Blue Line


March 16, 2015  By Morley

Toronto’s Syd Brown changed police labour relations in Canada

by Morley Lymburner

(with files from the Toronto Police Association)

The Toronto Police Force has seen many colourful police officers in its time, but few have been as bold, combative, tenacious or loyal as Syd Brown. He had his supporters and detractors, but all agree that Brown’s contributions to the lives and livelihood of the Toronto Police is unparalleled. His legacy has also left an indelible impression on police labour relations across Canada.


Brown’s devotion to the public service began during World War II when he served with the Royal Canadian Navy. After working in the private sector, he joined the Metropolitan Toronto Police in 1954 and soon began his life-long relationship with all aspects of police labour relations.

Even though he faced many challenges on the streets and in the alleys of Toronto, his greatest battles were against the politicians and appointees who controlled the fate of the men and women in blue. During his tenures as president and CEO of the police association (1961 – 1977) he led the monumental battle for better pay, benefits and working conditions and a degree of control of the police pension fund.

One of his most memorable struggles occurred in 1969. When stonewalled by a seemingly uncaring and unresponsive Police Commissioner, he told reporters that Toronto’s finest had been reduced to begging for fair pay and benefits. He then posed for his historic photograph (which appeared on the cover of Toronto Life Magazine) sitting cross legged on a sidewalk with a tin cup in hand. The action proved an embarrassment to the intransigent police commissioner and brought Police Act charges against Brown and a call for his dismissal from the force… but it also secured an 85 per cent pay raise. This changed the way (police) wage and job negotiations were done in all of Canada

From 1968 until 1973, Syd Brown held four presidential positions at the same time: The Metro Toronto Police Association, The Police Association of Ontario, the Canadian Police Association and the International Conference of Police Associations. In 1977 Brown became a further trend setter by becoming the chief of the Waterloo Regional Police. From constable to labour boss to chief of police. Another Canadian first.

In 1993 Brown took over the presidency of the Police Retirees of Ontario and loyally served until his death in 2011 at the age of 85.

To this very day the Toronto Police Association (TPA) is the single most significant trend setter in influencing all contract negotiations across the country.The social club owned and managed by the current TPA was named in honour of the actions of Brown. It was his tin cup action which paved the way for a new era of respect and pride for the Toronto Police in particular and the Canadian police labour movement in general.

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