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An advocate for better care

A profound moment that cemented what Barrie Police Staff Sgt. Valarie Gates wanted to dedicate the rest of her career to came in 2014. It was the first rendition of the Junior Constable Camp, a summer program Gates (who was a sergeant at the time) had spearheaded to further cultivate healthy relationship between police and local youth.


April 23, 2019
By Renée Francoeur
Renée Francoeur
Gates visits the Child Advocacy Centre in Barrie

The officers pick participants up in uniform on the first day of camp and, while it is exciting for many kids, one little girl was terrified of Gates when she showed up at the door in her vest and hat.

“She didn’t want to come with us. It took some chatting with her grandma and assuring that she would be safe before  she decided she would go with me,” Gates recalls.“Then, at the end of the day, she very quietly told me she hadn’t wanted to come in the morning because she was afraid of the police due to some past bad experiences. ‘But now I realize you’re my friend,’ she told me. And I thought, wow; this is why we’re doing this. This is going to make a difference in this child’s life. From that point on, I was drawn to really push forward and advocate for the children; I needed to make changes for them; for the kids that couldn’t speak out and did not feel safe.”

Gates has been selected as the 2019 recipient of Blue Line’s Police Leadership Award, which honours those with outstanding leadership skills, tireless dedication and who encourage others to develop similar pacesetting abilities. (Note, at the time this nomination was made, she was a sergeant.)

She is credited as being the mover and shaker in terms of securing the Barrie site of the Child Advocacy Centre (CAC) of Simcoe-Muskoka, which opened its doors in August 2017 to offer child protection services, mental health support and much more. The centre recognizes the ongoing problem of human trafficking as well as the trauma survivors of abuse experience. It defines itself as “a neutral space where police officers and child protection workers conduct forensic interviews, paediatricians provide well-child examinations, and a child advocate supports and assists the child/youth and family throughout the entire process.”

The Barrie site marks the seventh location of its kind in Ontario.

“Val has worked tirelessly and has been instrumental in getting the program off the ground,” writes Tracy Carter, the Barrie CAC executive director. “Her passion and vision have been contagious in ensuring children of abuse have the support to improve their lives.”

Noticing a gap

Gates, whose father was a police officer, says she always knew she wanted a career in law enforcement. It was in school, when she was taking psychology, that she learned she was also drawn to learning more about the unique experience of children and she wanted to focus on having an impact in this area.

“I concentrated a lot on courses involving the child and child sexual assault education,” she notes. She also worked in Barrie’s Criminal Investigative Branch, where she honed her skills investigating sexual assault and domestic violence.

That being said, according to Homicide/Forensics/Tech Crimes-ICE Staff Sgt. Mike Winn, Gates always felt like she “could do more.”

“She spends a great deal of her time outside of her working hours helping survivors,” Winn says. “It is a passion of hers. She has an incredible enthusiasm and insatiable appetitive to ensure survivors are given the support they need. She truly deserves credit for making a difference.”

In 2009 she was promoted to sergeant in the Community Services Unit and set in motion a number of relationship-building projects, including the Annual Home Safe 5-km Run, the aforementioned Junior Constable Camp and Collaborate  Barrie, a multidisciplinary, “hub-like” approach where police and community partners meet weekly to strategize for community safety concerns.

“I was empowered by my leaders and mentors within the organization,” Gates explains. “We noticed a gap for the high-risk  youth  in our community. My senior command encouraged me to utilize the resources available to me and propose some solutions.  I realized that this was my chance to really make an impact.”

She began working with the local school boards to develop a list of risk factors that led to criminal behaviour, targeting those below the age of 12. Here the Junior Constable Camp was born.

“We were analyzing youth through the justice system,” she says. “We developed the program where high-risk youth  were nominated by their school or any other community agency and a committee would choose the  youth that would attend camp  based on their risk factors.”

The five-week long summer camp is still happening — about 20 different children attend every week — and the Barrie Police Service is now looking to conduct a long-term study of the camp and its positive spinoffs.

In fact, they know it’s having an impact, Gates adds, because every September, school resource officers are seeing children proudly wearing their camp t-shirts again on their first day of school.

No one wants to talk about child abuse…
Gates has spent the majority of her career involved with child abuse and sexual violence. She knew the system needed more than just a patch job in terms of repair.

“When I would see these kids going through this process, it was absolutely heartbreaking,” she says. “I  knew it was broken when I started policing 22 years ago: speaking to the child at a police station and then essentially leaving them and their parents  to fend for themselves until you see them again in court in two years was not enough. I knew we needed wrap-around care during these investigations right through to the court process.”

Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. Terry Paddon first told Gates about the CAC of Simcoe-Muskoka when it was opening in Orillia in 2014. She was pulled intuitively to get involved right away. Gates credits Paddon for his passion and desire to implement this model within his police service as well.

In 2015 she became the chair of the centre’s board to learn about the model and was also transferred to the Crimes Against Persons Unit. She learned more about the success behind the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre in Alberta (now known as the Calgary & Area Child Advocacy Centre), which was founded by the former NHL player and abuse survivor it was named for in 2010.

This non-profit organization works with partner organizations to provide “wrap-around services to assess, investigate, intervene and support survivors of child abuse while bringing offenders to justice.”

Gates then approached Barrie Police Chief Kimberley Greenwood about the need for such a centre in Barrie.

“She supported it 100 per cent and so I started looked for fundraising and grant opportunities,” Gates says. “I felt very strongly that this had to succeed.”

When it came to encouragement, especially in the new world of grant proposal writing, Gates says Greenwood was a vital and inspiring source of support.

“My chief has truly mentored me and has always encouraged me to grab every opportunity that presents itself. She opened up the world of grant writing to me.  After my first successful grant, I just kept writing and building on the past initiatives; each time laying the foundation for the centre as well as addressing human trafficking in our community…”

Successfully securing a two-year grant greased the gears and before she knew it, Gates was using her Collaborate Barrie connections and buzzing around looking at building locations and leasing, possible new construction options, as well as working on lassoing community buy-in with her background as a former media officer.

In fact, creating awareness was one of the biggest challenges.

“No one ever wants to talk about child abuse,” Gates says. “They just don’t think it’s here in our community. We needed others to see the demand for this centre.”
Sheldon Kennedy even flew in to make a speech and help garner support in Barrie.

“From that day on, more people started speaking about it and the benefits associated to this type of approach to investigations,” Gates says.

The yellow ribbon was cut outside the new centre in September 2017. It remains one of Gates’ most stirring, heartfelt memories.

Fixing the system

A CAC improves the quality of the investigation, the quality of disclosure from the child, even the quality of follow-up care leading up to court, Gates explains, so they feel confident and able to give that evidence in court.

Gates is already noticing a difference in the number of children coming forward and a significant improvement in the quality of the forensic interviews being obtained for evidence compared to before the CAC was open.

“From a policing perspective, the anticipated results will be invaluable. We will see better quality interviews which will lead to higher conviction rates of offenders. It is difficult to watch an offender walk out of court without a conviction when you know something has happened to that child. Now, with this wrap-around  approach, they are  getting the counselling required to heal and  the support necessary to navigate all the intricacies of the criminal justice system.  Now we will see  a different  child walking in the court room , and they will be  ready to do what they need to do to close that circle and get that conviction.”

The CAC in Barrie is a warm and home-like place, complete with couches, one interview room, sound-proof walls and a golden furry face for cuddles. Moose, a specially-trained facility dog from COPE (Canine Opportunity; People Empowerment), has been a huge hit with visitors, Gates says, and is also an unexpected therapeutic aid to the centre’s workers and the police officers. The CAC has now brought in a second facility dog.

Recent funding has also been secured to implement CCTV (closed-circuit television) cameras at the Barrie CAC to connect to the court rooms so survivors do not have to go to court to testify. According to Gates, those cameras were to be ready by the end of March 2019.

“We will be the only centre in Canada that I know of that has this option of testifying from the centre,” she says. “We were looking at the barriers in reporting sexual violence and one of those barriers is: fear of testifying and facing your offender in a courtroom. We want to ease that anxiety and feel this is part of the solution. We hope to see an increase in reporting of sexual violence as a result of the cameras.    Our Crown  attorneys were very supportive of  this approach.”

Other police services have reached out, looking for more information on galvanizing similar child advocacy centres.

“I do want this to be recognized as best practices among services across the country,” Gates says.

The CAC is also ready to expand. Gates notes the centre is conducting about three to four interviews a day in the one interview room. Overall, it has held more than 400 interviews since its doors opened.

“Val is committed, dedicated and continuously looking at ways to improve our service delivery overall,” Chief Greenwood told Blue Line. “Her emphasis on assisting victims of crime is significant. She continues to advocate on behalf of victims. She continues to bring not just members of the Barrie Police Service together, but also is always looking at things from a broader perspective — across the province, across the country — to effect change in areas that will benefit the whole community. She is extremely deserving of the award.”

Photos: Louise Jones

THANK YOU TO THE 2019 JUDGES PANEL

The Police Leadership Award was initiated and first bestowed in 1999 by the Canadian Police Leadership Forum (PLF). With support from Blue Line, the PLF presented the award annually until 2005 when the organization ceased to exist.
In February 2011, Blue Line took up the challenge of a cross-Canada search for suitable candidates for recognition. Blue Line’s appointed judges have so far selected numerous worthy recipients including this year’s recipient, Valarie Gates from the Barrie Police Service. Thank you so much to our 2019 judging panel for your expertise, thoughtful insight, new ideas, steadfast dedication and valuable time

Christine Silverberg is an accomplished lawyer and the Chief of the Calgary Police Service from 1995-2000. Christine went to law school after she retired as Chief, becoming a Partner at Gowlings LLP, then joining the independent law practices at Wolch deWit Silverberg & Watts. In 2015, Christine launched her own firm, SilverbergLegal. Christine is currently a CACP and OACP member. Among her many awards, she was most recently selected as part of the YWCA sesquicentennial project as one of 150 women who had had a significant impact on Calgary over the last 150+ years and in recognition of positive and extensive impact on community (2017).

Frank Beazley is the retired Chief of the Halifax Regional Police Service in Nova Scotia. Beazley began his 42-year career with the Halifax Police Department in 1970 and became chief of the new HRPS in July 2003. He is a graduate of the Canadian Police College Executive Development program, Queen’s University executive program and numerous certificate studies concentrating in the area of business, law and human resources. He is a past and life member of the Nova Scotia Chiefs of Police Association and Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. He is a past vice-president of the CACP and served on its board of directors. Beazley has received the distinction of Officer of the Order of Merit for the Police Forces and is a recipient of the PESM with two bars, both the Queen’s Gold and Diamond Jubilee Medals and the Province of Nova Scotia Long Service Medal and bar.

Peter German is a former Deputy Commissioner with both the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Correctional Service Canada. He currently practices law, is a consultant on criminal justice and leadership matters, and is president of the International Centre for Criminal Law Reform at the University of British Columbia. Prior to retiring from the RCMP, he was the Deputy Commissioner for Western and Northern Canada. He holds a doctorate in law from the University of London, and is the author of a legal text, Proceeds of Crime and Money Laundering. German was awarded both the Queen’s Gold and Diamond Jubilee medals, is an Officer of the Order of Merit of Police, and was awarded his Queen’s Counsel designation in 2018.

Armand La Barge is the retired Chief of Police of York Regional Police in Ontario. La Barge began his career there in 1973 and retired in December 2010 after serving as chief for his final eight years. La Barge is the past president of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police and the Ontario Director of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and the past chair of Special Olympics Ontario. He is also the immediate past chair of St. John Ambulance Ontario and a member of the board of governors of Trent University and Sacred Heart Catholic College. La Barge was awarded the PESM with one bar, both the Queen’s Gold and Diamond Jubilee Medals, is an Officer of the Order of Merit of the Police Forces and a Commander in the Order of St. John.