The face of correctional services in the province has changed considerably since Bose Sookdeosingh became a probation and parole officer in 1974.
Much of that transformation is attributed to the Trinidad & Tobago-born public servant who retired at the end of October as regional director in the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services after 37 years on the job.
Sookdeosingh joined the ministry after graduating from the Masters of Arts Criminology program at the University of Toronto in 1973. He transferred to U of T in 1968 after studying economics and politics at the University of London.
“When I joined the ministry, I noticed none of the probation volunteers looked like me,” recalled Sookdeosingh. “I went to my boss and told her I wanted to start my own program to bring in visible minorities. She told me I couldn’t do it because there was a volunteer program already in place. That did not deter me. I started my own initiative, calling it the Community Facilitator Program.”
Since becoming regional director nearly three years ago, the region’s management staff has undergone a drastic change in complexion, reflecting the province’s many diverse groups.
“During his more than three decades with the ministry, Bose has consistently advocated for, or has been directly involved in, initiatives that would enhance the diversity of our ministry,” said correctional services deputy minister, Jay Hope. “He understood the importance of our organization being reflective in order to be effective and he recognized at an early stage that silence and inaction would not bring about meaningful change.
“During the early 1990s, as part of the provincial government’s focus on employment equity, our ministry was required to conduct an employment systems review in order to identify barriers to equity hiring. Given the sensitivity of this issue and the discomfort it caused in terms of subtle, yet clear, backlash for members of the designated groups, there was little appetite among particular members of designated groups to be seen as advocates for change. On numerous occasions, Bose, without regard for potential negative career implications, consistently and clearly identified and articulated the formal and informal employment systems that created barriers for the recruitment, promotion and retention of particular staff.”
Sookdeosingh was well primed to take his place and be an advocate for change, having experienced difficulties in securing his first job in Canada. The only visible minority in his graduating class of 12, he was the last to secure employment in the field for which he was trained.
“Everybody found a job except me,” he said. “There was even a girl from Israel who was thrown out of the program because of plagiarism and she found work before me. Something was not right.”
He started in the ministry as a correctional officer at the Ontario Correctional Institute in January 1974 before becoming a probation and parole officer a month later. In 1986, he received his first managerial promotion as the manager of the Islington office. He assumed command of the Danforth probation and parole office in 1993, serving in that role for 15 years before being promoted to director at Central Region in 2008, becoming the first visible minority to hold that position.
Central Region encompasses the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) with a staff of over 400 that oversee approximately 27,000 people on probation, parole and conditional sentences.
That number represents 45 per cent of all the people who are under community supervision in the province.
Dave Mitchell said Sookdeosingh, who he replaced as regional director, can be credited with the direct hiring of many diverse staff and the mentoring of African-Canadians.
“He was also the prime force in the introduction this year of training by racialized staff of racialized inmates,” said Mitchell, a founding member of the Association of Black Law Enforcers (ABLE).
Last June, Sookdeosingh was presented with the Viola Desmond Memorial Deputy Minister’s Diversity Award which recognizes a ministry staff who consistently demonstrated exemplary commitment to diversity and equity.
“Bose has almost single-handedly been responsible for diversifying Central Region and, except for some recent and amazing gains made in Western Region Probation and Parole, he has largely been responsible for Community Services – as a division – being as diverse as it is today,” said Hope.
In addition to his groundbreaking work with the ministry, Sookdeosingh was also active in the community. He was the founding president of the Campus International Soccer club which played in the Toronto & District League for 15 years before folding in 1993.
And he was a member of the Trinidad & Tobago Association of Ontario and the Naparima Alumni Association of Canada (Toronto).