Indigenous former member of police board believes she was not reappointed due to gender, race
LONDON, ONT. -- The first Indigenous woman to sit on the London Police Services Board feels “brushed off” by the province after her position was not renewed for a second two-year term.
“After the efforts that were undertaken to specifically recruit and identify Indigenous board members, I think it’s a real step backwards,” says Vanessa Ambtman-Smith.
She still has questions about why the province did not reappoint her for a second term on the LPSB in November. As her term was approaching an end, the board sent a letter to Ontario’s Ministry of the Solicitor General asking that she be reappointed to “maintain Ms Ambtman-Smith’s Indigenous voice at our Board.”
But four months later, the police board has yet to receive a response. Ambtman-Smith’s term expired November 28.
“To me it's the type of treatment that I do encounter on a regular basis within different spaces and places, so it's not difficult to sort of see beyond what thinly veiled excuses were offered.”
She says the ministry told her that they were prioritizing appointments on boards with two or more vacancies.
Her seat is the only vacancy on the London Police Services Board.
When asked if she thinks being an Indigenous woman played a role in the province’s decision, Ambtman-Smith is blunt. “I do believe that, and I don't think that there ever was a doubt in my mind. Especially, when we started to press for more information.”
CTV News sent a list of questions to the ministry including:
- Why was Vanessa Ambtman-Smith not reappointed to the London Police Services Board for a second two-year term?
- What was the ministry's response to the letter sent in October 2019 by then-board chair Mo Salih asking that Ms. Ambtman Smith be reappointed to the LPSB?
- Ms. Ambtman-Smith's believes she was not reappointed for a second two-year term on the London Police Services Board because she is an Indigenous woman.
- What is the ministry's response to her claim?
- When does the ministry expect to fill the vacant space on the London Police Services Board?
- Will the ministry commit to appointing a member of the Indigenous community to fill the vacancy on London's police board?
The ministry did not specifically answer any of the questions, instead providing a three-sentence statement that reads in part, "We look forward to filling the current provincial vacancy in the London Police Services Board with a capable and committed member who reflects the diversity found in the community and who is committed to keeping their community safe.”
Ambtman-Smith is a PhD candidate at Western University and was previously the indigenous health lead at the LHIN, and was a member of city hall’s poverty panel.
Her performance on the LPSB was summed up by Chair Dr. Javeed Sukhera when she was presented a certificate of appreciation at the most recent board meeting: “The wisdom she brought to all of us. We're all better for the time we got to spend with her.”
Sukhera says the police board has yet to receive a response to its October 11 letter to the ministry asking for Ambtman-Smith’s reappointment. Because of the board’s workload, he would like the province to fill the vacancy soon.
“The board definitely feels that it is important to have Indigenous voices to inform our work in a meaningful way and we welcome the opportunity to have an indigenous voice on our board, but ultimately we would respect that the provincial appointment process is up to the ministry.”
Ambtman-Smith believes the issue lies with the province. “I am quite familiar with being brushed off in these ways so it doesn't surprise me in some ways either because, you know, I think the current government is quite hostile towards indigenous communities as a whole.”
London’s police board has seven members - four appointed by city hall, the remaining three by the province.
The ministry has given no indication when it will appoint a new member to fill the vacancy.