by Emily Brown / photo courtesy of OPP Museum circa 1974 first women in OPP Uniform Recruit Class

Editor’s Note: This article along with several more photos will be published in the next edition to “Beyond the Badge” magazine.

Since 1921, women have been playing a crucial role in shaping the OPP. This year marks the 50th Anniversary of Women in Uniform in the Ontario Provincial Police.

Women in uniform have come a long way in the last 50 years. Before 1974, women were not allowed to serve as uniform members in the organization and were only permitted to hold civilian roles such as receptionists or data entry clerks. In 1972, a task force was established by the Solicitor-General’s Office of Ontario to investigate policing practices across the province. The task force discovered that female civilians and officers’ spouses were being asked to perform duties typically reserved for officers, such as searching or guarding female prisoners. The report questioned why women were being prevented from assuming positions as uniform officers.

Within the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), the Commissioner at the time, Harold H. Graham was supportive of the recruitment of women as provincial constables. The task force’s final report in February 1974 advocated for greater diversity within police services, and Graham quickly responded. On June 21, 1974, fifteen women graduated as provincial constables, marking a turning point in policing history in Ontario.

The women who graduated faced various challenges as they began their careers. Some fortunately encountered openness and a willingness to mentor, while others were faced with doubts and skepticism by their colleagues. Despite these challenges, 39 women joined the OPP in 1974, and the number steadily grew to 99 women in uniform by 1982. Many faced commentaries not only from their colleagues but in the media and from the public. Some decided to pursue other career paths or left policing to start families, while others remained committed to policing.

One such female trailblazer within the OPP was Carol Ann Marshall (Alfred), who emerged as a beacon of change. Marshall was hired in 1978, becoming the first black female officer to serve with the OPP.
In a profession that has always struggled to attract women and members from diverse backgrounds, Marshall deserves recognition for leading the way for the next generation.

Marshall was born in Barbados, in 1953. Her father, Ashton, was an assistant commissioner with the Barbados police. At 17, Marshall left Barbados to study in Virginia on an international scholarship, eventually finding her way to Canada to attend Trent University. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in geography and an education degree from the University of Toronto. Marshall was a teacher in Ontario public schools and then went on to serve six years with the Ontario Provincial Police and was valedictorian of her OPP graduating class.

In a 2021 interview, Marshall reflected on her experience joining the OPP as the first black female member. “It wasn’t a big deal for me because I grew up in Barbados and my father was in the police force – I grew up surrounded by police officers, and many of them were women, so for me, it wasn’t a big deal,” Marshall commented. “It was only after I joined that people started making a big deal of it – for me it never was.”

Marshall initially began her career in education, but very shortly was told that she was going to be laid off. Because of her exposure to policing as a child, the OPP was a natural shift for her.
“I remembered the OPP because of my Dad, he was the International Police Association’s rep in Barbados, so he knew police officers all over the world – and I thought, ‘Well, this is something I know,’ and that’s what made me apply, and I got hired.”

Marshall went on to reflect on her tenure with the OPP and offered some sage words of wisdom for women both currently in law enforcement and women considering a career in policing.

“I think it is really important to know who you are as a woman before you join because you are going to be tested – a lot, whether you want to or not. It’s not a job to be taken lightly, it’s a huge commitment and it’s a serious commitment, so it’s important that when you join, you know that this is something I really want to do and look at all of the challenges that police officers face and determine if you want to be involved in all of that. Also, know what you value as a woman because all of that will be tested, and you are going to be held to a higher standard than the guys are.”

Marshall’s story highlights the importance of representation and perseverance. Her efforts deserve recognition for paving the way for future generations of women and individuals from diverse backgrounds in law enforcement.

The Ontario Provincial Police has set a goal to have a workforce that represents the communities it serves. Women in uniform roles remain underrepresented in frontline policing, but the OPP has made significant strides toward positive changes and empowering women to consider a career in policing. Women who are interested in pursuing a career in policing are encouraged to visit for more information on the hiring process.