Never in his wildest dreams did Toronto Police Service’s (TPS) first Black cop Larry McLarty expect that he would live to see the day when the organization would have not just one, but two African-Canadian Deputy Chiefs.
“No way,” the ex-Jamaican Constabulary Force officer said when he met Peter Sloly for the first time last week since he was promoted four months ago to the organization’s second highest rank, joining Keith Forde who made history in 2005.
When McLarty retired in the summer of 1992 after 32 years of service, Sloly was in his fourth year in policing, serving in the youth bureau, foot patrol and major crimes unit at 54 Division.
His rise has been meteoric and he contributes the ascendancy to McLarty and other trailblazers.
“When I think of all the hurdles I have faced in 21 years to get to where I am in this organization, nothing compares to a person who put on the uniform for the first time, walked into this institution and had to face up to all that was wrong with policing and make it better,” said Sloly who represented Canada at the Under-20 World Cup soccer finals in the Soviet Union in 1985. “There is no way that Keith and I would be standing here today without the sacrifices made by Larry and his generation.”
Sloly and McLarty joined fellow police officers and board members at the organization’s 16th annual Black History Month celebration at police headquarters last Thursday night.
The theme of this year’s celebration is “The Recollection of how, when and where it all happened.”
“Remembering is an extremely important part of a people’s history,” said TPS board chair Dr. Alok Mukherjee. “It is by remembering that we give understanding, celebrate our collective achievements and learn from our experiences as a people. It’s the foundation on which we build our present and our future.
“As we remember where, when and how it all happened, we celebrate what has been achieved and we dedicate ourselves to that which remains to be accomplished.”
As part of this year’s celebration, the TPS recognized Dr. Thomas Massiah, Arthur Downes and Dr. Sheldon Taylor who were the first community members to develop and implement liaison committees between the Black community and the TPS.
“These extraordinary individuals are a testament to the power of partnership between the police and the public,” Mukherjee said. “We honour them and we are inspired to continue our efforts of collaboration as we look forward to a future of shared goals. I am confident that as we together engage in the recollection of how, when and where it all happened, we will all gain valuable knowledge and insight which will enhance the quality of our relationships and interaction.”
Dr. Taylor, a historian and curator whose most recent project, Northern Lights: African-Canadian Stories, will be featured at the Ontario Science Centre this month, admitted it was not easy for the community to forge an alliance with the police.
“We had to learn, we had to chat, we had to face each other and we had to be honest with each other,” he said. “The honesty, quite often, was very, very difficult. Fortunately, at that time there were also individuals at the top that, even though we perceived them to be wrong-headed, they at least offered enough in the way of willingness to dialogue. That is what has really helped the communities represented by people of African origin in relationships to the TPS because no matter how difficult the times and experiences have been, the fact of the matter is that we found ways to accommodate each other’s thinking.”
Artist Robert Small presented this year’s Black History Month Legacy posters, featuring Nova Scotia’s Lieutenant Governor Mayann Francis, Toronto Star columnist Royson James, Rev. Elias Mutale and vocalist Jackie Richardson to the TPS and its board.
Grenadian-born Sergeant Terry James, the longest serving Black female officer who joined the organization in 1980, conceived the idea for the TPS Black History Month celebration in 1994.