Saskatoon sergeant becomes first female Canadian police officer deployed to train Iraqi forces

A 19-year veteran of the Saskatoon Police Department is back from a year in Iraq, which included training Iraqi women as police officers.

sergeant. Erin Coates has been deployed to the country — a first for a Canadian police officer — as part of the team that provides training to Iraqi government civilian and security officers. She was also involved in improving and implementing a police course for female Iraqi officers.

“I walked into a room full of 133 students and thought, ‘OK, I can do this,'” Coates said.

“Every country is so different. And that’s why we talk to students a lot to see what their experiences are and what really happens when they go to a crime scene.”

Coates worked alongside a coalition of other officers from the Italian and Czech forces, who taught in multiple languages ​​with different approaches.

Women in the Force

Canada was a pioneer in appointing women to oversee the training mission in Iraq, Coates said.

That sentiment is echoed by Joana Cook, a research associate in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, who earned her first degree in political science at the University of Regina.

“Canada is really recognized abroad, I think, for having really pursued a feminist foreign policy,” said Cook, the author of The Place of a Woman: American Counter-Terrorism Since 9/11a book that includes research on women in policing.

“It’s something you really see being put into practice directly in places like Iraq, Ukraine or Mali.”

She discovered that 21% of officers in Canada are women, while that number is only 2% in Iraq.

Joana Cook is a research associate at King’s College London, UK. Her book on the role of women in counterterrorism efforts will be published at the end of August. (Ivan Seifert/Submitted)

Overcome the obstacles

Women in conflict zones are increasingly filling roles that were previously closed to them because of their gender, Cook said, but she noted barriers still exist.

The idea may persist that women may not offer sufficient security or may not have the same abilities or authority as men, she said.

“By not having female officers there, it means you’re not representative of your community,” Cook said.

“Very sensitive issues like sexual or gender-based violence or domestic violence or things can be very sensitive for women to approach security forces [with].”

Female police officers can also help close security gaps, she pointed out, for example, by being able to frisk or frisk female suicide bombers who might otherwise infiltrate security.

Coates and his colleague pose for a photo with a child, while the couple were working in Iraq. (Submitted / Erin Coates)

Coates said she feels she has helped move the training forces forward.

Although she has returned to Saskatoon since her leave, she said her experience in Iraq has stayed with her.

“It was life changing.”

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