Toronto Police 43 Division held its third annual Family Skate Day on Feb. 13 at the Heron Park Arena.
The event offered Scarborough families a chance for ice time with local community officers on the Family Day long weekend.
“It is our hope that this event will allow children and youth to be able to see officers in a different light,” said Marylin Hodge, co-chair of 43 division’s Community Police Liaison Committee (CPLC).
“A lot of people are afraid of the police. Hopefully this would be a way of breaking down some barriers.”
Even before the doors open, many families are gathered in the lobby area and children of all ages eagerly wait to get on the ice.
For Jennifer Jones it’s the first time her young daughter Jolivia will be trying ice-skating.
In the stands, with Tim-Bits and hot chocolate to keep them warm, parents watched their kids. Many were accompanied by officers as they stepped onto the rink and skated laps around a cruiser placed at centre ice.
The event has in past years averaged about 375 participants, with children ranging in age from toddlers to young adults.
No experience is needed, as various officers from 43 division’s community hockey team were there to lend a helping hand.
43 division Superintendent Paul Gottschalk emphasized the ongoing commitment of his officers to “engaging” the youth in the community.
“It is just a little step in getting the youth and the police to interact with each other,” Gottschalk said.
“Every year the crowd gets bigger and bigger, now the challenge is getting enough skates donated for those who cannot afford them.”
Through local media and by donations from sponsors like Canadian Tire and Westhill Golden Hawks Hockey Association, the CPLC was able to collect 150 pairs of skates so underprivileged children could participate.
Both Hodge and Gottschalk said the event would not be possible if it were not for the help of volunteers.
“All donated skates were generously sharpened by Bill Frasier of Scarborough Village Arena,” Hodge said. “Plus we have the support of other groups such as ProAction Cops & Kids.”
ProAction is one of the largest private funders of Toronto police programs for at-risk youth.
It is just one of many initiatives the CPLC runs in the community.
“Volunteer officers have gone to some of the high schools and are teaching cooking classes and other officers who have black belts are teaching a lot of youth and their parents martial arts,” Gottschalk said.
“Officers are volunteering their own time and skills as a way of connecting with the community on common ground.
The next CPLC event will be a community picnic in May.