Chief Bill Blair was tapped by then Toronto mayor David Miller as a more progressive leader after the combative Julian Fantino, now a cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s government. But recently, questions have lingered over Chief Blair’s future.
The G20 crackdown
It was one of the biggest controversies under Chief Blair’s leadership. Police in riot gear wielded batons against protesters, people were routinely stopped and searched for wearing a backpack and officers fired tear gas on the streets of Toronto in the summer of 2010 for the first time in the force’s history.
The final day of the G20 international summit, when police corralled about 250 people at a downtown Toronto intersection, became a flashpoint. The confrontation began around 6 p.m. on a Sunday evening, after a group of protesters arrived at Queen Street and Spadina Avenue on bike and on foot, along with curious onlookers.
Within minutes, police surrounded the crowd from all sides and squeezed them into a contained area, a tactic known as “kettling.” Those caught on the wrong side of police lines were detained for four hours in torrential rain, as officers pulled them one by one out of the crowd for arrest.
Those responsible for acts of violence – shattered storefronts, burnt police cruisers, graffiti-streaked walls – escaped largely unscathed. In all, more than 1,000 people were arrested, but only 263 were charged with anything more than breach of peace.
In the aftermath of the weekend summit, there were demands for Chief Blair’s resignation and calls for a judicial inquiry into allegations of police brutality. The chief defended his officers, saying there was no need for an inquiry. A week later, the chair of the Police Services Board, which acts as civilian overseer of the Toronto police, launched the first of several independent reviews into police conduct during the G20.
Nine officers were disciplined for removing their name tags during the summit. A Toronto constable was found guilty of assault with a weapon after he struck a man with a baton while he was pinned to the ground by several officers – the arrest of protester Adam Nobody was captured on video. And Ontario’s police watchdog concluded in a 2012 report that police used excessive force.
The Sammy Yatim shooting
Sammy Yatim was alone on a streetcar and wielding a knife when a Toronto police officer fired three shots and then, six seconds after the 18-year-old fell to the floor, discharged six more bullets. Another officer tasered the teenager’s fatally wounded body.
The incident early one morning last July riveted the city, sparking debate among those trying to make sense of why the young man who had gotten lost trying to meet up with a friend was shot.
“Sammy didn’t have to die,” his mother, Sahar Bahadi, said in a statement. “Something went very wrong.”
Chief Blair launched an internal review – a two-pronged process that includes a mandated investigation into the shooting and a separate examination into the police service’s use-of-force tactics in dealing with emotionally disturbed people.
Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit, which probes civilian deaths and serious injuries involving police, said it believed only one officer caused Mr. Yatim’s death. The SIU laid second-degree murder charges in August, 2013, against Constable James Forcillo. The 31-year-old officer is also facing the additional charge of attempted murder.
Chief Blair acknowledged in an earlier interview that the most difficult event of last summer was the shooting death of Mr. Yatim, which was captured on video.
“I certainly was concerned with what I was viewing on that video and I took certain actions in the immediate aftermath to address some of those concerns,” the chief said.
Tasers came under heightened public scrutiny after the death of Mr. Yatim and after Ontario’s police watchdog launched an investigation into the tasering of an 80-year-old woman it says fractured a hip after being struck. But the questions swirling around tasers did not stop Chief Blair from pitching a plan to expand his force’s use of the stun guns.
The chief's relationship with the Ford brothers
Chief Blair dominated the airwaves and the front pages of every daily newspaper in the city when he held a news conference on Oct. 31, 2013, to announce that police had recovered a video that appears to show Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine.
The chief’s revelation confirmed bombshell reports that emerged five months earlier about the existence of a video allegedly showing Mr. Ford smoking crack cocaine.
“Are you shocked?” one reporter shouted. Chief Blair’s response: “I’m disappointed.”
His statement came just hours after a 474-page police document was released, revealing that the mayor had become the focus of an investigation and was often in contact with an alleged drug dealer.
It was not only a day Torontonians will long remember. It also cemented the chief’s adversarial relationship with the mayor and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford. The brothers have launched a series of attacks against Chief Blair. Councillor Ford even criticized the chief’s fishing trip with a police board member, saying he was in a conflict of interest for vacationing with Andrew Pringle.
But when news broke on Wednesday that Chief Blair’s contract would not be renewed, the brothers put their animosity aside.
“I want to thank Chief Bill Blair for his service to the people of this great city for the last 10 years,” Mayor Ford said outside his office at City Hall.
The battle over the police budget
The police services board sent a blunt message to the chief in April, making it clear it was not happy with his efforts to find efficiencies in the force. The board hired a separate group of consultants to conduct their own assessment, after the chief came up with a plan that would shave just $7-million from the force’s annual budget of $1-billion. Councillor Michael Thompson, a member of the police board, made headlines for going public with his opposition to extending the chief’s contract.