Michael Thompson, city Councillor for Scarbrough Center Ward 37, was moved to tears when he recently launched ‘Melonie Memento’ campaign at the historic Casa Loma in Toronto.
This idea came out of his interest in the case of murder of 17-year-old Melonie Biddersingh; her father, Everton Biddersingh, and stepmother, Elaine Biddersingh, were convicted earlier this year. Melonie had migrated from Jamaica with her brothers to join their father, in hope of a better life.
When he first heard about the case, Thompson was driving in his car on Highway 7 and it stuck with him and over the years the questions that always came to his mind were: “Who was that person?” and “Is anybody going to be held responsible for it?”
He found out more through Toronto Star columnist Royson James’ article and through the police and the media reports.
Thompson is the driving force behind this initiative to create a national registry to protect children who arrive in Canada.
“Immigration Canada allows people to come into the country, giving them permission and so on. Canadian Border Services look at the documents and say you’re allowed to come in because we’ve got Immigration Canada’s documents that validate you can come in. So what we’re saying is that having that information between those particular organisations, when the person comes in, the registry would obviously know where the person is going to go, like the address, where they’re staying, who they’re staying with,” he says.
They would also connect with other institutions, like schools, if the child is registered in school. He said all of these things would be monitored to ensure that the child is safe at home and in school.
Recalling his experience as a youngster coming from Jamaica on a plane by himself, under the watchful eyes of a flight attendant, he connected instantly with Melonie’s story.
Born in Montego Bay, he came to Canada at the age of 12 in March 1972 to join his mother. A few weeks later he was attending school and people knew him.
“I wasn’t like an indentured servant. I wasn’t locked away. I wasn’t poorly fed. I was out and about every day,” he said, recognizing “how bleak it would have been for Melonie having none of those experiences.”
Thompson said schools have a duty to call the police or the authorities if they see a child come to school abused. The child also has the ability to speak to a teacher or guidance counsellor, and children’s services could be involved ‹ all of them to ensure the welfare of the child.
Thompson often puts himself in Melonie’s situation and recognizes how difficult it would have been for her.
“There were the adults who sort of just basically trampled them, and stifled them, and prevented them from doing anything. Adding the beating and the suppression of food and all of those sorts of things. It must have been just terrible,” he said.
Thompson is the Chair of the Economic Development and Culture Committee, Chair of Invest Toronto, and the only black councillor on Toronto City Council. He said his interest in politics began just about the time he came to Canada.
He grew up in the Birchmount and Eglinton area in Scarborough; all the kids spent their summer days in Maidavale Park while their parents were at work.
He remembers a rope being strung over a tree limb annually and a little creek running through — the kids could swing from one side to the other.
“It was our form of entertainment, basically, and all the kids would take turns. One day we went down and the rope was gone. It was then called the borough of Scarborough, not the city of Scarborough.”
Thompson said there was a woman from the area, who he thinks was the alderman, and he was designated as the guy to knock on her door to ask her if she could help them to get the rope back.
He knocked on the door; however, she was not very pleasant to him.
“She politely shooed me away and I was very disappointed. I was quite upset about it actually so I thought one day I’ll be a city councillor, just matter of fact to myself. I sort of said I wouldn’t treat people that way so that’s kind of how it sorta started.”
From there, he got a chance to deliver political campaign literature during municipal elections at age 13 or 14, and subsequently worked with other campaigns, learning about Canadian politics.
He volunteered at campaigns, which sometimes involved him sweeping the parking lot or the stairs.
“I worked with guys like Roy MacLaren, who was a federal MP. I worked with a whole series of others. I ran campaigns for other people, just kind of learned it from the ground up. I was the only black guy doing it actually.”
He said when David Peterson was running for the leadership of the Liberal Party he was involved in that as well.
There was a campaign in the 1970s and the 80s about the streaming of young black kids into the vocational schools.
Thompson recognized what was going and didn’t like it so as a young advocate he became involved in the campaign complaining to the Liberal Party that it needed to do something about this.
“We got the Liberal Party and David Peterson and others to kind of focus on trying to ban and eliminate this whole streaming of young black kids, particularly into the Shop and Home Ec. type of environment.”
Thompson attended Ionview Public School and Sir John A Macdonald Collegiate before going to university where he received a BA in Economics.
Elected since 2003, Thompson said that his mother named him after Jamaica’s former Prime Minister, Michael Manley, whom he subsequently met many years later in Montreal when he was a student at Concordia University. Manley was visiting McGill University to present a speech in the early 80s.
Before entering politics, he worked in the financial services industry and later founded a successful business services company.
Among his many community initiatives are: the Wexford Heights Business Improvement Area, the Taste of Lawrence Avenue East Festival, Scarborough Rocks community building campaign and Project Engagement.