After a sustained 116-year history, the former University of Toronto Campus Police has been rebranded as the University of Toronto Campus Safety Special Constable Service.
In a June 4 statement, Campus Safety wrote that the rebrand is meant to better demonstrate the services Campus Safety provides to U of T and to meet new regulations from the province about special constables in Ontario. The removal of the word ‘police’ ensured that the university’s policies were in line with Bill 68, which passed in 2019 and prohibits special constables from having the word ‘police’ in their name.
The statement identifies the change as part of a larger shift in the “visual identity” of special constables on campus, making them more “approachable, accessible and distinguishable.” The name change will be followed by other changes to special constables’ vehicles, uniforms, and “online presence.”
A U of T spokesperson expressed in an email to The Varsity the dynamic nature of the university’s safety services as they adapt to “shifting needs and community expectations.” This rebrand, they wrote, is “part of the Service’s responsiveness in these changing times.”
The spokesperson explained that while this “new visual identity” aims to make Campus Safety more approachable, it does not transform the role of campus security services.
The change also comes as the U of T Campus Police has been the subject of increased scrutiny from the community, including through calls to defund the Campus Police.
Concerns about police on campus
The U of T community’s expectations of the formerly named Campus Police have changed over the past few years as students continue to express concerns surrounding the presence of campus police officers.
A series of controversies, including an incident in which a student seeking mental health services was handcuffed by campus police at UTM, as well as a larger reckoning around racial injustices in Canada have resulted in growing calls to defund the U of T Campus Police so funds can be diverted to other campus services.
Most recently, five UTSG campus police approached and questioned three members of the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union who were putting up a “Cops off Campus” banner as part of their Police Off Campus campaign.
Campus groups have also been pushing the university and the Campus Police to make changes. In June 2020, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) demanded a formal apology from the Campus Police as an acknowledgement of “their historically unjust behaviour towards Black, Indigenous, and other racialized and marginalized students.”
Response to rebranding
In a written statement to The Varsity, UTSU Vice-President Equity Reva Aggarwal added that removing the word “police” from its name has encouraged students to approach it in the case of emergency.
However, she cautioned that it “may not be effective in practice since there are a lot of other systemic issues that contribute to the uneasiness around campus police.”
“We believe that this was the first necessary step to reduce, and ultimately remove the social stigma of the campus police – wherein the students would no longer perceive the campus safety team as brutal and aggressive law enforcers – while also ensuring students’ safety on campus,” wrote Aggarwal.
She further wrote that, while the rebrand may appear mostly symbolic, the UTSU hopes that it will come along with a larger shift in the role of Campus Safety for students, and that the service will take steps toward becoming peace officers, which the union believes would include being unarmed.
She concluded that in order to effect this change, the UTSU hopes that U of T will “introduce more thorough training for the campus safety team that is catered to the needs of our students.”
Campus Police has previously had discrepancies in constables’ training across U of T’s three campuses. UTSC offers an optional course on sexual violence education, and UTM works with the Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre. UTSG offers an optional course on anti-racism and systemic racism, which UTM and UTSC do not offer.
Justin Patrick, the University of Toronto Graduate Students Union’s (UTGSU) external commissioner, agreed that the change would prove mostly symbolic if not accompanied by consultations with the U of T community. This would include regular reviews with campus student unions on Campus Safety policy and procedures.
Patrick added that there should be a general shift of resources away from Campus Safety and toward services that aim to support students with regards to needs such as mental health.