To serve and protect is the pledge that all law enforcement officers make when they join the job.
Outgoing Chief Armand LaBarge swore to do that 37 years ago when he joined the York Regional Police Service. Being appointed a Drug Free Marshal nearly a decade ago also means a lot to LaBarge who, along with his fellow officers, get the opportunity to educate young people about the hazards of drug use.
The Drug Free Marshals program was established in the Greater Toronto Area in 1994 a year after the Church of Scientology International in Los Angeles created it.
“I don’t think there is anything more disheartening as a police officer or a human being than watching a young person’s life ruined because of drug abuse,” said LaBarge who the Church of Scientology Canada honoured with a Lifetime Achievement award last week. “We have seized millions of dollars worth of drugs every year and, as important as that is, we believe it’s more important to teach children and young people about the importance of making healthy lifestyle choices.
“If the first time young people hear messages about the dangers that drugs, guns, gangs, bullying and alcohol pose is during their teen years then, quite frankly, it’s too late. That’s why we are such strong supporters of the church’s Drug Free Marshals program…You can’t prepare the future for our youths, but you can most assuredly prepare our young people for the future and that’s why we put so much emphasis on trying to keep young people out of jail than trying to put them in jail.”
LaBarge, who was sworn in as York Region’s seventh police chief in December 2002, retires at the end of the year when his current contract expires. His wife of 30 years, Detective Sergeant Denise LaBarge who is also with the York Regional Service, is retiring with her husband in December after being with the organization for three decades.
“Thirty seven years ago when I put on this uniform, my purpose in life was simple,” said the past president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. “It was to help make this a better and safer world and a better and safer community in which to live. During that time, we have worked very hard to transform the concept of community policing in York Region from one of an officer walking the beat to one in which the community help shape and assist police in delivering effective community safety, crime prevention and law enforcement programs.
“We have also worked hard to transform ourselves from an agency that just keeps communities safe to one that actually helps build communities and helps bring diverse and safe communities together.”
Rev. Pat Felske, the Church of Scientology’s Public Affairs director, made the presentation to LaBarge.
“He has brought life to the motto, Deeds Speak,” she said. “I know of no other individual who can say hello in so many languages as he can and does in no matter what community he appears in. I know of no other individual who takes the amount of pride that he does in the accomplishments of the men and women who serve under him and so he should for they have carried his message.”
Kamil Sadiq, founder of the Canadian Federation of Intercultural Friendship, who succumbed to cancer in September 2006, was posthumously honoured with a Lifetime Achievement award while humanitarian awards were presented to Federation of Chinese Canadians of Markham president Dr. Ken Ng and his wife Emily, Association of Progressive Muslims of Canada vice-president Zul Kassamali and Church of Scientology’s Drug Free Marshals director Melanie Dickson-Smith.
Members of Parliament Derek Lee and Yasmin Ratansi attended the event and congratulated the award winners.
“You have each displayed a lifelong commitment to issues that deeply affect us all,” Ratansi told them. “Our safety, our dignity and our ability to transcend ethnic and socio-economic divides largely depend on advances in fields these individuals have dedicated themselves to.”
Previous Lifetime Achievement award winners include Urban Alliance on Race Relations founding member and president Deo Kernahan (posthumously), Bromley Armstrong, Dr. Mavis Burke, Dr. Inez Elliston, Dr. Howard McCurdy and Zanana Akande, the first Black woman elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, who attended last Friday night’s awards.
Retired Citizenship Court judge Pamela Appelt, Toronto Police Service Board chair Dr. Alok Mukherjee, educator Sarah McDonald and community workers Thelma Carey-Thompson, Richard Davidson, Asha Maharaj and Mary Alcindor are past recipients of the humanitarian award.