Advocating for social justice, building bridges between law enforcement and the community, promoting equality and creating opportunities for young people through mentoring and scholarships are guiding principles that have led and sustained the Association of Black Law Enforcers (ABLE) for the past two decades.
At its 20th anniversary last Saturday night in Markham, founding president, David Mitchell, said ABLE has moved from a group that was viewed in its infancy as racially divisive and unnecessary to a relevant, credible and solid organization that’s routinely being consulted and engaged.
“Soon after our formation, an agency advised us in a friendly way that we should be aware that a law enforcement agency as an employer would only recognize one bargaining agent,” he recalled. “We found that to be very interesting given that we never wanted to be a union or bargaining agent. Soon after our inaugural Ball in 1993, a senior law enforcement leader advised us that while our goals were laudable, he and his organization could not support an organization that elected to have an exclusive membership. It was even suggested that we should have a forum to explain to law enforcement leaders what our organization was all about. We had that forum and explained, yet people still said that they didn’t understand the need.”
The director of parole and probation for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services’ Central Region, Mitchell said the stonewalling of ABLE extended to some segments of the Black community.
“Young people and adults told us we were ‘sell-outs’ when I thought that we were just trying to do the right thing for the right reasons,” he said. “It was however evident that others saw it differently…With the passing of time and persistence, we built credibility in the community and within our profession. Respect has finally come, but this was achieved through consistent honesty and a commitment to build bridges of understanding between the community that we come from and the profession that we have chosen.”
Since its establishment, ABLE has been outspoken against racial profiling, unfair work practices, organizational systemic racism and hate crimes. The organization has also advocated for the hiring and promotion of more racial minorities.
In the past two decades, the Toronto Police Service has had two Black deputy chiefs – Keith Forde who is retired and Peter Sloly – and its first Black female Inspector, Sonia Thomas. In addition, Superintendents David McLeod and Mark Saunders and Staff Inspector Tony Riviere are unit commanders.
Trinidad & Tobago-born Robertson Rouse was appointed superintendent four years ago, making him York Regional Police Service’s highest-ranking Black officer. ABLE’s president, Keith Merith, Chris Bullen, Andre Crawford and Ricky Veerappan were promoted to Inspector while Joan Randle became the service’s first Black female Staff Sergeant.
The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services has two Black superintendents – Tracey Timoll and Jennifer Alphonso – while Jay Hope retired at the end of last month as a provincial deputy minister and deputy chief of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP).
They are all ABLE members.
While encouraged by the increased hiring of Blacks since ABLE’s establishment, Hope is disappointed that more African-Canadian law enforcement officers are not members of ABLE.
“The fear that something is going to happen to their careers is just not based on reality,” said Hope who was honoured at last Saturday night’s event. “This is about making sure that things are better for their children and their community.”
The theme of this year’s event was “Shifting Attitudes, Challenging Assumptions: Re-defining Change”.
“This accurately encapsulates our existence,” said Merith, who has been a law enforcement officer for 25 years. “Seven insightful and brave founding members challenged assumptions and did what was right in forming a collective body to address racial discrimination and unfair work practices. The work of shifting attitudes is evident in the respect and inclusion that this association has received from many of the organizations that make up our criminal justice system and the community at large…Re-defining change speaks to the collection or organizational wisdom vetted through time that guides our perspective on change.”
ABLE, which has standing on the Ontario Association Chiefs of Police Diversity Committee, is the organizer of the largest Black-focused career fair in Canada and has hosted the National Black Police Association’s annual conventions in 2000 and 2005. The organization also purchased a building under Roy Smiley’s presidency.
“I implore our membership to care about the cause of justice, equality and opportunity,” said Smiley who is a probation officer with the Ministry of Children & Youth Services. “I also challenge this organization’s current leaders to pick up from where their predecessors left off, establish their own footprints and move ABLE forward to greater heights.”
An integral part of ABLE’s gala is the presentation of scholarships to high schools students pursuing law enforcement and law careers. This year’s recipients were Chelsea Osei, Edward Agyeman, Jemmy Erhiaganoma, Jesse Hector, Kimberly Cross and Shanika Gordon.
A final-year student at St. Robert Catholic High School, Osei – who was deemed academically gifted since Grade Five – will pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree at Queen’s University. The aspiring criminal lawyer will spend her first year studying in East Essex, England.
Agyeman intends to become a police officer; Erhiaganoma will pursue political science studies at the University of Ottawa in September; Hector aspires to be a criminal lawyer; Gordon – who attends Our Lord Secondary School – will study criminology at York University and Cross hopes to attend the University of Ontario Institute of Technology to pursue criminology and justice studies.
The scholarships are each worth $2,000.
“This scholarship means everything to me,” said Hector who lives in Rexdale. “I am the first in my family to complete high school and go on to university. Growing up in Rexdale has not been easy because there are many negative influences. With the support of my family and church, I have been able to stay on the right path and choose my peers carefully.”
Osei thanked ABLE for the awards on behalf of the other winners.
“The true value of these awards is far greater than the monetary compensation,” she said. “As recipients, we have been presented the opportunity of a lifetime. Not only has ABLE opened the door to incredible networking connections, but it has also provided role models for us.”
The scholarships are presented in the names of Rose Fortune and Peter Butler III, Canada’s first Black law enforcement officers. Fortune was a self-appointed policewoman in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia in the late 1700s while Butler served for 23 years with the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) before retiring in 1936.
ABLE has awarded 111 scholarships worth close to $140,000 since the scholarship program was launched 18 years ago. There were, however, only 15 applicants for this year’s awards.
The organization paid tribute to York Regional Police Service’s honorary chief, Herb Carnegie, who passed away in March.
“We are united in grieving the loss of a man whose passion, conviction and dedication was truly inspiring,” said Merith.
Carnegie’s granddaughter and former OPP officer, Brooke Chambers; OPP Commissioner Chris Lewis; York Regional Police Chief Eric Jolliffe and Deputy Chief Bruce Herridge; Toronto Police Deputy Chief Peter Sloly; Staff/Supt. Randy Patrick of Peel Regional Police; retired OPP Commander Noreen Alleyne; Ontario’s Minister of Consumer Services Margarett Best; Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services assistant deputy minister Steve Small and Toronto Police Service Board chair, Dr. Alok Mukherjee, also attended the anniversary celebration.
Hope, Mitchell, York Regional Police Inspector Chris Bullen, retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer Lynell Nolan, probation officer Tony Weekes, retired Toronto policewoman Doreen Guy and D.J. Marks, who works with a law enforcement supply company in Western Canada, founded ABLE in 1992.
By RON FANFAIR