Swimming tests to become a police officer in Quebec? An unnecessary and discriminatory barrier

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After spending nearly two years trying to master swimming without success, a young Black man of Haitian descent is denied his diploma in police technique, and consequently a career as a police officer in Quebec. Although he has successfully completed 47 courses in the Policing Skills program, the CEGEP Maisonneuve has warned David (fictitious name) that if he tries the swimming test a third time and fails, he will be permanently expelled from the college.

In Quebec, someone wanting to become a police officer must succeed two successive and complementary training programs: the CEGEP program in police techniques and the initial training program in police patrol (PFIPG) offered exclusively by the ‘Quebec National Police School (ENPQ). The success of the PFIPG gives the aspiring police officer the right to become a police officer. Since 2015, the ENPQ has decided to no longer have a swimming test taken as a condition of admission to the program, preferring instead to leave CEGEPs to do it as a condition of access to the police techniques program.

Studies in the United States have shown a significant racial disparity in the use of swimming tests in training and employment. In several U.S. cities, police and firefighters have for decades abandoned the swim test as an entry requirement after data showed African American recruits fail the test at a disproportionately higher rate, often due to socio-economic and cultural factors. Although swimming lessons are a rite of passage for most Canadian children, studies also show that Black and immigrant youth are less likely to learn to how to swim, or regularly swim as a hobby.

Quebec is the only province in the country that requires a student to pass a swimming proficiency assessment in order to enter the police profession. In Canada, swimming tests have been removed from police training programs for over a decade on average.

“People tell me to go to Ontario or join the RCMP to become a police officer, because they don’t have swimming tests! But I don’t want to go into exile from Quebec to fulfill my career dream. Quebec is my province! David said.

These eliminatory swimming tests pose systemic disadvantages that have persisted in Quebec for decades, and which have had the effect of limiting the possibilities of access to a police career in the province for people from black communities. Section 15 (1) of the Canadian Charter, as well as sections 10 and 16 of the Quebec Charter, aim exactly to prevent such regulations which contribute to perpetuate these disadvantages.

According to Article 48 of the Police Act, in order to fulfill their mission, police forces must promote « adequate representativeness of the community they serve. The police skills program’s swim test presents a barrier to this goal. In this regard, as the SPVM specifies in its Plan “Listen, understand, act, 2018-2021”, it should be remembered that the vast majority of people recruited are students admitted to the police techniques program in Quebec. Consequently, if the percentage of candidates from the targeted groups who can access the police techniques program is low, the pool of candidates for the police forces, including the SPVM, will not be representative of the multicultural population.

“Police departments and CEGEPs offering the police tech. program say they are unable to recruit minority youth because they do not want a career as a police officer. This is totally wrong! During my 30 years in the police force I met several Black police officers from Quebec, who like myself, had to exile from the province because of the excessively homogeneous nature of the Quebec police services. In 2021, it is time to change “the face” of policing in Quebec.  » added Alain Babineau, retired RCMP Staff Sergeant and a law enforcement and social justice advocate.

Additionally, knowing how to swim is not a bone fide job requirement to be a police officer . The law requires employers (or in this case the policing program which plays the role of « gatekeeper » of access to the profession) to demonstrate a suitable link of uniform physical standards with respect to the job and the requirements. current minimums to perform the job safely and efficiently. At the ENPQ, a total of 3 hours and 15 minutes are devoted to the aquatic rescue component. This non-eliminatory training is given by a trainer certified by Sécurité Nautique Québec, and focuses on the use of buoys and safety procedures that do not require students to jump into the water. Following the directives of the Quebec’s Commission des normes, de l’énergie, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CSSNET), the SPVM’s policy governing aquatic interventions explicitly prohibits its police officers from going into the water to save a potential drowning victim.

Lakay Média, an NPO dedicated to promoting multiculturalism, calls on the CDPDJ to investigate the discriminatory effect of the swim elimination test on young racialized people seeking careers in the police service, and to remove it from the program. The organization is also asking the CDPDJ to order David to be granted a college diploma in police techniques.

“If the government is serious in its efforts to increase diversity in the Quebec public service including law enforcement, here is an opportunity for the government to eliminate a barrier to access the policing profession for young people from the Black and racialized communities.” adds Pierre-Richard Thomas, president of Lakay Média.

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