Ayeisha Khan climbs wall in the pre test gym at Algonquin. Photo credit: Jessica Alberga

In September 2018, the number of students enrolled in police foundations at Algonquin College was 310. Roughly less than half of that number identify as females.

Yet in 2017 Stats Canada published a report stating that of all sworn in officers in Canada, only 21.4 per cent were women.

The Ottawa Police Service committed to hiring 500 officers over the span of five years starting in 2019, in hopes of increasing diversity.

As of Dec. 31, OPS had more than 500 interested candidates — not necessarily applicants but students or any civilians interested. Of those 500, only 24 per cent are women.

Why the discrepancy?

“This is not an Ottawa problem, this is not a Canadian problem, this is a North American problem,” said Maria Keen, a sergeant with the Ottawa Police Service who also leads the OPS Outreach Recruiting Team. Keen is a grad of the police foundations program and teaches at Algonquin part-time.

“I teach a class of 54 students right now; I look out and there’s so many girls. But then it’s like where do you go after?”

If the number of women is high in classes, why doesn’t it transfer over to the workforce post graduation.

Emerald Mantil,18, a first year student in the police foundations program, understands that feeling. She hadn’t decided on what she wanted to do when she first applied.

“It was more of I wasn’t sure if I was ready for university yet. I kind of wanted the hands-on factor that I knew police foundations would give,” said Mantil.

“I’ll see how far police foundations takes me and if I don’t get into a service that I want, then I’ll go to university.”

Ayeisha Khan,18, also a first year student in the program, said her motivation for enrolling was to give back to the community. Just not by working a regular 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“I originally wanted to be a teacher for the sake of the community, I loved giving back and teaching, but my dad actually is a police officer, and he would tell me how every shift was different, and how it was so exciting on the job,” said Khan.

Kendra Kinch, 20, a second year student in the program, hasn’t completely decided on policing after graduation but the hours appealed to her from the start.

“I liked the idea of shift work, that’s what made me interested in it. Some people don’t but I like the way it works 12 hours on, 12 hours off.”

For Ashlye Savannah Brooke Robinson,18, a first year student in the program, her career goals slightly changed after entering.

“When I first started it was all about how you get to arrest the criminals. Now doing criminology classes and actually learning sociology, I have no interest in arresting people at this point. I’m more looking into forensics or traffic,” said Robinson.

While there’s no indications that second thoughts among female students like Robinson are behind the disconnect, in the national picture, there could be other reasons.

The number of female applicants enrolled in Algonquin’s program doesn’t reflect the numbers Stats Canada promotes. So where is the disconnect?

“I think it’s the confidence. Maria tells us about the police college and that they do a lot of fitness. I think that’s what deteriorates them the most. I get nervous when I have to do the fitness test in front of males, because I know they’re capable of doing it,” Robinson said.

During the two year program, the students learn pertinent skills in sociology and criminology. They also prepare students for the recruitment process. To apply as a police officer for OPS, you must have a certificate from Applicant Testing Services (ATS).

“It’s been a known fact that ATS has been a barrier for women, and some racialized candidates, meaning the physical fitness test. The prep. It’s a huge barrier for females,” said Keen.

The program at Algonquin sets the bar for women lower than men in some aspects of the fitness test. For example in the push-up category, women have to complete 38 whereas the men have to complete 48. ATS does not follow that guideline.

For Ayeisha Khan, the lack of females in the industry won’t hinder her from entering the force right after graduation. Growing up playing men’s hockey showed her that she had to set a standard for herself, and try to fit in.

“I think even for me, you need to prove yourself a little more as a woman, I agree with that. I honestly think you have to fit in, because it’s mostly men, you have to play the part,” said Khan. “You have to be fit for the job.”

For Kendra Kinch, the physical aspect of the program was easier for her since she had a background in sports.

“The only complete barrier I would say, is the fitness component. I was able to do it. Thankfully I’ve trained and practiced and for it. I’ve been an athlete my whole life, but most of the females in my class were unable to meet the required time.

“Even if the guys didn’t necessarily keep up with their physical fitness, they were still able to complete it within the required time. Whereas the girls struggled,” said Kinch.

The OPS Outreach Recruiting Team has been getting aggressive pushes from the community to increase the pool of diversity for their officers. OPS is still using ATS for their certification but are looking to transition to a more accessible program.