Five decades after Gloria Bartley became the first African-Canadian woman to join the Toronto Police Service, Sonia Thomas has made history as Canada’s first Black female Inspector.
Last Saturday night, Deputy Chiefs Peter Sloly and Mike Federico and homicide squad head Staff Inspector Mark Saunders joined members of the service’s Black Internal Support Network (BISN) and supporters in celebrating Thomas’ historic achievement.
She was promoted last February.
“We are celebrating an amazing accomplishment,” said Sloly who made a presentation to Thomas on behalf of the BISN. “Nothing in the history of Blacks in policing in this city compares with what she has achieved. We all know the struggles that many of us have gone through to open doors. For a Black man and a woman, it is tough. But for a Black woman in policing to arrive in the senior officer ranks is absolutely amazing. It’s unprecedented and unreal.
“In as much as this is about Sonia and her accomplishments, it is also about the need for us to know, understand, to remember and to be inspired…It’s times like these when we see the brilliance of our members and when we recognize that this is an organization that draws talent like it drew Sonia…I have always been impressed by Sonia and her promotion is due to her work, excellence, resilience and courage. It’s due to nothing other than that.”
Thomas joined the service in 1986 after responding to a subway advertisement for police officers.
The Oakwood Collegiate Institute graduate started her law enforcement career at 13 Division in the Primary Response Unit before moving to headquarters to work in the recruitment office. She also was assigned to 54 Division before being promoted to sergeant in 2001 and staff sergeant six years later.
When now retired deputy chief Keith Forde was appointed the training college’s unit commander in January 2003, he recruited Thomas – born in Toronto to Jamaican parents – to work for him.
Thomas said Forde encouraged her to apply for the senior rank position.
“I loved my role at 43 Division as Staff Sergeant and I came up with many reasons not to apply until my mentor (Forde) called me,” she said. “He told me I had to realize that this is not about me but instead it was much bigger than me and it’s about all the people that are following behind in my footsteps. To be honest with you, I had never thought about it in that way before.”
She said she made the decision to apply on Easter Sunday 2010 after consulting with two close friends whose judgment she respects.
“I woke up that day with a renewed sense of hope,” she said. “Six months after that when I was at the storage unit being fitted for a new uniform and I was handed my hat with the gold trim, I can’t even begin to tell you how I felt at that moment.
“When I joined the organization 25 years ago, I never thought for a moment that I would be a senior officer in this organization. I didn’t see anybody that looked like me in a senior officer uniform.”
Retired detective Terry James, who was the first Black female member of the service to be given an investigative role, Ontario Provincial Police Inspector Rohan Thompson and Association of Black Law Enforcers executive members David Mitchell and Kenton Chance attended the celebration.