Recently retired Toronto Police Service Deputy Chief Keith Forde contemplated quitting the organization shortly after the Toronto Star’s highly publicized series on racial profiling eight years ago.
While many in the Black community and Black police officers welcomed the statistics and the scientific validation which they felt supported their experiences, Forde said he was disturbed that others outside the community in leadership roles, including then police chief Julian Fantino, refused to fully accept that some officers engaged in racial profiling.
“That period represented one of the most difficult and challenging times in my career,” Forde told nearly 900 well-wishers at his retirement dinner last week. “It wasn’t just the lack of leadership internally on the issue that was painful for myself and many other Blacks in the service. It was the denial and the invalidation of the community’s collective experience that hurt me.
“The entire experience made me feel for the first time that I was an outsider. I had a difficult time envisaging where the organization was heading…When four of the senior officers (Forde, Deputy Chief Peter Sloly, Staff Inspector Dave McLeod and the now-retired Staff Inspector Karl Davis) came forward and said racial profiling does exist, we were discounted as if we had no voice. I seriously thought of walking off the job at that point.”
When William Blair was appointed Chief five years ago, he readily admitted that racial profiling existed and vowed to work hard to change the culture. With the support of the TPS board, he also appointed Forde the first Black Deputy Chief later that year and put him in charge of the Human Resources Command.
Nearly 18 per cent of the organization’s almost 8,000 uniformed and civilian members are now visible minorities and the TPS was last March recognized as one of Canada’s 45 Best Diversity Employers for the third straight year with Forde at the helm.
“Keith’s contribution to the organization goes beyond the 38 years he has been with us,” said Blair. “By virtue of his dedication, he has changed and transformed this city, community and his profession. He has made an extraordinary difference…His legacy will live on for generations of police officers and people living in this city. He’s a guy who has made a big difference.”
TPS Board chair Dr. Alok Mukherjee said Forde has been an outspoken advocate for equity and a passionate champion of the need for measures to deal effectively with expressions of racism and other forms of discrimination within the service and the community.
“He has been as well a strong believer in our responsibility as employer of the health, safety and wellness of those who work with us,” Mukherjee said. “It is as a result of his unwavering commitment and tireless efforts that our service today looks more like the community than it ever did before and values the many cultural and language skills our employees possess.”
Lieutenant Governor David Onley hailed Forde as an outstanding police leader and tireless community volunteer while outgoing Mayor David Miller said the retired Deputy Chief is a “true friend of the people of Toronto and a true leader in policing”.
“Toronto’s success is due in large part to individuals like you whose stewardship, dedication to public serve and commendable leadership have helped shape our great city,” Miller told Forde. “It takes a special person to be an officer of the law, that is one who places service before self. As Deputy Chief, your leadership has been instrumental in ensuring that the Toronto Police Service has the cultural competencies and diverse background to fully serve this special city of 2.7 million people from every country and every culture and ethnicity in the world.”
Minister of Health Promotions and Sport, Margarett Best, who represented Premier Dalton McGuinty, and Deputy Minister Jay Hope also paid tribute to Forde.
“You have taught us to never shirk from power, but to embrace it just as others do,” said Hope who is on long-term secondment from the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) where he’s a Deputy Chief. “You have also taught us to bring what’s special to the game.”
Forde has been a role model and mentor for many of the Black TPS officers, including Deputy Chief Peter Sloly who is in charge of the Executive Command.
“You shared your vision with me, you shared your passion with me and you showed me the courage that it takes to achieve better policing,” said Sloly. “You climbed high in life and you lifted many like me behind you and with you.”
Community engagement was a crucial part of Forde’s life as was evident by the many community organizations represented at the retirement gala, including the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA).
The JCA’s first president Roy Williams said that Forde served the law enforcement profession with dignity, distinction and grace.
“He has also broken through the barriers and debunked the stereotypes that may have been held,” said Williams who was the first Black TPS board member, serving from 1987-1993. “I am also especially proud of him because he remained an active advocate for diversity as he moved up the ranks. He demonstrated his activism by counselling, mentoring and advising young officers and he advised them to no longer limit their aspirations to only becoming a sergeant because the glass ceiling has been broken forever and the TPS in infinitely better for that.”
Forde requested that the proceeds from his retirement dinner be used to purchase pianos for The Church of the Nativity where he was a member of their fundraising committee and worshipped until 2003 and Malvern Methodist Church which he has attended for the past seven years.
He’s donating the Malvern Methodist piano in memory of his wife, Jocelyn, who succumbed to cancer seven years ago.
Attendees observed a minute silence for Jocelyn and Percy Cummins – the only Black TPS officer killed in the line of duty and close friend of Forde – who was fatally shot in Toronto’s west end 29 years to the day of Forde’s farewell ceremony last Thursday.
Forde, whose three children are TPS members, was joined at the celebratory event by his 10 siblings, some of whom reside in England, Barbados, the United States and Montreal. It was the first time the 11 children have been together since their 93-year-old mother passed away three years ago.