If you weren’t a police officer, what would you be?
When Famous People Players (FPP) founder Diane Dupuy posed the question to Chief Mark Saunders at an intimate dinner and show to celebrate the city’s top cop on March 10, his response was swift and direct.
“A disc jockey,” he said, to loud applause.
Dupuy, also a motivational speaker, wasn’t surprised.
“Not only are you special, but you have got a great sense of humour,” she said.
The Famous People Players are a Toronto theatre group featuring performers who are developmentally challenged. They honoured the Chief for his work advocating for people on the autism spectrum.
Dupuy, an Order of Canada recipient, presented the ‘Dare to Dream’ Award to Saunders at the fundraising event attended by the province’s Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell.
“The Chief dreamed and look where he is today,” said Dupuy.
The first black person to be appointed Toronto’s Chief of Police, Saunders – an autism awareness advocate – said he didn’t initially have his eyes on becoming the head of Canada’s largest municipal police service and the fourth-largest in North America behind New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
“But anyone who dares to take this journey knows there are times when you aren’t confident, or you fail, or you want to stop, that what moves us forward are those people who believe in you,” he said. “They are the ones who gave you that edge and motivation to move forward.”
Constables Anthony Alexander and Kevin Ward of 22 Division attended the show.
Dupuy acknowledged Alexander, who volunteers at the theatre on Evans Ave.
“He comes in to help us and I am so glad he’s here,” she said.
Founded in 1974, FPP is a back-light theatre troupe featuring developmentally challenged performers.
“I started the organization at a time when we were called that horrible name, ‘mentally retarded’,” she said. “We were not allowed to be integrated and there were schools specifically for those people… I decided to use my creativity to put a show together… If you put your imagination to good use, you could make this world a better place.”
Saunders’ wife, Stacey, and their son, Graham, who has an autism spectrum disorder, attended the event.