The Toronto Police Services Board issued a stunning rebuke of Chief Bill Blair on Wednesday, deciding against renewing his contract when it expires next year. Mr. Blair’s decade-long tenure as chief has not been without fault – exhibit A is police conduct at the G20 – but much of his legacy is a positive one. His emphasis on community-policing helped defuse tensions between police and minority groups. His swift call for a review of the fatal police shooting of Sammy Yatim, and subsequent commitment to implement recommendations stemming from it is also commendable.
So why did the board abruptly reject him? It won’t say. Board Chair Alok Mukherjee refused to explain. “The board did not single out any particular incident to talk about or to base this decision on,” he told reporters. It’s an obtuse response to a basic question. Mr. Mukherjee would not even reveal whether the decision was unanimous or split. This is absurd. The board oversees the police on behalf of citizens. Transparency should be a fundamental value.
The board’s seven members include provincial and city appointees, and its purpose is to set, in conjunction with the Chief of Police, the policies and priorities of the police service. The chief is accountable to the board – and the board is ultimately accountable to the public. Which is why its process has to be transparent.
On the question of Mr. Blair’s future, the board should have been especially conscious of the need to operate in the open. Earlier this year, councillor and board member Michael Thompson criticized the police service and Mr. Blair – as is his right, not to mention his job. In response, several board members tried to muzzle him, referred a complaint to the province and tried to block him from taking part in discussions about Mr. Blair’s future. The case was eventually dropped; it should never have been started.
Then there’s the sensitive matter of the police investigation into Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. To dispell any whiff of political interference or linkage to the case, the board should have been eager to level with the public about how and why Mr. Blair’s contract was not renewed. It must be more transparent when it comes to its next big task: selecting Toronto’s new police chief.