The second-longest serving chair of the Toronto Police Services Board leaves his post at the end of the week after 10 years of serving the city.
Alok Mukherjee was given a farewell at the 519 community organization on July 27 by police officers, community activists and fellow TPSB members.
Author and activist Pat Capponi, who serves as an advisor to the Board on mental-health issues, spoke of Mukherjee’s ability to bring voices together.
“Alok has shown a remarkable awareness of the need to bring together diverse elements in genuine consultation and dialogue and broaden the usual definition of expertise to include the unusual suspects, those who are often left voiceless,” Capponi said. “I have never felt controlled or silenced or disempowered and that goes a long way to increase trust and ensure that I and others remain at the table.”
Serving on the TPSB is like being on no other board of directors, said Mayor John Tory.
“I think you look at all the responsibilities we give to people serving on public boards… and the balancing act if I can call it that is involved in the oversight of policing is one of the most important that we assign to people.”
Tory went on to say that, while Mukherjee had a quiet demeanour, people listened when he spoke.
“When people are quiet, quite methodically and wisely spoken, they make you listen harder when they have something to say and I think this is a good thing when dealing with very complicated, very important issues in a rational and sensible way.
“Alok Mukherjee didn’t have to raise his voice to let you know how completely committed he was every day of the week to removing bias in policing, to equal treatment under the law, to mutual respect between the police and the community and the importance of that and to the fundamental importance to the charter of rights and human rights generally.”
Many people spoke of Mukherjee’s passion for rights and his will to fight for them, including Chief Mark Saunders, who said Mukherjee is a man “who cares, a man who is dedicated to fighting the fight not just for equality but also for human rights.”
Speaking on the delicate relationship of the overseer and the overseen, the Chief said that Mukherjee never made the work personal.
“You wanted excellence, you wanted us to be the best that we could, so by taking the higher road and standing your ground it clearly states who you are as a person and as a human being,” said Chief Saunders.
You wanted excellence, you wanted us to be the best that we could, so by taking the higher road and standing your ground it clearly states who you are as a person and as a human being
Aboriginal elder Frances Sanderson spoke of Mukherjee’s role in nurturing a partnership between the TPS and the aboriginal community.
“He recognized the need in including our community in the process of consultation and information-sharing. Toronto’s aboriginal community was defined and respectfully acknowledged in the development of the statement and commitment of the guiding principles,” said Sanderson, who added was always the first one to get up for the round dance for National Aboriginal Day.
Police and Community Engagement Review (PACER) Community Co-Chair Audrey Campbell acknowledged the work Mukherjee had done as Chair, including his hand in starting the Youth in Policing Initiative that has seen 1,200 young people graduate since its inception.
“To date, you have changed the lives of over 1,200 youths who were hired through that program,” said Campbell. “My dear friend you have raised the bar and your successors will be viewed and judged through that lens.”
TPSB Executive Director Joanne Campbell reminded everyone of Mukherjee’s accomplishment of sitting on a police board for so long.
“In Ontario…it is almost unheard of for a police board chair to hold that position for 10 years. Alok’s longevity on the board uniquely positioned him to tackle many complex and challenging issues,” said Campbell.
Echoing Campbell, TPSB Vice-Chair Andrew Pringle praised Mukherjee for his handling of complex issues too.
“Under your leadership as Chair of Toronto Police Services Board (you have) consistently dealt with tough issues and, I think, in many ways has gone from strength to strength.”
Young people like Maya and Salina (his granddaughters) and all those like them have been my motivators, (while) my family and friends have been my strongest personal oversight and accountability group
Mukherjee himself thanked the many people who had come out for his retirement farewell and was especially grateful to community members and leaders who held the Board and Service accountable.
“In the presence of so many of you here in a wide range of organizations shows that you are ready and willing to assist, as you have, for all these years. You have held us accountable (and) insisted on transparency and extended support. The work we have done and continue to do with forums like the mental health summit, the police and engagement advisory committee and the many advisory and community consultative committee is proof of this,” he said.
The outgoing Chair added that it was the thought of the future of the city that compelled him to work hard and see things to an end.
“It is the thought of their future that has motivated me in working for a city and a community that is safe, harmonious and caring. Young people like Maya and Salina (his granddaughters) and all those like them have been my motivators, (while) my family and friends have been my strongest personal oversight and accountability group.”
The Chair concluded that when he first took up the job a city councillor told him he was either “raving mad, hopelessly naive or too idealistic,” to which he replied he must be a combination of all three. And as his time draws to an end, the Chair said that those present in the room must be the same as well.
“If I was mad or naive or idealistic then so is just about everyone else in this room today because all of you, us, have acted together on the belief that when it comes to policing… in the words of Arundhati Roy: ‘Another world is possible, I can hear her coming’… let us continue to act to hasten the arrival,” said Mukherjee.