought this was another area to look at and — if the opportunity arose —influence.

I’ve found that, no matter what table I sat at as an Indigenous person, there was always some acknowledgement and some commitment that we really needed to look at things also from an Indigenous perspective. So sometimes just by sitting at the table that would influence how some discussions went. But, of course, because of my background and all the experience over the years, I wasn’t too shy to speak up most of the time.

A woman in a jacket looks down at a mid-sized dog, seated by her outdoors
Pat Mandy, seen with her dog, held a variety of health-care-administration roles before becoming Hamilton's police-board chair. (Justin Chandler)

TVO.org: Discussions around your appointment to the board highlighted that you’re an Indigenous person. When you’re that voice at the table, how do you feel about that role? Do you ever feel at risk of tokenization or pressure to represent more than just yourself?

Mandy: No, because I’ve been around for a long time and in different situations. I have had the discussions with some of my friends and relatives about whether we take a position on a board or an organization. Is it tokenism? Do they want us there just so that they can check off a box, or is it because we can contribute? I don’t go there and say, “I’m here as an Indigenous person.” I am an Indigenous person. And I have a perspective that I bring to the table. But I’ve also had a lot of experience in health care, in leadership, in governance, and so on.

The only thing is that when I’m at home, and I talk about the chief, my family says, “Which one?” In fact, I was talking to my Indian chief, and he says, “Call me Ogimaa,” which is chief in Anishinabek. At home, I have to clarify what kind of a chief I’m talking about.

TVO.org: How would you assess the relationship between the Indigenous community and Hamilton police?

Mandy: Well, if you asked me today, or Friday, or after, I would say that it fluctuates. There were specific issues around the encampment last week. There’s a lot of anger and protests. The Hamilton Indigenous community is one that’s quite diverse. We have two local reserves, Six Nations and New Credit. But we have people from all over Canada that are part of our community, and we’ve got a lot of strong social support.

I know that, in the last few years, the police — and I don’t think it’s just because of me; I think it’s because of the heightened awareness of Indigenous issues and the TRC — are doing a lot of internal work on looking at policies through the lens of Indigenous culture and background.

The relationship changes over time. I would say there is opportunity now. I’ve already been contacted to say would I meet with a group of Indigenous and Black people, and I said, “Certainly.” I’m open to listening and learning.

I would say it’s not a bad relationship. But they’re not cheering the police. The relationships are okay, but they need work, as do many of the communities, to build trust.

Agenda segment, June 25, 2021: Clearing homeless encampments

TVO.org: What are some of the challenges that you’re seeing right now in terms of the police relationship with Hamilton and its communities?

Mandy: Issues around racism are still coming to the forefront. There is concern about whether the police should be providing all the services that they have been. In my opinion, we really do need to have a reassessment of the community, how things are organized, and how community safety and well-being are addressed. It’s going to take many partners.

One of the things that I found when I was working in health care is we always talked about the hospital being the last resort. If there was nowhere else to go, somebody would end up in the emergency room, and it would fall on the hospital. The police often end up being the call of last resort. If people don’t know who to call, they call the police. Sometimes it’s even about mental health. That’s one of the priorities to look at: How can we make sure that people have access quickly to mental-health care, so they don’t have to call the police?

TVO.org: You already mentioned the calls for action this past week after conflict between police and people protesting encampment evictions. How do you feel about those sorts of events, and what do they say about where we are right now?

Mandy: Well, I believe that people have the right to protest. I don’t condone destructiveness or violence. I think that there does need to be other ways to have the conversation to avoid those confrontations. I think there are always going to be some activists that will take the opportunity when something is presented to them to get their messages out, which I think is good. But I also think we need to stop and listen and learn what the issues are. There are two sides to every story. And, usually, somewhere in the middle is where the path actually lies.

I don’t think it’s too late. I think there’s actually commitment by the police. I see they’ve hired an equity, diversity, and inclusion coordinator. They’ve done a survey of staff and have gotten back recommendations about moving forward on how to be more inclusive, how to be more culturally aware and sensitive. The changes don’t happen overnight. But what I see from the Hamilton police anyway, in my perspective, is a willingness to move and to make change and to listen. But I think before we get there, communities have to believe that there is a willingness and a truth to try to reach out and establish the relationships.

TVO.org: It sounds sort of like you’re saying that there needs to be some faith on the part of the groups involved.

Mandy: Well, you have to earn the faith. You have to earn the trust. But I’m saying that there is a willingness. I always think — whether it’s racism or understanding the oppression that people have been through — that it’s really all about education. The education is on our part as the board and the staff of the police.

But, also, I think that there’s a lot of education that can be done with the public. I think there needs to be more education generally in the community about what police do and also some of the regulations about what they can’t do. There are issues that are systemic that are beyond what the local police can do. Being here also gives me some opportunity to be at other tables and provincial meetings with other police boards to ask the questions. That’s usually how I get a lot of learning myself. I need to ask the question to understand why. There’s always going to be some reason why people behave the way they do, whether it’s their background or their experience in life. We need to understand that. Sometimes when you do understand that, you find different ways of building the relationships rather than a straightforward “do these three things.” It’s about knowing the people and developing relationships. And it takes some time and some energy.

Agenda segment, February 7, 2020: Desmond Cole: Fighting racism in Canada

TVO.org: Where do you stand on the question of defunding the police?

Mandy: Well, my opinion is that there does need to be a strategic assessment of resources and probably some reorganization. But the police are the first and last call that that people make when they need help. I’m not opposed to redistribution, but it really needs to be done very thoughtfully and with community input. Police can’t do it themselves, but they can by working with other organizations. For example, a lot of organizations don’t have 24-hour on-call. It may be fine during the day that they can respond, but at midnight, it’s not always the case.

There are programs such as COAST, which is a program with the police and St. Joseph’s Healthcare, to respond to urgent issues for people with mental-health issues. So sometimes you need more than one service depending on what the issue is.

You can’t absolutely say, “We’re going to take away the money from the police and put it over here” until you’ve got a plan of what’s going to happen — and how we make the transition. And the police are open to that. It’s looking at what are some of the upfront preventative things [we can do], but until those supports are in place — in order to keep people safe — you have to have the police.

TVO.org: Thinking a bit further ahead, are there bigger goals that you have in mind or something you’d really like to accomplish during your time as chair?

Mandy: As I said, we’ve just started on the journey in the last year or so on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion — I really would be happy to see that we have in place the opportunities and the outreach and the relationships to at least have a conversation when there is an issue rather than having to have conflict over it. I want people to feel safe and see a stated higher level of trust with the police. I think that probably most of the community does support the police and are comfortable with them.

I’d like to see more community participation. The more people that want to volunteer to work with the police in other ways, that’s great for developing partnerships. My personal values are based on respect for all and that means having and working on good relationships with all my relations, which means people, environment, animals, everybody.

TVO.org: Is there anything that you think people in the community need to know about the police-board process but perhaps don’t understand?

Mandy: On the Hamilton Police Board, there are seven members, three of them from the city council, and one appointed by city council. And those get renewed each time there’s an election, but not necessarily. Then three are [on the board via] orders in council but appointed by the province. It’s not like the board itself can interview and determine who comes on the board, so we can’t say we’re looking for this set of skills or background or whatever. Right now, we will be having two females, a person of colour, and an Indigenous person. We are actually a more diverse board than we have been for some time.

The police act provides a lot of limitation and regulation. It’s not just that the board would deal with a matter — for example, the encampment arrests. There are oversight bodies: the SIU and the OIRPD. With the whole issue of the encampment, the public have reported their concerns, and so now there’s an investigation into that. I don’t think that’s well-known by people.

The other good thing for people to know is that we have open board meetings. They’re televised. They’re online. The agendas are posted ahead of time. The briefing notes or the information to support or explain the agenda items are all available to the public. There’s a process to apply and make presentations to the board. I think there may be more openness than the public may be aware of. There are a lot of liaison committees with the police service and different groups, like the Two Spirit LGBTQ+ community, that meet with the police. I’m going to be promoting that at least one board member would attend a lot of those or that the board members host some of the liaison committees themselves. That’s something I see as a future way we really need to be more engaged with our community.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Pat Mandy was the chair of the Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant Local Health Integration Network. In fact, she was its CEO. TVO.org regrets the error.

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

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