Do not let Bill Blair down.
That is the advice of former deputy chief Kim Derry, who has been close friends with Toronto’s chief of police for nearly four decades.
To Mr. Derry, then, the words that passed Chief Blair’s lips on Halloween, after he acknowledged the existence of the video allegedly showing Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine, were piercing: “I’m disappointed.”
This is a chief who, on the very day he was appointed in 2005, told The Globe and Mail of the importance of thwarting the sale and use of drugs. “Let me go on the record on this one,” he added at the time. “I’ve never inhaled. I’ve never used any illicit drugs.” Today, he is serving under a mayor who has smoked crack cocaine – while in office.
“He feels let down,” Mr. Derry said. “You know how you depend on different people in your life? The mayor is to run the city, and to have a mayor who has disappointed you means that you have, now, the weight of the city on you.”
It has been an extraordinary two weeks for Toronto, with allegations and evidence of questionable behaviour escalating by the day. It is an equally extraordinary moment for Chief Blair as he presides over a police force in a city embroiled in a crisis of leadership.
Chief Blair’s announcement about the video came just hours after a 474-page police document revealed the mayor’s meetings and communications with Alessandro Lisi, who faces drug and extortion charges. It is easy after the past week of Ford news to forget it was the chief’s announcement, and his expression of disappointment, that set the stage for the war of words and the flood of questions that followed.
On the one hand, there is the mayor, his drug and alcohol use, a paralytic City Hall and the international headlines the scandal has produced. On the other, there is Chief Blair, a man with a roller-coaster tenure who is now being either heralded for the force’s police work and acknowledging the existence of the video – Councillor Pam McConnell, who was chair of the police services board when the chief was appointed, said the revelation was in the public interest – or scrutinized.
Several questions have accompanied the probe. Why did police include as much as they did about the activities of the mayor, who has not been charged, in the affidavit regarding Mr. Lisi? Why did the video announcement come the same day the police document was released? Should the chief have announced he was in possession of the video? Given the sensitivities, should an outside force have been asked to help investigate?
Many have applauded the chief for putting a magnifying glass on the mayor. But Councillor Doug Ford, the mayor’s brother, has condemned him for “politicking.” Either way, the chief is a man with investigators who want to question the city’s boss. And almost regardless of what happens next, his reputation – and legacy – will be coloured by how he manages this moment.
Chief Blair has faced fierce criticism before – after the G20 Summit, and after this summer’s shooting death of Toronto teen Sammy Yatim – but nothing quite like this.
“Every ‘i’ has been dotted and every ‘t’ has been crossed,” said the chief’s spokesman, Mark Pugash, about the investigation and how it was handled. “We’ve been accused of both targeting and shielding the mayor, which leads me to believe that we’re probably going right down the middle, which is where we need to be.”
The chief’s every move is vulnerable to criticism – even a two-year-old fishing trip with a Toronto Police Services Board member was thrust to the fore by Councillor Ford, who said Andrew Pringle was in a conflict for vacationing with Chief Blair. On Thursday, at their monthly board meeting, members rejected the chief’s request for more tasers.