Mayor Rob Ford’s brother overstepped his authority as an elected official by calling on Police Chief Bill Blair to temporarily step down, say current and former members of the board that oversees Toronto police.
Chief Blair reports to the Toronto Police Services Board, not to city councillors. The board exists to provide a buffer between the police and politicians, said Susan Eng, a former chairwoman.
“Is Councillor Doug Ford speaking for the mayor?” she asked. “They are absolutely breaching the fundamental divide that exists between politics and the policing function. That’s completely out of line.”
Toronto Councillor John Filion, a former board member, said Councillor Ford’s attack was “reprehensible.”
“The chief of police is not smoking something out of a pipe and he’s not getting envelopes left in a car,” he said.
Councillor Ford accused Chief Blair on Tuesday of being biased against the mayor and asked the chairman of the Toronto Police Services Board, Alok Mukherjee, to conduct a probe. His comments marked an escalation in the standoff between the mayor and the city’s top cop.
Chief Blair characterized the councillor’s remarks as “personal attacks,” but tried to stay out of the fray. Doug Ford told students at Ryerson University on Tuesday that he does not have an issue personally with the chief, but said, “he has made this personal. He has made this political.”
Mr. Ford also targeted Andy Pringle, a member of the police board, saying he was in a conflict for going on a fishing trip with Chief Blair.
In attacking Mr. Pringle, Mr. Ford took on a member of the very board that would decide whether his complaint against Chief Blair merits an investigation by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD). Councillor Ford said he plans to ask the OIPRD, a provincial agency that investigates complaints of police wrongdoing, to also conduct a probe.
Any complaints against Chief Blair, if not dismissed by the agency as baseless, are referred to the police board, which then decides whether the conduct merits an OIPRD investigation. In a statement Tuesday, Mr. Mukherjee said the board would follow the “clear processes in place to address these matters.”
OIPRD head Gerry McNeilly said, as a citizen of Toronto, he is “concerned” about Rob Ford’s admission on Tuesday that he has smoked crack cocaine. While the board may decide a complaint is unfounded, Mr. McNeilly said, the Police Services Act permits him to override that decision.
“I’ll proceed as if it’s any other complaint,” Mr. McNeilly said. “I will, as best as I can, try to ignore the political and media scenarios going on.”
Councillor Michael Thompson, who serves as vice-chair of the police board and is on the Mayor’s executive committee, said he doesn’t see any basis in Doug Ford’s accusation that Chief Blair has been “politicking.”
Mr. Thompson also said he has seen no evidence of a conflict regarding Mr. Pringle’s fishing trip but noted the issue of optics.
“If he hadn’t gone on the trip, then the accusation made against him today wouldn’t have been made,” he said, adding that he has turned down invitations extended by “senior people in policing” because of the possible perception of impropriety.
The code of conduct governing the province’s police services boards says members shall “refrain from engaging in conduct that would discredit or compromise the integrity of the board or the police force” – language Mr. Thompson said allows members to exercise their judgment in a realm that’s not black and white.
Councillor Mike Del Grande, a police board member and once a loyal lieutenant of the Ford administration, said there are strict procedures in place for dealing with complaints against the police.
Asked if Doug Ford was ignoring normal procedures, he said: “Nothing is normal with this whole business with him and his brother. That’s all I can really say.”
With reports from Jill Mahoney, Patrick White and Katrina Sieniuc