When the Association of Black Law Enforcers (ABLE) emerged just over two decades ago, it was frowned upon by White and even some Black uniformed and civilian members as another minority activist group advocating on behalf of disgruntled community folks in challenged neighbourhoods.
Originally established to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the Black community, the organization’s mandate expanded to encourage racial harmony and cultural pride in the law enforcement community and the wider society, promote and protect the interests of Blacks and other racial minorities in the profession and work closely with law enforcement agencies to stimulate and facilitate employment equity programs.
In addition, ABLE reached out to young Blacks by offering mentoring opportunities and challenging them to consider law enforcement as a viable career option. In its third year, it started to award scholarships to students pursuing careers in law and law enforcement. A total of 117 scholarships worth almost $152,000 have been awarded in the last 19 years.
While proud of these accomplishments, co-founder Lynell Nolan is disappointed more Black officers have not aligned themselves with the organization.
“I know that the number of Blacks in the various law enforcement organizations has increased significantly in the last two decades, but it’s not reflected in ABLE’s membership and supporters,” said Nolan, who attended the organization’s 21st annual gala two weeks ago. “There is still a feeling out there that a Black officer’s chances of promotion may be hindered if they are seen to be associated with ABLE. Well, all I can say to those people is they should look at Keith Forde, Peter Sloly, Jay Hope, David Mitchell and Chris Bullen. It sure didn’t hurt them. In fact, it may have helped them.”
Forde became the Toronto Police Service’s first Deputy Chief before retiring three years ago, Sloly is one of the Service’s two Black deputies, Hope was the province’s second deputy Minister before retiring last year, Mitchell is a Ministry of Correction Services & Community Safety regional director and Bullen is a York Regional Police Service inspector.
One of ABLE’s eight founders, Nolan spent eight years with the Royal St. Kitts & Nevis Police Force before migrating to Canada in 1972. Nearly a year later, he became the fifth Black to join the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
During 25 years of distinguished service with the federal law enforcement agency that included assignments to the Drug Squad and the Commercial Crime Section, Nolan co-ordinated in-house training for staff and divisional members and organized the RCMP’s inaugural participation in the federal government’s Caribana float in 1991.
He was also active in the community. In addition to helping to establish ABLE, Nolan was a Nevcan Association of Toronto and Milliken West Indian Association member and he sat on the parish advisory parish board of St. Michael the Archangel Church, where he was an usher leader.
Rising to the rank of corporal and serving as acting sergeant for two years, the career law enforcement officer took early retirement in January 1998 and returned to Nevis to become the Nisbet Plantation Beach Club security director. Three years later, he joined the St. Kitts-based DeVry Inc.-owned Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine as its director of safety and security.
When DeVry acquired the American University of the Caribbean in St. Maarten two years ago, Nolan was despatched to the northeast Caribbean island to set up the security department operations. After completing that assignment five months later, he went to the Ross University campus in Dominica to head its security department until a full-time replacement was hired earlier this year.
Retired since the beginning of April this year, Nolan now spends most of his time farming on three acres of land in Nevis. He also plans to re-launch a picture-framing business he established several years ago.
After leaving the RCMP, Nolan authored Being Black in Scarlet, that provides an inside look at the agency and the struggles encountered by visible minorities who challenge perceived racial practices and policies.
“I had been a member of this organization for over 24 years, but somehow had never felt fully accepted,” Nolan wrote in the book. “The comments that I overheard from other members validated my belief that despite the polite façade presented by many Whites, Blacks were not welcomed in the RCMP.
“The attitude of superiority was so ingrained that even very senior officers when speaking at multicultural conferences would use the word ‘tolerate’ when endeavouring to show that they accepted Blacks on the Force.
“That word always evoked a response from me and I would take the time to advise the speakers that if they wanted to demonstrate openmindness, then they should use a different word since tolerated implied some degree of hardship, refusal and resistance. Acceptance of people required the use of the word ‘respect’.”
Tired of the harassment and discrimination they have been subjected to, several visible minority officers filed human rights complaints against their employer over the years.
Calvin Lawrence filed seven years ago, claiming he faced systemic and institutional racism on the job. His submission included examples of racist posters from message boards at detachments and around RCMP buildings. Having served as an instructor at the RCMP academy in Regina and a bodyguard to two prime ministers and a Governor-General, he retired after a 36-year policing career with two long-service good-conduct medals.
In 2003, Const. Paul Carty filed a $3.5 million lawsuit, claiming he was the victim of constant discrimination from members of the service while two years later and 12 months into his training, Jean Luc-Morin claimed his superiors told him to quit or he would be fired. His human rights complaint was deemed unreasonable by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
In order to make the federal police service more accommodating and reflective of the diverse communities it serves, the RCMP set out new hiring benchmarks nearly three years ago to increase visible minority representation.
Despite the challenges, Nolan said he relished his time with the organization.
“The RCMP opened doors for me,” he said. “Around the world, it’s a respected law enforcement organization as I found out when I applied to work for DeVry Inc.”
Nolan makes frequent visits to Canada to visit his three children and other family members.
At a town hall meeting convened in the Greater Toronto Area eight years ago to discuss racial profiling and differential treatment of minorities, Nolan substantiated allegations that some law enforcement members engage in racial profiling. He also admitted he racially profiled young Black men early in his law enforcement career and suggested that many Black officers engage in the illegal practice.
He said he took a principled approach to speak out against racial profiling and become an advocate for visible minorities within the RCMP after he realized that racism existed within the national police service and he was denied promotions because of his skin colour.
The chair of the first four ABLE galas, Nolan challenged the organization to build on its achievements and always endeavour to remain relevant.
“From speaking to a few people, I get the impression that there is some complacency and there is no need to fight for anything because a few Black officers are now holding senior positions,” said the association’s former vice-president. “That’s the wrong approach. Now is the time to build on that momentum.”