Selected for a peacekeeping mission in Haiti is a dream come true for Constable Anthony Lefrancois.
Since joining the Canadian military as an 18-year-old in 1997, he has always sought out an overseas mission to work with local communities and military personnel.
A member of the Queen’s York Rangers before joining the military police, he was on the cusp of serving in Afghanistan as he was hired by the Toronto Police Service a decade ago.
“I had to make a choice and it came down to me wanting to be a police officer,” he said, noting working for a large police service allowed him the opportunity to work overseas once again. “Nothing comes before its time and here I am, set to do an overseas mission.”
Lefrancois and Constable Lisa Prechotko will head to Haiti later this month to perform critical United Nations peacekeeping and peace support duties in support of Haitian law enforcement. Past Toronto Police officers have worked side-by-side with Haitian officers, acting as mentors and helping to deliver training.
Lefrancois is familiar with the country and its people, having been born and raised in Montreal, which has a large Haitian immigrant population.
“I grew up hanging out with Haitian friends,” he said. “So it’s exciting to be going to the country of their birth to pass on some of my knowledge and experience to the police there and help wherever I can to make a difference in the country. I am very excited.”
To prepare for the mission, Lefrancois met with Constable Dan Saleh, at 11 Division.He and 42 Division Constable Jean Bresse were the first Toronto Police officers who went to the Caribbean country, since police deployments there started just over two decades ago. They returned home in August 2013 from the year-long assignment, working alongside local police officers.
“I picked Dan’s brain and he was very helpful,” said Lefrancois, who spent five years at 14 Division before being assigned to 11 Division, TAVIS and the GO Review team a year ago.
Chief Mark Saunders said sending police officers overseas on such missions strengthens the individuals as well as the Service.
“We get back better police officers and better people,” said Chief Saunders, while meeting with Lefrancois and Prechotko. “They come back stronger because of the experiences they have had.”
In the last two years, Prechotko ran a successful Pro Action Cops and Kids-sponsored program – Sista – for young girls. She enjoys travelling and doing humanitarian work.
When she saw the posting for Haiti last winter, she knew the mission was the perfect fit.
“I have experience in community policing, investigating gender and sexual violence and working with young people and I speak French,” she said. “I have the skills to go there and make a difference.”
The 55 Division Community Response Unit officer reached out to Service members who have served in Haiti to get an idea of what to expect.
“Guy Kama was in my recruiting class and he and I, along with Constable Antoinette Rowe, were at 51 Division at the same time,” she said. “One of the things they told me is that I might have an opportunity work with one of the many orphanages down there. I am really excited about that.”
Prechotko, who has two dogs that family members will care for while she’s away, said relatives and friends are very supportive of her decision to go on a peacekeeping mission.
“At first I was hesitant to tell them, for fear they might want to change my mind, but that wasn’t the case,” added the officer, who was born in Sudbury and enrolled in French Immersion classes from kindergarten to high school. “Everyone is rooting for me, including my parents, who are so proud and thrilled for me.”
The two officers are expected to fly out from Montreal on August 23.
Since 1999, a total of 90 Service members have been deployed to Bosnia, East Timor, Kosovo, Jordan, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Haiti and Kyiv through the Royal Canadian Mounted Police International Peace Operations branch. The Canadian mission in Afghanistan ended in March 2014.
Detective Kevin Kaposy is the only Toronto Police officer currently on a peacekeeping mission.
He is in Kyiv, helping to train Ukrainian police officers as part of Canada’s commitment to support the country’s security reform.
Canadian police are assisting with reforming frontline police forces in the Eastern European country, as well as providing strategic advice on broader security-sector reform, with the long-term goal of contributing to the rule of law, minimizing social unrest, maintaining security and improving the relationship between citizens and police.