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Ontario Premier Doug Ford arrives at the Toronto Police College for news conference in Etobicoke on April 25. The Ford government has reversed course on the 2019 Community Safety and Policing Act, which mandated postsecondary education of police recruits.Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press

Ontario is scrapping its plan to mandate postsecondary education for police recruits, a reversal the provincial government says will enable it to boost the number of officers across the province more quickly.

The change is part of a series of initiatives introduced by Premier Doug Ford at the Toronto Police College in Etobicoke on Tuesday, all geared toward recruiting more police.

The requirement that new police officers have a postsecondary degree, diploma or certificate before being appointed was passed by the provincial legislature in 2019 as part of the government’s Community Safety and Policing Act. But that legislation has not yet been proclaimed into law.

Ontario Solicitor-General Michael Kerzner introduced legislation Tuesday to remove the requirement from the bill.

Mr. Ford told reporters the change is necessary to address police shortages in the province, and to tackle “a growing wave of crime.” The Premier cited Toronto Police Service data that suggest major crimes in the city have increased by more than 20 per cent this year, compared to the same period in 2022.

“People don’t feel safe. Some are scared to take the subway or to go out for a walk once it gets dark out,” he said. “We need reinforcements, we need more police officers on our streets.”

Currently, most police organizations in the province, including TPS and the Ontario Provincial Police, require applicants to have, at minimum, high school diplomas.

The standard is the same at most police services across Canada, though some do require further education. The Vancouver Police Department requires applicants to have a minimum of 30 postsecondary credits, but not necessarily degrees. In Ontario, the Kingston Police require applicants to have postsecondary degrees, diplomas or “advanced military training,” along with high school diplomas.

Ensuring police officers have some higher education was one of the recommendations of the Mass Casualty Commission, which released its final report last month. The commission studied failures in the RCMP response to the 2020 mass shooting that began in Portapique, N.S.

Facing questions from reporters at Queen’s Park, Mr. Kerzner defended the move not to increase requirements for police.

“I don’t think bringing an arts degree is necessarily the criteria to go to Ontario Police College and be a cadet,” Mr. Kerzner said, adding that police recruits now are on average in their late 20s, much older than in past decades, and more diverse. Basic training at the police college lasts 66 days, a significantly shorter period of time than is typically required to earn an academic degree.

Editorial: Why is it so much easier to become a cop in Canada than an electrician, plumber or welder?

Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles criticized the move.

“I think it’s very concerning … what I hear from [the] community and from front-line officers themselves is that they want more support and more training,” she told reporters.

She also expressed skepticism that cash-strapped municipalities, facing funding holes because of changes the provincial government has made, will be able to afford to hire many more new recruits.

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s department of sociology, called the province’s change of course “misguided.” He said he is concerned that recruits as young as 18 won’t have enough life experience to be police officers. This, he added, could exacerbate existing problems with police use of force, and police engagement with marginalized communities.

“Part of the justification for greater education is that people are older, and they bring that life experience with them,” he said.

Mr. Ford also announced that the province will be covering the full cost of tuition for basic constable training at the Ontario Police College, which the government said will amount to about $20-million this year. The current cost for recruits is $15,450. The elimination of the tuition fee will be retroactive to the beginning of this year.

The province is immediately adding 70 spaces in each of the college’s three training cohorts, increasing the size of each class to 550 recruits. Mr. Ford’s government is also planning to add a fourth cohort in 2024, which would bring the number of recruits trained annually through the college to 2,200. The cost of covering tuition is expected to climb to $36-million annually when the new spaces are added.

With a report from Jeff Gray

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