Much has changed – for the better – since Ezra “Tony” Browne joined York Regional Police Service (YRPS) 32 years ago.
Turned down by Toronto Police Service on several occasions and the Ontario Provincial Police once, Browne’s first application to York was successful. Once on the job, he was subjected to racial abuse and taunts by senior and junior officers in the early days.
“It was in your face and there was not much you could do about it,” said Browne. “Though I never thought about walking off the job, there were times where I got angry to the point that I felt like punching someone. On one particular occasion, a White officer told another member in front of me that I am his n _ _ _ _ r. That was hurtful. I however pulled myself together, remained strong and just hung in there.”
Browne has served under seven Chiefs, including now-retired Armand LaBarge, who embraced the principles of equity and diversity and was a major catalyst for change, ensuring that the Service reflected the diverse community it serves.
With LaBarge at the helm, Trinidad & Tobago-born Robertson Rouse was appointed Superintendent in the summer of 2008, making him the organization’s highest ranking Black officer. Association of Black Law Enforcement (ABLE) 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.
Browne, a Staff Sergeant in charge of the Property Evidence Records & Retention Bureau, is the Service’s first Black officer to be eligible for retirement. Hired in 1980, he was just the organization’s third African-Canadian uniformed member.
Constable Leroy Chance was the first Black officer hired in the early 1970s followed by the late Detective Calvin Ceballo. Chance spent a few years on the job before quitting while Ceballo left in 1982 and returned to his native Trinidad & Tobago where he died two years later. Ceballo’s daughter – Deborah Gladding – is a Detective Constable in Richmond Hill.
“It was very lonely when I got there and it did not help that Calvin left a few months after I joined,” recalled the longstanding ABLE member. “He was very supportive and someone I could lean on.”
The veteran officer, who has worked as a crime analyst and was assigned to the drug and vice squads, has left his mark on the Service.
A key member of the “Recruit with a Vision” team provided with the task of making diversity a core cornerstone of the Service, Browne also played a leading role in the establishment in 2000 of the Corporate Communication Bureau that addresses public relations, media and hate crimes issues. He managed the bureau for three years before leaving.
In addition, he coordinated the Service’s Black History Month and International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination events and used his vacation to travel with LaBarge and other officers to Jamaica on a few occasions to assist the poor and orphans in Trench Town and other Jamaican communities.
The YRPS adopted the missions after one of its officers – Davis Ahlowalia – was killed in a vehicular accident in Woodbridge in January 2007. Ahlowalia worked with the poor and disadvantaged in Jamaica and India and spearheaded a fundraising campaign for an orphanage in Jamaica with the Missionaries of the Poor, an organization founded by Father Richard Ho Long in 1981.
One of nine children born in St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Browne followed the footsteps of his father, who was a police officer in Aruba. However, he was turned on to policing a decade after arriving in Toronto in 1968.
At age 10, Browne was sent to neighbouring Trinidad & Tobago to stay with his uncle and aunt. He spent nine years in Diego Martin before returning home to find out that Canada was recruiting nationals from the island. His application was successful and he landed in Toronto on a cold November day 45 years ago.
“I stayed in a hotel on Bay St. for two weeks before being able to rent a room on Vaughan Rd.,” said Browne, who as vice-chair of the Council of Police Against Racism collaborated with the Ontario Police College (OPC) to organize the first diversity education and training in anti-discrimination and diversity issues in policing workshop at the OPC. “I was on my own since I did not have any family or friends, but I took the chance to come here because I recognized there was an opportunity for me to uplift myself.”
Browne worked full-time in a furniture factory for almost six years and part-time on weekends in a nursing home as a practical care assistant after securing his practical nursing assistant certification. Unable to accept entry to law school at the University of the Toronto because he did not have the funds, Browne spent a few years with the City of Toronto Parks & Recreation maintaining ice rinks and outdoor parks before joining the then City of York Board of Education as a security caretaker.
“It was while I was there that my interest in policing developed because I would often talk to the officers at Toronto Police 12 Division which was stationed behind my workplace,” said Browne.
The holder of a Bachelor’s degree in justice studies from the University of Guelph and a police foundations diploma certificate from Humber, Browne has been conferred with several awards for distinguished service and bravery.
In 2000, he jumped into Lake Ontario to rescue several people who encountered difficulties while boating. The father of five was presented with the Ontario Medal for Police Bravery for his daring and heroic efforts. He’s also the recipient of the St. John Life Saving Award, the Human Rights & Race Relations Gold Medal for Outstanding Contribution to the Promotion of Race Relations, the Chief of Police Award for Dedication to the Chief’s Staff and the YRPS 30-year Service Medal.
Despite the obstacles and challenges at the front end of his career, Browne – who has a passion for photography and cricket – said he has enjoyed his time with the Service.
“I recognize I am coming to the end of my police career, but I am in good health and I still relish going to work every day,” he said. “I also still enjoy being deeply rooted in the community, helping develop and build partnerships and mentoring young officers. Those things keep me going.”
Always willing to quench his thirst for knowledge, Browne is pursuing a Master’s in Criminology at the University of Guelph.
By RON FANFAIR