Toronto Police has come a long way in terms of ensuring the organization reflects the communities it serves.
Historian and curator Dr. Sheldon Taylor made the observation in his keynote address at the St. James British Methodist Episcopal (BME) Church/Toronto Police 13 Division Black History Month (BHM) celebration on February 22.
“I was a member of the National Black Coalition and, in the early 1970s, I joined Arthur Downes and Tom Massiah at the C.O Bick College to make a presentation on behalf of the black community,” he said. “One of the things we were talking about was the need for integration in the Service. We wanted to see people who look like us. Not in our wildest dreams did we think we would have three black deputies.”
13 Division unit commander Superintendent Scott Baptist said the Service is committed to making diversity a core cornerstone of its operations.
“We have worked diligently to capitalize on our city’s cultural diversity and to ensure that our membership is inclusive and reflective of this extraordinary community,” he said.
With the support of 13 Division and the BME church, now-retired Toronto Police officer Ojo Tewogbade launched the BHM celebration 16 years ago to recognize professional and community service achievements.
Though retired after 35 years, Tewogbade -- the Service’s newly minted chaplain – remains an integral part of the annual BHM celebration.
“I am glad to see that nothing has changed with his retirement,” said Deputy Chief Peter Sloly. “He’s still embedded in this community, leading the charge to build relationships.”
Deputy Chief Mark Saunders, who also attended the event and congratulated the award recipients for their outstanding community service, said Black History Month is relevant.
“When I was in grade school, we weren’t taught black history,” said. “Now, what I like about what these opportunities and having Black History Month is that there is no young man or woman who will ever have to wonder if people of colour contributed to this great country.”
This year’s award winners included Constables Ming Li, Vladim Iancu, Alison Burns, Gurminder Minhas, Ajeet Sidhu and Acting Inspector Pauline Gray, who spoke on behalf of the recipients.
“A short time ago, I had the occasion to attend a law enforcement leadership conference in the United States and, from the conference speakers, I learned several lessons about police leadership,” she said. “But, as the week went on, what I learned the most was that I was truly blessed to be working for a police service that is colour-blind. It doesn’t just talk about diversity to satisfy some political directive, but truly embraces it at every level.”
Gray encouraged her fellow award winners to take someone under their wing to mentor.
“Let your hindsight be your foresight and reinstall the validation that service to community is a good and just thing,” she said.