First Black officer recalls storied career, plane crash and changing the face of police recruiting in Mississauga and Brampton

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Published February 28, 2024 at 11:14 am

Sgt. Lonny Blackett (retired) was the first Black officer to join Peel Regional Police back in 1974. (Photo: Peel Regional Police)

The first-ever class of Peel Regional Police hopefuls had just two Black recruits, but only one of them would go on to have a storied 33-year career and help enlist even more minority officers into the service.

That officer is Ret. Sgt. Lonsdale (Lonny) Blackett, who said the region was a very different place when he joined up in 1974.

“There was one other Black officer with the old Mississauga police, but I was the first hired after regionalization,” Blackett told Insauga.com about his police training some 50 years ago in celebration of Black History Month.

The Region of Peel was brand new when Blackett entered training, and the retired sergeant says he was mostly welcomed by his fellow white recruits.

And even with a growing Black civil rights movement in the U.S., Blackett says not all were so accepting of his presence on the force, saying he was the butt of racist jokes.

“There were times, I believe, that some of them just wanted me to quit,” Blackett said, recalling how officers would hassle him. “But you took it in stride, you laughed it off, and then you proved yourself.”

Blackett said he even lost family members and friends for a while after joining the force, saying some saw his decision “as crossing that border and becoming a ‘white police officer.’”

“I felt it, but it didn’t deter me,” Blackett said, adding that the family gradually came back together. “I know this is what I wanted, and I did it. It was a good go.”

Blackett proved his mettle during his 33-year career, working first in Brampton’s 21 Division before going on to help enlist other minority officers as a recruiter and form the PRP Airport Division, among other accomplishments.

Of all the incidents Blackett attended, he vividly recalls rushing onto the burning wreckage of Air France Flight 358 that crashed at Pearson International Airport in 2005.

“The back end of the aircraft was burning – this was a plane on fire,” Blackett said, recalling how he and another officer ran onto the burning aircraft to evacuate the crew and anyone who may have still been on board.

After checking the plane, the officers saw more smoke coming from the rear and ran from the plane, which exploded shortly after. All of the flight’s 309 passengers and crew survived the crash, and Blackett would receive a commendation for his efforts on the scene.

When moving into a recruiting position, Blackett helped revamp the force’s selection and hiring practices, which were so successful that he was part of a team running week-long recruiting courses for police forces in Ontario – methods he says are still being used by police services across the province.

And as the demographics of Peel changed over the years, Blackett said the face of the force also began to change as more members of Black and South Asian communities followed his trailblazing path, including one of his daughters who works on the civilian side of the service.

Having spent the last 50 years in Peel, Blackett is still an active member of the greater Peel police community and has gone on to give guest lectures and teach courses at campuses like Sheridan, and says he has no plans to leave the region.

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