TTC lawyer is Shelburne's first minority councillor
October 19, 2017
Tested to be reading at a Grade 12 level while in Grade Six at Topcliff Public School, Steve Anderson was obviously shocked when he was placed in an English as a Second Language (ESL) program the next year at Oakdale Park Middle School.
Quickly realising that the student was in the wrong place, a White teacher provided Anderson with books used in advanced courses and advised him to seek out the guidance counsellor.
“He told me I didn’t belong in that program and I should say he sent me,” recalled Anderson. “While rifling through my files, the guidance counsellor remarked that I was going to be a ‘C’ student at best and demanded I bring my parents to sign off on me being removed from the ESL program. I did that and it happened.”
Thinking about a career while in Grade 11 at C.W Jefferys Collegiate Institute, another White teacher told him she thought he would become a good lawyer.
“That teacher planted an idea, I believed in it and I pursued it,” said Anderson who is believed to be the first and only Black lawyer at the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC).
Last Monday, he made history again after being sworn in as Shelburne’s first minority councillor.
Located about 62 kilometres north of Brampton, Shelburne – best known for the annual Canadian Fiddle championship in August which has been rebranded as the Shelburne Heritage Music Festival -- is the second fastest growing Canadian town behind Blackfalds near Red Deer in Alberta.
The population grew by 39 per cent in five years up until 2016 compared with a 48.1 per cent growth in Blackfalds.
Anderson replaces long-serving council member Tom Egan who died last July.
At a special council meeting on October 2, he beat out five other contenders for the position winning by a convincing 5-1 margin. The Mayor and five councillors voted to fill the vacant council seat.
Media and community members also attended the special meeting where the candidates were allotted a few minutes to respond to two questions posed by the Mayor and councillors.
The only person of colour at the meeting, Anderson has a year to gain the confidence of constituents before the October 22, 2018 municipal elections.
He hit the ground running days before being sworn in.
Introducing himself as the new councillor to a Chinese restaurant owner, he inquired what concerns she had that he could take back to council.
“The woman, paused, looked at me directly and said it was the first time in her 21 years in business there that any city councillor had come to her restaurant,” said Anderson.
Founded in 1879 by William Jelly, the son of an Irish immigrant, the population of Shelburne -- which became a town 40 years ago -- has increased from 3,800 in 2003 to approximately 8,500.
Blacks and South Asians are among the largest group of newcomers to the town which is grappling with finding ways to bridge the gap with the changing demographics.
“You have the old Eurocentric town on one hand and the new Shelburne with people that don’t look like them,” said Anderson. “Some people are averse to change and we have to find ways to let them know it is good. It starts with the city using let’s say its newsletter to put something in about the celebration of Diwali or Asian Heritage Month.”
The youngest of six siblings and the only one born in Canada to Jamaican immigrants, Anderson spent over a decade in the Jane & Finch community.
He graduated with a criminology degree from the University of Windsor and a law degree from the University of Ottawa and was called to the Bar in 2004.
Though inspired by older brother Clive Anderson who is the senior vice-president and chief counsel at Manulife in Singapore, he credits his mother – Carmen Anderson – as his most influential life shaper.
“Her work ethic is the thing that stands out for me,” he said. “She worked at a paper mill for over 20 years and she never took a sick day or time off for vacation. She just stood there on her legs for eight hours every day, never complaining, and toiled away to support her children. When I travel to Asia, Europe or the Caribbean, I take her with me.”
Anderson also launched an award in her name.
He’s part of a group that started a recognition ceremony three years ago to reward young people in the Jane & Finch community for excellence in academics, sports and community service.
Last year, the inaugural Carmen Anderson Perseverance Award was presented.
“Mom had the opportunity to come on stage, hand out the award and give the young people a little inspirational talk,” said Anderson who is a former vice-president and disciplinary committee chair of the Council of the College of Kinesiologists of Ontario. “I am so proud of her.”
Giving back to the Jane & Finch community where he was raised is a priority for Anderson.
“I tell the young people there when I go back to give motivational talks that they should not allow themselves to be defined by their circumstances or where they are at in their lives,” he said. “They may be discouraged by how they are perceived by others, because they come from single parent homes, because they live on the wrong side of town or because their families’ income level is not the highest. I let them know they should strive to be better than their circumstance, believe in themselves and surround themselves with people who can uplift them. I also let them know they shouldn’t use racism as an excuse for not being able to succeed. There are White people who believed in me and helped me on the way up.”
Anderson is the father of two children who are in university.
Devante Browne is completing a kinesiology degree and intends to pursue a Master’s in public health while younger sister Asia Browne is a fourth-year criminology student.