Crisis in Canada’s Policing

Why change is so hard, and how we can get real reform in our police forces

by John Sewell

with Christopher J. Williams

We all know policing is in crisis and requires real reform. Based on 40 years of work on this issue, John Sewell details the deep changes required to reverse the racism, sexism and violence embedded in police forces today.

In the summer of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic surged, millions gathered across Canada and the United States to protest violence and racism in policing sparked by the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. In the days and weeks following, the deaths of Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Toronto and Chantel Moore in New Brunswick showed that police violence is also a Canadian reality. Although BIPOC communities and activists had been calling for action for years, these events sparked unprecedented public outrage and drew crowds in the thousands across Canada calling for the defunding of Canada’s police.

Many authoritative reports have identified big problems in Canada’s law enforcement system and have concluded that police are more likely to create or escalate violent situations than promote safety and security. Why? How has an institution tasked with keeping citizens safe become so dangerous to so many Canadians?

John Sewell has been studying the problems facing Canadian policing since the 1980s. In Crisis in Canada's Policing, he shines light on the origins of police culture, synthesizes dozens of reports that reveal the failures of the police system in Canada and offers solutions that put power back into the hands of community leaders while reining in and reforming police organizations.

About the Authors

John Sewell
John Sewell
Christopher J. Williams
Christopher J. Williams

JOHN SEWELL is a former mayor of Toronto who was responsible for helping to establish the city's first independent police complaints commission and the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, an organization that encourages debate about police policy issues. For more than twenty years, he was an urban affairs columnist for The Globe and Mail, NOW Magazine and Eye Weekly. He is also the author of eight previous books, including Doors Open Toronto: Illuminating the City's Great Spaces, The Shape of the City, with a foreword by Jane Jacobs, The Shape of the Suburbs and The Police in Canada. He was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2005. He lives in Toronto, Ontario.

CHRISTOPHER J. WILLIAMS is a researcher and educator in the fields of sociology and criminology who has taught at York University, Brock University and the University of Western Ontario. His published academic work has been featured in journals such as Race & Class, Canadian Ethnic Studies, Housing Studies and the African Geographical Review. His first book, Boomerang Ethics: How Racism Affects Us All, was published in 2017 and co-authored with Professor Joseph Mensah of York University. Additionally, at the level of grassroots activism, he has worked with a variety of Toronto-based organizations dedicated to addressing issues pertaining to how police power is exercised against marginalized communities and is currently a member of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition. He lives in Toronto.


"[I agree with everything] that John Sewell said with regards to detasking...homelessness, harm reduction, poverty, mental illness...we have to have a better way and a better approach."  

Chief Frank Bergen, Hamilton Police, TVO, The Agenda

"We need to decide to make the change and we need political will to do that. No other profession can continuously harm, have disproportionate impacts on various communities and...refuse to implement suggestions that are backed by evidence for improvement for decades and continue to get increases in their budget every year."  

Nana Yanful, BLACOntario Legal Director, TVO, The Agenda

"I completely agree [with this discussion]. Police have been tasked with everything from active shooter situations parking and barking dog complaints...there needs to be a return back to the core services that police are required to provide under the Police Services Act and there needs to be more investment at the community level for the various infrastructures that are required to deal with these types of issues."

Scott Blandford, TVO, The Agenda

Subjects (BISAC)


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