ABLE celebrates 25th anniversary with Thurgood Marshall's son
November 9, 2017
It’s better to stand up and be counted for what you believe in than just sit down and cry foul.
Rising on his feet and speaking out loudly when denied a promotion in 2013 is exactly what Staff Sergeant Baljiwan Sandhu did after his application to join Peel Regional Police senior ranks was rejected.
Last April, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario ruled that the police service discriminated against Sandhu on the basis of his race.
A member of his Service for the last 28 years, Sandhu has been recognized with several awards and commendations.
Of the 33 applicants seeking to join the senior ranks, he was one of two who were denied the opportunity to compete for promotion. The other applicant had minimal experience unlike Sandhu who was one of three recipients of President’s Awards presented at the Association of Black Law Enforcers (ABLE) 25th annual gala last week in York region.
“It is important that we recognize those who are prepared to take risks and demonstrate courage in order to fight for fair and equitable processes that allow Black and minority officers to be promoted into the senior ranks of policing and other justice agencies,” said ABLE founding president David Mitchell who is the Youth Justice Services Division assistant deputy minister.
Sandhu was honoured to be recognized for his courage.
“The support and encouragement I have received from ABLE has been enormous and reassuring every step of the way,” he pointed out.
Each year, a law enforcement officer and civilian are honoured with President’s Awards for demonstrating courage.
This year’s civilian recipient was Charline Grant who had approached the York Region District School Board with allegations that her son faced discrimination at his Woodbridge-area school because of his race. Other parents also came forward with similar complaints.
Last November, board member Nancy Elgie was overheard using the N-word when referring to Grant at a school board meeting. Elgie resigned from the board last February.
Five months ago, the board apologized to the married mother of three children as part of a mediated settlement that was reached after she launched a human rights tribunal application against the board.
Grant, who migrated from Jamaica in 1989 and completed high school at W.A Porter Collegiate Institute before pursuing law clerk studies at Centennial College, said she received overwhelming support during the challenging period.
“It came from the Black, Chinese, Muslim, Tamil and other communities,” she said. “What I learnt the most during this period is that the Black community can’t fight and win battles on their own. They need the support of other communities.”
York Regional Police and the Ministry of Children & Youth Services community service central region were recognized for their collaborative approach to combat the human trafficking of children.
Former United States Marshals Service director and Virginia Secretary of Public Safety John Marshall was the keynote speaker.
A Virginia State police officer for 14 years prior to serving as United States Marshal for the Eastern District of Virginia, Marshall – the son of late American judge and civil rights activist Thurgood Marshall -- said it takes a very special person to be a law enforcement officer.
“It takes commitment to give back to your community, it takes dedication, passion and compassion, it takes integrity and it takes courage, a very special kind of courage to run in the direction that others are running from,” he said on his first visit to Canada. “We saw that tragically a few weeks ago in Las Vegas. It takes a very special kind of courage to walk up to that vehicle you stop late at night not knowing who is in it and not knowing if the people in that vehicle intend to do you harm.
“…But you take a deep breath, you walk up to that vehicle, you remember your training and you do your job. While so much has changed in law enforcement over the years, what hasn’t changed and what will never change is the danger that you face.”
Marshall lost 12 close friends in the line of duty, including two whose names are engraved on a wristband he wears.
As Secretary of Public Safety, he attended 34 law enforcement funerals.
“It is dangerous work that you do,” he reiterated. “We should never take for granted what you do. We should never take for granted men and women like you that are courageous enough to put your lives on the line every day to keep us all safe.”
The younger of two sons of Thurgood Marshall who was the victorious attorney in the 1954 landmark decision – Brown vs Board of Education – that prohibited racial segregation in public schools and the first African-American justice of the Supreme Court, Marshall shared his father’s reaction when he told him he was pursuing policing.
“When I went in to tell him, I made sure he was sitting and then I reminded him that he had told my brother and I that it didn’t matter to him what profession we chose, as long as it was something we truly wanted to do and we would completely dedicate ourselves to it and give it our very best,” he said. “My brother took the easy route and went to law school, but I had to kind of push the envelope and challenge the system. When I told him I was going to be a trooper, to say he was surprised is the understatement of the century. He, however, slowly came to understand why I wanted to do what I wanted to do and he learnt about law enforcement. Every weekend when I came home from basic school, he would ask me what we had done during that week. He was quite inspired with everything that I had been taught.
“After graduation, we had a special moment together and he shared his pride with me and gave me a pocket constitution. He told me to occasionally read it, never disobey it and that I would be fine. I still have that pocket constitution.”
Last month, ‘Marshall’ -- a biographical legal drama film starring Chadwick Boseman as Thurgood Marshall -- was released. One of the first cases that Marshall argued in 1941, the film tells the story of an African-American chauffeur accused of rape and attempted murder of the woman who employed him.
“The movie captures the kind of courage necessary for a civil rights attorney back in 1940,” he said. “My dad argued that case under some very challenging circumstances with a Jewish attorney.”
Thurgood Marshall won 29 of the 32 cases he argued as a Supreme Court judge.
ABLE launched a student funding program 23 years ago that has awarded 114 scholarships worth nearly $170,000.
The scholarships are presented in the names of Rose Fortune and Peter Butler III, Canada’s first Black law enforcement officers. Fortune was a self-appointed policewoman in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia in the late 1700s, while Butler served for 23 years with the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) before retiring in 1936.
The recipients were Rebecca Louis, Dominique Brewster, Cathy Nabukalu and Samantha Grant.
Raised by a single father, Louis is a third-year law student at McGill University and an aspiring criminal defence attorney, Brewster – the daughter of long-time ABLE member Mark Brewster, is enrolled in the University of Guelph’s psychology & criminal justice program and 17-year-old Nabukalu is a first-year psychology & criminology student at the University of Windsor.
A graduate of Garvey Maceo High School in Clarendon, Jamaica, Grant migrated three years ago.
After graduating from high school, she sought employment to support her mother – a single parent – and her younger sister.
“I put my career and future on the backburner to take care of them,” said Grant who is enrolled in Humber College’s community & justice studies diploma program. “Now, I am in a position where I can pursue my goals. It feels wonderful. I firmly feel like it is my time now. It’s such a lovely feeling, especially knowing I have a support network that includes ABLE.”
Grant, 31, aspires to be a police officer.
Three Greater Toronto Area police chiefs -- Paul Martin (Durham), Stephen Tanner (Halton) and Eric Jolliffe (York) – along with Toronto Police acting chief James Ramer, National Black Police Association (NBPA) president Reggie Miller and NBPA immediate past executive director Ronald Hampton attended the annual celebration.
David Mitchell, retired Ontario deputy minister and senior provincial police officer Jay Hope, York Regional Police inspector Chris Bullen, retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer Lynell Nolan who resides in Nevis, probation officer Tony Weekes who recently retired, D.J. Marks who is the National Use of Force & Tactical Training Coordinator at the M.D. Charlton Law Enforcement Training Academy in Langley, British Columbia and retired Toronto Police Service officer Doreen Guy who now lives in Grenada established ABLE in 1992 at a meeting at L’Amoreaux Community Centre in Scarborough.
ABLE was founded to, among other things, encourage racial harmony and cultural pride in the law enforcement community and the wider society, promote and protect the interests of Blacks and other racial minorities in the profession and work closely with law enforcement agencies to stimulate and facilitate employment equity programs.
The organization also advocates against racial profiling and has moved police leaders to understand that such issues are not resolved by abject denial, the commissioning of studies or simply ignoring valid recommendations that have already being undertaken.
In addition, ABLE has standing on the Ontario Association Chiefs of Police Diversity Committee, organizes the largest Black-focused career fair in Canada and has hosted the National Black Police Association’s annual conventions in 2000 and 2005. The organization also purchased a building under Roy Smiley’s presidency.
The current ABLE executive comprises Kenton Chance (president), Andy Shah (vice-president), Thamara Mendez (secretary), Paulette Joseph (treasurer), Maureen Ennis (assistant secretary/treasurer), Josef Osroff (law enforcement officer), Charlene Tardiel (community services officer), Kim Chance (social director), Jahmal Cameron (membership services officer) and Terrence Murray (communications officer).
Halton Regional Police will host the next awards gala in May 2019.