LaBarge pays tribute to community activists as ABLE presents this year’s scholarships


Edson Jackson is well on his way to fulfilling his dream of becoming a law enforcement member. He’s an auxiliary officer with Peel Regional Police and a first-year Centennial College Police Foundations diploma program student.

In his auxiliary role, 23-year-old Jackson assists with patrol escorts, RIDE programs, special events and administrative duties in the service’s five divisions.

“Becoming a policeman is something I have always aspired to,” said Jackson, one of five recipients of the Association of Black Law Enforcers (ABLE) scholarships awarded at the 19th annual banquet last Saturday night. “I like helping people and I can think of no other job that would allow me to serve people while earning a decent pay cheque.”

Jackson’s preferred choice of employer would naturally be Peel because he has been with them for a few years, but he has not ruled out working with Toronto – Canada’s largest municipal police service – if things don’t work out with Peel.

The other scholarship recipients were volunteer probation and parole officer Josef Osroff, Canadian Armed Forces 22 Military Police Platoon member Jahmar Speid who is also a volunteer probation officer, 17-year-old Pickering High School student Emily Dixon who aspires to study Criminology and Sithandazile Kuzviwanza who migrated with her family from Zimbabwe nine years ago.

A provincial award-wining debater and mock United Nations leader, Kuzviwanza’s aim is to become a criminal lawyer and an advocate for justice.

“Blacks in Canada, especially youths, are subjected to racial discrimination and I feel that there is a need for people like police officers and others like me to ensure we make the law work for those who may not have a voice,” said Kuzviwanza who attends St. Robert Catholic High School in Thornhill.

“This scholarship is inspiration for me and the other winners to flourish and grow so that one day we will be able to contribute to ABLE and in the society we live in.”

The ABLE has awarded 99 scholarships worth nearly $134,000 since the program was launched 17 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 (OPP) before retiring in 1936.

The umbrella Black law enforcement organization was founded 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 stimulate and facilitate employment equity programs.

The organization also advocates against racial profiling by police.

“ABLE knew 19 years ago that left unchecked or unaddressed, racial profiling causes dissension among our ranks that erodes the confidence of the public trust that we have worked so hard to earn,” said former York Regional Police Service chief Armand LaBarge in his keynote address. “ABLE has moved police leaders to the realization that such issues are not resolved by abject denial, commissioning yet again another study to determine whether it exists or not or by ignoring valid recommendations to the studies that have already being undertaken.

“Your organization has helped us to understand that success comes in the form of police chiefs and association presidents making a commitment to root out those within our ranks that engage in any form or racial profiling or bias-based policing. You have helped to make us understand that success comes in the form of better recruitment, training and education practices and that success also comes in the form of our police services becoming more representative of the communities that they serve.”

Under LaBarge’s watch as police chief, Trinidad & Tobago-born Robertson Rouse was appointed Superintendent in the summer of 2008, making him the organization’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 Toronto Police Service (TPS) has also been quite active in promoting minorities to senior positions.

With chief William Blair at the helm, Keith Forde – who is now retired – and Peter Sloly were elevated to deputy chiefs while Sonia Thomas became Canada’s first female Black Inspector last February.

The TPS has led the way in hiring African-Canadians with Jamaican-born Larry McLarty and Gloria Bartley being the first Blacks to join the organization in 1960.

A longtime ABLE supporter, LaBarge also paid tribute to Black Action Defence Committee (BADC) co-founders Dudley Laws and Sherona Hall (both now deceased), Lennox Farrell and Charles Roach for being fearless agents of positive change.

“I think it’s important for the young people and the new officers that are here tonight to hear about the activists that are within our communities,” he said. “Laws, Hall, Farrell, Roach and other like-minded community activists were denunciating members of our profession for singling out young Black men for street sweeps and traffic stops for no other reason than the fact they were young Black men. Police leaders sadly responded with obfuscation, abject denial, resentment and anger at times.

“That did not deter BADC and their leaders because Hall, Laws, Farrell and Roach were the kind of people that Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago and the rest of the Caribbean seem to produce in abundance; fiercely independent, tough and tender, not to be trifled with and always ready to take up the fight on behalf of those who cannot do it for themselves. This group of community activists believed in embracing pain and burning it as fuel for their journey.”

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