Following news of the discovery of 215 unmarked graves on the grounds of a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia, members of a family placed children’s shoes at the entrance of Ontario’s legislature as a memorial to commemorate the victims. The memorial impeded access to the legislature’s entrance. Unaware of the unfolding news of the gravesite discovery and the establishment of similar memorials at legislatures across the country, members of Ontario’s Legislative Protective Service (LPS) approached the family as they prepared to conduct a smudging ceremony to request the shoes be moved to a more appropriate location. When they declined to move the memorial, the discussion escalated to a verbal impasse that was resolved when the Sergeant-at-Arms, who spoke with the family’s Member of Parliament, agreed to temporarily allow it to remain in place. Concerned that the interaction demonstrated a lack of empathy on the part of the LPS in light of events across the country, some MPPs submitted a written complaint to the Sergeant-at-Arms. Following a meeting with the family, the LPS agreed to participate in a restorative justice process. In this article, the authors explain how the LPS, by stepping outside its standard operating procedures and participating in this process, recognized the value in exploring alternative complaint resolution strategies and thereby adopted a new alternative dispute mechanism. The article concludes by noting the Assembly has created a new Indigenous Liaison position and is in the process of installing a permanent Indigenous Shoe Memorial inside the legislature.
Jackie Gordon and Mike Civil
Jackie Gordon is Sergeant-at-Arms for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Mike Civil is Director of the Legislative Protective Service.
In the summer of 2021, information was released to the public that an Indigenous community in Kamloops, British Columbia, had discovered a mass gravesite containing the remains of 215 missing children on the grounds of a former residential school.
Hours after the announcement, a family attended the grounds of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to hold a vigil and place some children’s shoes as a memorial to commemorate the victims. These shoes were placed in a manner that impeded access to the front entrance of the legislature. As the family was preparing to conduct a smudging ceremony, security officers from the Legislative Protective Service (LPS) approached the family and politely requested they relocate the shoes to a more appropriate location.
The family refused to comply with the request and the matter escalated to a verbal impasse. The family’s friends, who were also present, contacted their Member of Parliament through social media who then reached out to the Sergeant-at-Arms to request permission for the memorial (shoes) to remain as placed. After a brief conversation, the request was approved, and the officers were advised to allow the shoes to remain in their current location. The full interaction between the family and the responding officers was recorded on a cell phone and later posted on social media. While the officers remained professional throughout their interaction and were attempting to enforce an established policy, their lack of awareness of the unfolding news story and that similar memorials were being established at legislatures across Canada resulted in some MPPs perceiving their actions as lacking empathy.
The MPPs subsequently submitted a written complaint to the Speaker that ultimately resulted in a meeting with the family at which time they requested the Assembly consider a restorative justice process to resolve the conflict as opposed to a formal complaint process.
The meeting was helpful, in that it allowed the Assembly to hear a first-hand account of the incident and the family’s concerns regarding the officers’ response. All present agreed to explore the potential of a restorative justice process as the next step to address the matter. Additionally, the Assembly agreed to identify and deliver cultural competency training to all members of the Legislative Protective Service.
Following the meeting, a preliminary conversation was held with the officers involved, to determine if they would agree to participate in a restorative justice process. The officers voluntarily agreed to participate, and a professional third-party Restorative Justice facilitator was retained. The facilitator had separate conversations with the officers and civilian parties prior to the restorative process.
The facilitator’s role is to listen to the parties, paying attention to critical insights, and guide the discussion towards a resolution. The process can be very emotional and impactful to participants and everyone may reconcile their grievances in a different manner or not at all. The process is confidential and respects the rights and well-being of all participants. The process can be very beneficial to all involved as it affords them the opportunity to be heard and share their experience.
As a result of the Legislative Protective Service stepping outside their standard operating procedures and participating in this process, they recognized the value in exploring alternative complaint resolution strategies.
The Legislative Protective Service has now included an alternate dispute resolution mechanism within their complaints policy to consider alternative strategies, such as a restorative justice process when requested. Engaging in this process allowed the Assembly to repair community relations and allowed the officers to see the issue from the complainants’ perspective. Additionally, it also helped identify training gaps. The LPS supervisory and management team have completed a comprehensive university course on Indigenous studies and read the Truth and Reconciliation Summary Report.
The Indigenous Shoe Memorial was removed from the gates in a respectful manner after a smudging ceremony was coordinated. Under the leadership of Speaker Ted Arnott, Clerk Todd Decker and Parliamentary Protocol and Public Relations staff, a permanent memorial display honoring the victims is in the process of being established inside the legislature.
Additionally, the Office of the Assembly has recently created a new position, Indigenous Liaison (Nokomis O’Brien), and while only in its infancy, this new role will assist the Assembly and the LPS with matters involving Indigenous communities that may include special events, protests, vigils, or complaints.
This experience has enhanced the Legislative Protective Service’s cultural awareness, providing the Service with a better understanding of the trauma and loss outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Report.
While there is some risk in deviating from standard operating procedures, there is also opportunity for growth. This opportunity demonstrated the importance of considering other ways forward in resolving civilian related complaints against officers that are more considerate of equity, diversity, and inclusion.