Women Rising Above

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 1:49 p.m. March 8, 2019

Inspector Joanna Beaven-Desjardins attended elementary, high school and university in Scarborough.

One woman in TPS uniform with four other women
Milayjah Tefanis, Karen McKenzie,A/Supt. Joanna Beaven-Desjardins, event host Sharon Stewart and Franca Capano

Now, she’s the unit commander for 41 and 42 Divisions which covers large portion of the eastern part of Toronto.

“I grew up in this neighbourhood and I never imagined that one day I would be in this position,” she told Grades Four to Eight students at an International Women’s Day event on March 8 at John G Diefenbaker Public School. “If I could it, so could you."

Beaven-Desjardins was Toronto Police’s first female Hold Up Squad member.

“Dream big because you can achieve anything you want to once you put your mind to it,” she said.

The theme of International Women's Day was Balance for Better.

Beaven-Desjardins encouraged the girls to find balance in their lives.

“I work hard at home and at my workplace,” said the mother of two teenagers. “One of the things that get me through this is exercise. Keep yourselves fit. Have a walk or engage in a sporting activity. Exercise your mind and body.” 

Since the late Ferne Alexander became the first woman to crack the Toronto Police senior ranks in July 1963, women have been elevated to senior roles in the organization.

I work with an amazing group of women... They are all very strong, they are caring, they are really smart, they are very kind and they really know their jobs

Kris Kijewski became the first female president of the Toronto Police Service Senior Officers Organization in 2001 and, four years later, she was promoted as the first female civilian director.

Jane Wilcox was the first female Sex Crimes unit commander, Brenda Radix was the first female civilian promoted to the position of unit commander in charge of the Property and Evidence Management unit, Judy Sandford became the first woman to head the Records Management Services Unit and Kathryn Martin was the Homicide Squad’s first female unit commander.

Two of the current Deputy Chiefs – Shawna Coxon and Barbara McLean – are women.

“I work with an amazing group of women, including the Deputy Chiefs and S/Supt. Kim Yeandle who I report to,” said Beaven-Desjardins. “They are all very strong, they are caring, they are really smart, they are very kind and they really know their jobs.”

This is the fifth year thatI Can Rise Above, a grassroots organization that emerged out of the Chester Le Community, has collaborated with Toronto Police and the Toronto District School Board to hold the annual International Women’s Day event.

“This year, we want girls to understand that a healthy life balance is essential,” said Karen McKenzie, who is a member of the organization.

She thanked Sgt. Rod Chung for working with them over the years to help organize the event that featured several female performers, including young hip-hop singer Milayjah Tefanis whose rendition ofCan’t Do Better With Mewas a hit with the students.

“This song from my unreleased track addresses women empowerment and I thought it would be fitting to do it today,” said the first-year Ryerson University criminology student.

John G Diefenbaker Public School principal Franca Capano reminded the girls to always celebrate who they are.

“You are special, you are unique in all the ways that you see yourself,” she added. “We want you to feel good about being who you are.”

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