By Taylor Fong

Commissioner Chris Lewis of the Ontario Provincial Police delivered an intimate presentation to alumni, staff and students of the police foundations program on March 24.

Lewis is set to retire on March 28, after joining the OPP in 1978. He was named commissioner in 2010, the first to have been born and raised in Northern Ontario.

Tess Porter, professor and coordinator in police foundations, reminded all those in attendance of a simple fact prior to the presentation: “Don’t be intimidated by rank,” she said. “We are all just people.”

The warning was a suitable introduction, as the main focus of Lewis’ talk was the importance of leadership.

Leadership has indeed taken Lewis far, as he started his policing career with nothing but a high school diploma and moved up the ranks with sheer hard work. He has gone from a front line officer, to inspector, all the way to commissioner, before hitting the age of 60.

While his hard work paid off, it was also his respectful attitude that aided his ascent throughout the force.

I remember one time with a suspect, at the end of everything he told me: ‘I have been around police my whole life; they arrested my parents when I was young and arrested me, but none before you has ever been nice to me,’” Lewis said. “Treat everyone with respect. That’s someone’s dad or brother.”

The commissioner singled out an individual who was set to begin his policing career on April 26, offering his advice while also subtly telling the man to “aim high.”

From that day until the day you are commissioner, you need to be a leader,” he said.

Lewis concluded by detailing what he believes is one of the most important lesson he had been taught, which involves diners giving free coffee to police officers.

A fellow police officer told me not to go to those places, because we as police officers make enough money to buy those coffees,” he said. “Let the small town people get free coffee. What if the owner is a drunk driver, or speeds all the time?”

Although Commissioner Lewis emphasized the idea of being a leader, it was reassured that respect was an important aspect of that idea.

If you want to succeed and excel, you have to be a leader,” he said.