Shortly after becoming the city’s 22nd police chief nearly seven years ago, Bill Blair encouraged Keith Forde to apply for the position of deputy chief.
It was apparent to Blair that the service he was about to oversee did not reflect Toronto’s growing diversity and his plan was for Forde – as head of the human resources executive command – to direct the organization’s transformation.
In becoming the service’s first Black deputy chief, Forde did not disappoint. The proportion of visible minorities has increased by 86 per cent and Aboriginals by 38 per cent since 2005.
Last Friday, Blair was recognized for the sweeping changes under his watch with a Leadership Diversity Award at the Diversity Business Network (DBN) luncheon.
“We are honouring an individual who is a champion of diversity,” said DBN founder, Courtney Betty. “Sometimes it’s really easy when you are part of an organization that has as its core foundation diversity. You can join in and make your way up the ranks and you can be supportive. But it’s a lot harder when you are looking to transform an organization that in many ways has had diversity challenges and it’s really for that reason that the DBN is pleased to recognize Chief Blair.
“His accomplishments in making diversity a core cornerstone is a beacon for other Canadian organizations in both the public and private sectors. He has created a high benchmark when you look at the statistics and achievements over the years. He has taken a proactive approach, and one of the key elements is his willingness to reach out into the community to develop partnerships with neighbourhood organizations…
“More organizations need to follow his approach. We need leaders and we don’t need them to follow paths when it’s easy. We need leaders that are going to create a path when times are difficult.”
Blair said the service has evolved since he joined 35 years ago. At that time, it comprised members who looked like him – tall and White – and they shared an almost single global perspective.
He said he was delighted when Forde assumed leadership of the hiring and promotion process.
“Keith understood the community, he understood the city of Toronto and he understood the police service,” Blair said in his acceptance speech. “I asked him to put together a team and to look at how we could make the Toronto Police Service a diverse organization not because it was morally the right thing to do, but because I believed it was the smart thing to do. It was good business practice and it was going to make us more competent, smarter and better able to serve the communities we are mandated to serve and protect.
“We actively recruited in our communities and the emphasis was placed on language skills, cultural competencies and diversity of perspectives. We also said it was not just sufficient to hire a diverse workforce, but you have to ensure they have opportunities to develop experience and skills to assume leadership positions in the organization.
“If we did not give those new recruits an opportunity to have exposure in those specialized areas that would make them promotable and give them the chance to move up into leadership positions, they would just languish in the lowest parts of our organization.
“We went about transforming those squads where you could get experience and the status that comes with that experience.”
Under Blair’s watch, Peter Sloly joined Forde – who retired two years ago – as the second Black deputy chief, Sonia Thomas became Canada’s first Black female inspector and Mark Saunders was the first African-Canadian to head the Homicide Unit – which until a few years ago – was completely White. Saunders, along with Tony Riviere and Dave McLeod, are divisional unit commanders.
“I believe that we have a role, not only in enforcing the law by issuing tickets, arresting bad guys and seizing guns and drugs, but we have an equal responsibility for social justice, not only as a police service but as a society,” he said. “And I believe that a police service that is diverse, culturally competent and one that is able to serve such a diversity can make a real contribution in making Toronto a more socially just place for everybody.”
Blair dedicated the award to service members who have embraced and driven the diversity agenda and the Black pioneers who, in the face of challenges, paved the way for those who are benefitting from the fruits of their sacrifice.
Larry McLarty and Gloria Bartley, immigrants from Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago respectively, were the first Blacks to join the organization in 1960.
Stephen Frost, the head of diversity and inclusion for the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympic Games, made the presentation to Blair.
“I am in awe of what you have achieved,” he told Blair. “I have worked a lot with the police in the United Kingdom and what is particularly gratifying and humbling is for somebody in that position to get it and understand it. I think that understanding and leadership are the pivotal things that really make a difference.”
By RON FANFAIR