Judge inspires youth from his own experiences

By RON FANFAIR

Not too many people would have bet on Kofi Barnes becoming a distinguished member of Canada’s legal profession when his scholarship was withdrawn after the second year and his girlfriend, who was already a mother of three, became pregnant.

At the time, he was faced with two difficult choices. He could abandon his role as a father, as some of his friends at the time suggested, and return to his native Ghana in disgrace because he had failed to complete his university education, or he could stay here and seek a job to support his family and then return to school. He wisely chose the latter.

“At 21, I suddenly had to grow up,” Barnes, who in 2004 became one of the Ontario Court of Justice’s youngest judges at age 38, said in his keynote address at the Association of Black Law Enforcers’ (ABLE) 17th annual scholarship awards ball last Saturday night. “All the positive attributes and lessons my parents instilled in me came to the forefront.

“I did not realize it at the time, but at that moment of adversity, I was transformed from a spoiled brat into a responsible and determined adult. I had no choice. I could have either sunk in the face of adversity or step up to the plate and, for me, the choice was obvious.”

Barnes’ now 22-year-old daughter is a university graduate and just a few years ahead of the six students awarded ABLE scholarships Saturday night, the young people he hopes to inspire through his life experiences.

“I admire the young lady my daughter has become and I wonder what her life would have been like if I had listened to the ‘wonderful’ advice of some of my acquaintances,” said Barnes, who completed his undergraduate studies at Trent University and his law degree at Osgoode in 1991. “To be successful, we cannot remain stagnant and lament about our difficult circumstances. Instead, we must find a way to transform our difficult circumstances into opportunities designed to help us achieve our goals.”

In 1998, Barnes, along with Ontario Court of Justice and defense bar members, law enforcement officers and substance abuse treatment providers, designed and implemented Canada’s first Drug Treatment Court which combines therapeutic principles with legal case processing to provide judicially supervised drug addiction treatment for eligible, non-violent drug-addicted offenders.

This year’s ABLE scholarship winners were Ariane Richards, Craig Edwards, Gerald Nsamba, Joshua Adams, Lisa Orotal and Stacy Bonsu.

Richards is an active member of the Harmony Movement and a past member of the Markham African Caribbean Association. Edwards is a second-year forensic science student at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and Ugandan-born Nsamba, who did not speak English when he came to Canada from Kenya where he was a refugee, is pursuing a justice studies degree and a Diploma in Law and Security Administration at the University of Guelph-Humber.

Adams, who plans to pursue commerce and law in September, is enrolled in the International Baccalaureate Diploma program at Michael Power/St. Joseph Catholic Secondary School in Etobicoke while Orotal is a third-year student in the Bachelor of Science Justice Studies program at the University of Guelph-Humber.

Bonsu, who grew up in the Jane-Finch community, is in her final year of high school at Father Henry Carr Secondary School in Rexdale. She has been accepted at Carleton University where she will pursue law.

ABLE has awarded 88 scholarships worth nearly $112,000 since the program was launched 15 years ago. 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 before retiring in 1936.

The Black law enforcement organization was established to, among other things, 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 promote and facilitate employment equity programs.

Ontario deputy minister, Jay Hope, Mimico Correctional Centre superintendent, David Mitchell, York Regional Police inspector, Chris Bullen, retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer, Lynell Nolan, who is the director of Safety and Security at Ross University School of Veterinary Science in St. Kitts, Tony Weekes, who is a probation officer with the anti-guns and gangs unit, D.J. Marks, who works with a law enforcement supply company in western Canada and retired Toronto Police Service officer, Doreen Guy, who now lives in Grenada, founded the organization in 1992 at a meeting at L’Amoreaux Community Centre in Scarborough.

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