Alok is perhaps best known for his ten years as Chair of the Toronto Police Services Board. He was appointed to this board in 2004, when David Miller was the city’s Mayor. As Chair from 2005 to 2015, one of the most difficult times in the history of policing in Toronto and, indeed, the country, he dealt with a host of challenges and controversies. Lack of police accountability, decline in public trust, excessive use of force, gross violation of people’s civil and human rights during the infamous G20 Summit of 2010, the over-policing, arbitrary stopping, profiling and carding of young people who were Black, Indigenous and/or poor, mishandling of people in crisis due to mental health issues, and the need to control an exploding budget through a radical transformation in how we are policed being just some of these.
Alok’s handling of these – and more – showed his integrity, sound judgement, compassion, sense of fairness, courage, an unwavering commitment to equity, inclusion, human rights and social justice, and a keen sense of advancing the community’s interest.
Way back in 2005-2006, then Toronto Mayor David Miller and Alok as police board chair had campaigned for a comprehensive program including a ban on handguns except for law enforcement, strict interdiction of guns being illegally smuggled across the border and a sustainable investment in prevention.
The province had adopted their proposal and taken it to the federal, provincial and territorial public safety ministers’ table. However, despite strong advocacy by Alok and others, including direct conversation with minister Stockwell Day and Opposition critics like the NDP’s Joe Comartin, the proposals were shot down by the Harper government.
One wonders how many lives would have been saved if they had been implemented.
But beyond the highly publicized and controversial issues that Alok had to deal with, there are other, no less important accomplishments that are not as well known but reveal the values that guide him. One of them is the Toronto police board’s “Aboriginal Policing – Statement of Commitment and Guiding Principles” for policing Toronto’s Indigenous community. Alok worked very closely with the members of the community to develop it.
Another very significant initiative was a board policy on environmental responsibility. As someone who believes staunchly that every institution and every individual has a responsibility to care for the environment, Alok developed this policy to ensure that the police as an agency that use enormous amount of resources – buildings, cars, computers, weapons, etc. – must do the best to shrink their footprint.
As well, Alok was instrumental in the creation of Toronto police board’s sub-committee on mental health issues. The committee brought together people with personal experience of mental health challenges, service providers, activists, representatives of government and the police service to develop the best policies and practices on police handling of mental health. He was proud to co-chair it for over five years with Pat Capponi, the renowned activist and advocate who turned her own battles with mental health into powerful narratives like Upstairs in the Crazy House.
These are just a few examples of the many ways in which Alok worked to modernize Toronto’s police force. These initiatives, often the first of their kind in Canadian urban policing, show a leader who is progressive and thoughtful, and who combines vision with a constant search for practical solutions.
Under Alok’s leadership, the police board engaged actively with the community, welcomed public input and made consultation a core principle of making important decisions. It is not surprising that his influence is still being felt nationally as governments and police agencies work to transform policing.
His book with the senior journalist Tim Harper, Excessive Force: Toronto’s Fight to Reform City Policing, published in 2018 is a highly informative account of policing that takes us inside the police headquarters and reveals how major decisions about policing are made. It also brings out a leader who is passionately committed and highly sensitive to policing that is inclusive and respectful of every person’s human and Charter rights. Stephen Lewis called it “a startling book: searing, honest and powerful.” The book was a finalist for the Donner Prize for the best book on public policy published in Canada in 2018.
When Alok stepped down from the police board after a long tenure, he did not disappear. Instead, he returned to his community roots. He has not only continued to raise critical issues of safety and wellbeing through his frequent writings and comments in the media, he has also worked very closely with others in the community on matters of serious public concern. For example, he brought together a cross-section of activists and organizations to push for meaningful provincial regulations on racial profiling and carding. He was closely involved in the efforts to ensure that the Andrew Loku inquest examined the role that police officers’ attitude towards mental health and anti-Black racism may have played in his shooting by a Toronto police officer. And he helped members of the South Asian Alliance for Aids Prevention (ASAAP) in developing their strategy to persuade the Toronto police services board to order an independent review of the investigation of Bruce McArthur’s serial murders by the police.
Alok’s actions reveal someone for whom human rights, equity, inclusion and social justice are non-negotiable, who takes a very view of the issues that must be addressed, and who brings together all segments of the community in the struggle for a just, fair, equitable and inclusive society
Behind his recent work, there is a long history.
• As Race Relations Advisor to the Toronto Board of Education in the 1980s, he led the implementation of one of the first comprehensive anti-racist education programs in the country to ensure equitable outcomes for all children, to develop an understanding of racism as part of education, to remove any discriminatory practices that were barriers to the employment of people of colour and to make the school and the workplace harassment-free spaces.
• During Alok’s time in this role, the school board enlarged the scope of it’s Holocaust Studies curriculum to teach about other genocides from around the world, revitalized the First Nations School of Toronto, and voted to direct that the annual conference for high school students on Apartheid in South Africa will be held every year until this racist system was abolished.
• As the Race Relations Advisor of the largest school board in Ontario, Alok was a member of the committee that helped the province’s Ministry of Education to develop a mandatory Anti-Racism and Ethnocultural Equity Policy that all school boards were required to implement.
• He was Acting Chief Commissioner and Vice Chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission in the 1990s when the province was ordered by the Human Rights Tribunal to provide benefits to same sex couples.
• During his time, the Human Rights Commission launched an investigation into complaints of harassment and discrimination based on race and sex by Black, Filipino and other nurses of colour in some of Toronto’s major hospitals.
• And he worked closely with Ontario’s Employment Equity Commissioner to promote the mandatory employment equity legislation introduced by the province’s NDP government.
• Alok was a key member of teams that developed training programs for Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union (OPSEU) and the former United Steelworkers of America-Ontario District (USWA) to equip union stewards and members to deal with workplace racism and discrimination. Recently, he trained the leadership of the Association of Managerial, Administrative and Professional Crown Employees of Ontario (AMAPCEO) on their role in promoting a diverse and inclusive workplace.
• Alok developed and implemented a leadership training program for a leading community-based organization for activists from Toronto’s racialized and minoritized communities committed to play a progressive, leadership role on social justice and human rights issues.
• Alok and his team were retained by Ontario’s Royal Commission on Systemic Racism in the Criminal Justice System to examine barriers to the employment of Black, Indigenous and other people of colour in the criminal justice system, and to recommend action to eliminate them.
• For the federal government, Alok held extensive community consultations in Yukon and North West Territories to identify barriers to the inclusion of people from Canada’s North in the federal public service and to recommend ways to re-design public service to reflect their culture and way of life.
2015 – 2019 Distinguished Visiting Professor, Ryerson University
2005 – 2015 Chair, Toronto Police Services Board
1994 – 1997 Member, Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services
1992 – 1994 Acting Chief Commissioner and Vice Chair, Ontario Human Rights Commission
1984 – 1989 Advisor on Race Relations, Toronto Board of Education
1997 – 2004 Instructor and Course Director, Division of Humanities, York University
1990 – 2004 Consultant, Researcher, Writer and Trainer in Human Rights, Employment Equity, Anti-Racism and Organizational Change
2003 PhD, York University
1974 MA, University of Waterloo
1966 MA, University of Saugar, India
Alok and his wife, Arun, have lived in this part of Toronto for almost 40 years – nearly 35 years in the St Paul’s riding.
Arun Mukherjee is a Professor Emeritus in English at York University, having retired recently as a Professor after a long and distinguished career. She is well known internationally for her books and articles on Post-Colonial Literature, Women’s literature, South Asian Canadian literature and African literature, as well as her translations of the works of India’s Dalit (or untouchable) writers.
Their son, who was raised in this riding, is now head of a community-based provider of social and assisted housing.
Alok and Arun have never owned a car and have been users of public transit and bicycles since the 1970s, when the bike was not a very popular mode of transportation.
They were among the first homeowners to sign up for WISE – The West Toronto Initiative for Solar Energy championed by former area Councillor Joe Mihevc, and their house continues to be equipped with solar panels.
The Mukherjees have been strong supporters of the NDP for a very long time.