Race Relations, Psychological Testing, and Resistance to Change: The Toronto Police, 1970s-1980s

Toronto police in riot gear block intersection of Gould and Yonge Streets, 1992. Jim Wilkes, Toronto Star Archive tspa_0012135f.

David M. K. Sheinin

As a city changes, as tensions grow between the police and the communities they serve, how can we know if a candidate has what it takes to lead a major police force? Is it possible to predict success (or failure)? Those questions are at the core of a debate that has raged for decades on whether institutional racism exists, on possible improvements, and on implementing changes in policing.

In the mid-1970s, as Toronto faced such challenges, Reva Gerstein emerged as a strong voice for reform. She believed we could scientifically forecast hiring and promotion outcomes. Gerstein began to work closely with the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force toward that end. An eminent psychologist, Gerstein wrote a report in 1976 for the Law Reform Commission of Canada on the use of psychological tests in recruiting and promoting police officers.[1]

In 1982, the Metropolitan Toronto Police Commission asked Gerstein to conduct a psychological assessment of an extremely bright, fast-rising forty-nine-year-old superintendent; William J. McCormack was a candidate for deputy police chief. Gerstein’s assessment offers strikingly few insights into McCormack beyond what those who worked with him would already have known. She sidestepped racism on the force and poor police-community relations — precisely the problems Gerstein herself had highlighted for years as resolvable through the effective psychological evaluation of officers.

Since the 1960s, tensions had escalated between racialized communities and the police in Toronto and in other North American cities. Racism on the Toronto force was reflected in the pages of News & Views, the newsletter of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Association. In a 1979 issue, retired constable Ken Peglar complained that he wished he were “a Black man or a Pakistani or Jewish….” Unemployment, inflation, and neglected children, he went on, were among many problems that concerned him. “But nobody expects a Black man,” Peglar wrote, “to think of anything but his colour or a Jew to concern himself with anything but his Jewishness. And you know something, they seldom do.”

These and other cases of casual, malevolent police discrimination appalled Mayor John Sewell, Alderman Allan Sparrow and many others who voiced their outrage. But repeatedly, the Toronto police rebuffed, diminished, or whitewashed community efforts to make the police more accountable to the public and better equipped to combat police racism. Gerstein’s report contributed to the institutional culture of police insistence that at worst, racism was a very minor problem, and that a purportedly hostile media, unspecified political radicals, and minority community members were the true cause of police tensions with minority communities.

The Psychologist

 By the mid-1970s, Reva Gerstein had earned dozens of accolades, including membership in the Order of Canada, for her cutting edge research on children’s mental health and on the shift to treating mental illness outside psychiatric hospitals. She moved in social circles with high-ranking police officers and other movers and shakers. In December 1980, for example, Gerstein’s friends organized a dinner in her honour at the Royal York Hotel. Guests included the federal Leader of the Opposition Joe Clark, Ontario Premier William Davis, and Toronto Chief of Police Jack Ackroyd.

Gerstein pictured with federal Opposition Leader Joe Clark and Ontario Premier Bill Davis in 1980. Dick Darrell, Toronto Star Archive, tspa_0049723f.

She worked regularly as a paid consultant to the Toronto police and in 1979, she chaired the three-member provincial government Task Force on the Racial and Ethnic Implications of Police Hiring, Training, Promotion and Career Development. Gerstein wrote the task force report. Its most important findings backed the police on alleged racism; there was no evidence, Gerstein argued, that Ontario police forces discriminated against minorities in hiring. The media, she went on, projected an anti-police bias and played a major role in promoting tensions between minority groups and the police. Asked to give examples where the press had exacerbated police-community tensions, Gerstein demurred. That there were few minority group members on police forces in Ontario was the fault of minorities themselves; they refused to join. Gerstein told reporters that she was surprised to hear that racialized communities in Toronto were afraid of the police. “When I asked [minority community members] why, they said it was because of TV and newspaper reports.” Toronto media found Gerstein out of touch, insensitive to the concerns of minority communities, and too close to the police.[2]

The Assessment

In October 1978, the Toronto Police Commission adopted a psychological assessment program to screen out racially prejudiced and anti-social recruits. Continue reading

Material Culture Theme Week

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Material Culture Theme week

Edited by Krista McCracken this series initially ran the week of March 23, 2020. This series aimed to deepen discussions between material culture professionals, historians, and those working in the community.

Indigenous histories on Wikipedia

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wikipedia screenshot

Screenshot of a Wikipedia article worked on by students.

Madeline Knickerbocker [1]

My earliest memories of Wikipedia in an academic context relate to being told not to use it. Profs and peers viewed Wikipedia as problematic, and certainly not a legitimate source for academic work. While these critiques still endure amongst some academics today, things have also changed: a few semesters ago, I had my students write contributions to Wikipedia as the major assignment for a 300-level Indigenous history survey.

This post focuses on using Wikipedia in the postsecondary classroom; I briefly discuss Wikipedia and pedagogy in general, and then explain my own experience of having students contribute to Wikipedia for their major class project. I’ll also talk about student responses and share some of their feedback, as well as the assignment description I used for the class, and my own reflections on what could make the process go more smoothly in the future.[2]

Wikipedia and Pedagogy

While I certainly agree with most that Wikipedia absolutely should not be the only source students consult while doing academic work, I think we do have to recognize its usefulness. Most of us use it frequently as a reference source (“what year did that happen in again?”), and so we should allow our students the similar convenience of using it as a jumping off point for deeper engagement with their own academic work.  As Andrea Eidinger commented to me when we were talking about the idea for this post, there is a double standard, where some scholars use Wikipedia “behind the scenes” but don’t recognize its role as a site for publicizing and disseminating academic knowledge.

Certainly, Wikipedia does not practice academic peer review, and it is by definition not original scholarly work. That said, Wikipedia entries do have their own community-based review process, and they are consistently assessed by Wikipedia users. Moreover, writing a new entry or contributing to an existing one can require significant intellectual lifting, and should be recognized as such. A strong entry can lay bare the scholarship done on any given topic in accessible language and provide an overview of information most often locked up behind journal paywalls.

This type of work is especially important when it centers the knowledges and experiences of marginalized communities. Indeed, the other main critique of Wikipedia is that it emphasizes the voices of the most privileged, both in terms of its content and authorship. Any Wikipedia user would do well to learn more about Wikipedia’s issues such as gender bias and systemic racism. Given that Wikipedia clearly needs to add more diversity to both its entries and its editors, it seems to me that contributing to Wikipedia from a social justice standpoint, as Art+Feminism does, for example, can challenge the online encyclopedia’s whiteness and maleness. The popularity of Wikipedia editathons speaks to the growing awareness that the platform’s content and contributors need to be more inclusive.

These two concerns about Wikipedia – of legitimacy and of representation – can both be addressed through a better understanding of the platform’s pedagogical and political potential. We can use Wikipedia to teach students important skills such as critical assessment of written work, translation of academic discourse into more accessible language, and the step-by-step work of using online publishing tools. Doing this work can feel more significant for students than writing (yet another) primary source analysis, and can certainly hold more real-world value, by enhancing public awareness of scholarly knowledge. When that information also challenges top-down narratives and provides digital space for the histories of marginalized peoples, historical education can also act as a form of online social justice.  

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To Put Finish to the War: Armistice in Korea, 27 July 1953

The United Nations and North Korean delegates sign English, Chinese, and Korean copies of the armistice agreement in a shelter built for the occasion. The signing was over in ten minutes and both representatives promptly left without ceremony. UN Photo 188574

Andrew Burtch

This year, 2020, marked the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. This conflict, classified at the time in North America as a “police action” for political convenience was of course anything but. Though three years of bitter fighting followed, the Korean War has been rightly classified as a “forgotten war”, unfolding as it did against a backdrop of a “postwar” domestic economic boom at home, far away, in a country few Canadians understood or cared much about outside of its status as a Cold War battleground. Perhaps the most forgotten aspect of the war is how it ended, sixty-seven years ago today, though the impact of a divided Korea is still very much present.

The fighting in the Korean War ended on 27 July 1953 in an armistice signed at Panmunjom, Korea. American Lieutenant-General William K. Harrison Jr. sat at a wide table in a clapboard building. Twenty feet away, North Korean General Nam Il sat at a similar table. Harrison, representing the United Nations Command, and Nam Il, representing the North Korean People’s Army and the Chinese People’s Volunteers, barely acknowledging each other as they signed eighteen copies of the armistice agreement, six in English, six in Korean, and six in Chinese. The document was the product of more than two years and 158 meetings where the delegates sparred over how best to end the war that began when North Korean invaded South Korea to unify the peninsula by force on 25 June 1950. The agreement established a military armistice commission which would oversee a demilitarized zone which separates North and South Korea to this day, and arrange for the exchange of prisoners of war taken by both sides during three years of combat.

The unceremonious, if somber, signing ceremony reflected the mood further down in the stalemated defensive lines in Korea where the United Nations forces, including the 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade (25 CIB), had continued to fight vicious battles in the two years since the armistice talks had begun. As the war diarist for 25 CIB Signals Troop summarized the day of the armistice signing, it was much like any other: “There was a heavy artillery duel all afternoon to put finish to the war. The [Royal Canadian Regiment] received a good portion of the incoming rounds and their only casualty was line communication which was completely taken out.” The military police noted that one of the last Chinese artillery shells to fall in their area, a dud, had crashed into a section cook-house, and that they made arrangements to have it retrieved, defused, and sent on to their museum. Already the war was becoming history.

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K’jipuktuk to Halifax and back: Decolonization in the Council Chamber

By Thomas Peace

For nearly nine decades visitors to Halifax, arriving by boat or train, were welcomed to the city by Edward Cornwallis. Encased in bronze, Cornwallis stood tall, his stern face peering towards travelers pouring out from the city’s main train station and the famed Pier 21, site of first arrival to Canada for over 1.5 million immigrants. In 2018, Cornwallis was removed from his prominent perch at the south end of Barrington Street. Yesterday evening, Halifax Regional Council solidified that decision, voting to accept a report from an expert task force on the Commemoration of Edward Cornwallis and Commemoration of Indigenous History.

The Edward Cornwallis statue, in downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia, on July 15, 2017. (Ben MacLeod, Wikimedia Commons)

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Beyond The Lecture: Pandemic Edition

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Mask with sunglasses and flowers

Photo by Bára Buri on Unsplash

Andrea Eidinger and Krista McCracken

In January 2018 the Beyond the Lecture series launched with the goal of sharing blog posts focused on best practices for teaching Canadian history at the post-secondary level. Since 2018, Beyond The Lecture has highlighted innovative course design practices, the use of digital history, experiential learning, and new approaches to teaching Canadian history. The series has also created a community of dialogue and in April 2019 we released the Beyond the Lecture ebook which highlighted some of the most read posts from the series. 

Covid-19 has significantly impacted post-secondary education and the ways in which education is delivered. Given the impact the pandemic has had on instructional practices and the many ways educators have pivoted online we have decided to put out a call specifically connected to teaching during covid-19.  Continue reading

What’s the Beef with COVID-19?

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By Catherine Carstairs and Philip Rich

As restaurants across the country closed in March to prevent the spread of COVID-19, fast-food chains stayed open. In the first quarter of 2020, McDonald’s Corp global sales decreased by only 3.4%. This is remarkable given that McDonald’s had to close over 300 stores in China as well as restaurants in France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. In Canada, according to research from Ipsos Foodservice monitor, drive-through dining was up by 17% in April. Apparently, the explosion in sourdough bread-making barely made a dent in the demand for burgers.

Photo by Amirali Mirhashemian, Unsplash

As Andrew F. Smith explains in his book, Hamburger: A Global History, the hamburger started as a sandwich. As factories mushroomed in American cities, lunch wagons fed the workers easy-to-eat meals including sausages and hamburger steaks, served in a bun. In the 1920s, the first hamburger chain, The White Castle, began opening in the United States. After World War II, the McDonald brothers who had long operated a drive-in burger bar in California began to standardize and speed-up their processes. Ray Croc, who had formerly sold multimixers for milkshakes, stepped in to expand their franchising operations, subsequently turning McDonald’s into a global brand.

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Remember/Resist/Redraw #23: All Eyes on Wet’suwet’en – Shut Down Canada

Earlier this month, the Graphic History Collective released Remember/Resist/Redraw poster #23 by Gord Hill and Sean Carleton.

The poster looks at the Shut Down Canada movement and the long history of police violence and Indigenous resistance in what is currently Canada.

We hope that Remember | Resist | Redraw encourages people to critically examine history in ways that can fuel our radical imaginations and support struggles for social change. Learn more about how you can support the project on our website, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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History Slam Episode 154: War Junk

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By Sean Graham

During the Second World War, Canada, along with all combatant countries engaged in a massive mobilization effort that included shifting industrial production to supply the war efforts. During the six year conflict, Canadian factories transitioned from consumer products to military production. For instance, the Canadian Cycle and Co. Ltd. in Weston, ON, a company that manufactured skates and bikes in the 1930s started to produce items for guns, including tri-pods and pivots. In Quebec, the Liquid Carbonic Canadian Corporation had its soda fountain division build parts for new tanks. Across the country, the total production of war goods was nearly $10 billion.

Once the war ended, though, countries including Canada not only had to shift back towards consumer production, but also had to account for all the military goods they had. While the majority of the 800 ships, 800,000 vehicles, and 4 billion rounds of ammunition were used during the war, there was still a mountain of stuff left over. After the First World War, nations struggled with what to do with the excess material, with some economists and politicians citing that as a contributing factor to the Great Depression. As a result, properly dealing with the excess stuff became a priority.

That effort is the subject of the new book War Junk: Munitions Disposal and Postwar Reconstruction in Canada. In the book Souchen explores how the Canadian government approached its excess of goods in the years after the war. From partnering with organizations to recycling to disposal, a variety of options were considered. An incredibly challenging logistical project further complicated by the fear of deflating markets with excess goods, the book examines how the process was an integral part of Canadian postwar reconstruction.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Alex Souchen about the book. We talk about the amount of goods Canada produced during the war, the influence of the First World War on Canada’s disposal efforts, and the environmental issues that ensued. We also talk about the impact on the economy, the shift in industrial production, and the unintended consequences of disposal.

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From ME to WE to the CYC – Liberals and the Controversial History of Youth Volunteerism

Kevin Brushett

On June 25, 2020 Justin Trudeau announced the creation of Canada Student Service Grant, a program that encouraged young Canadians to volunteer in their communities while paying them up to $5000 to do so. Within days however, Trudeau’s feel good announcement began to turn sour as questions arose over the program’s links to the ME to WE charity, the NGO chosen to administer the program. Some of the controversy stemmed from stories about abusive behaviour by the Kielburger brothers who run it, while others have pointed to the “white saviour complex” and “voluntourism” that WE fosters in its approach to its work in the Global South. But the biggest part of the controversy stemmed from the intimate links between the charity and the Trudeau family, including his wife, Sophie, his mother, Margaret, and his brother, Alexandre. Though it turns out that the charity has fostered relationships across the political spectrum in Ottawa, somehow the controversy seems to have stuck to Trudeau and the Liberals.

Youth volunteer programs have a long Liberal history, particularly during the reign of Justin’s father Pierre in Ottawa in the 1960s and 1970s. Links between volunteer programs and Canadian governments got their start in in the early 1960s with the formation of Canada’s version of the American Peace Corps – Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO). Though CUSO’s activities were largely ignored by the Conservative government of John Diefenbaker, they captured the attention of the Liberals when they returned to office. Minister of External Affairs Paul Martin, in particular, found ways to support its work and volunteers, including using the airlift functions of the Canadian Forces to deliver CUSO volunteers to their destination projects. The founders of CUSO, such as Dr Francis Leddy had strong links to the Liberal Party, as did the first president of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Maurice Strong. During Strong’s leadership at CIDA he hired CUSO founder Lewis Perinbam to develop the agency’s NGO Division, which provided matching grants to help fund community development work overseas.

Lewis Perinbam, founder of CUSO and Director of CIDA NGO Program 1969-1991. LAC e999919838-u.

The most infamous link between the Liberals and youth volunteerism was the creation of the Company of Young Canadians in 1965. Continue reading