Just days before Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair is to say whether he wants to remain head of the force, the civilian body that would decide whether to extend his contract has averted a public court battle on the subject.
In-fighting within the Toronto Police Services Board culminated in March, when vice-chair Michael Thompson brought legal action against his board colleagues, claiming they were trying to “censor” his critical comments about the chief. On Tuesday – just three days before Chief Blair announces his preference to the board, and just one week before the case was to be heard in court – Mr. Thompson said the issue has been resolved.
“It’s a good sign that the board’s experiment with censorship is not going to proceed,” Mr. Thompson said in an interview. “It’s vindication.”
Mr. Thompson’s lawyer, Clayton Ruby, meanwhile, said he was “pleased” the board’s “attempt to muzzle” his client had ended.
The councillor will no longer be pursuing legal action after members of the board dropped their formal complaint against him for comments to the media critical of extending Chief Blair’s contract. Mr. Thompson told media outlets, including The Globe and Mail, earlier this year there was “no way” he could support a contract extension, adding that the chief has not done enough to control costs within the force.
The resolution of the dispute frees Mr. Thompson up to participate in conversations over the chief’s contract that will happen over the next few weeks if Chief Blair, who has led the force since 2005, signals on Friday that he wants to stay on. His contract expires in April of next year.
When asked on Tuesday whether he will continue voicing opposition to extending the chief’s contract, Mr. Thompson would say only that: “I will be speaking about all matters as it relates to issues in front of the board.”
Board chair Alok Mukherjee said in an e-mail that the complaint against Mr. Thompson was not an attempt at censorship, but came out of concern his comments would create legal issues for the board in negotiating with the chief.
Mr. Mukherjee said the provincial bodies that investigate such complaints – the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services and the Ontario Civilian Police Commission – declined to pursue it, so the board decided to drop the matter.
Mr. Mukherjee maintained that the board did nothing wrong, but agreed to drop the complaint and pay Mr. Thompson’s legal costs “to bring this unfortunate distraction – with the potential for more expense going forward – to a speedy and decisive end.”
Councillor Mike Del Grande, who is on the police board, also said the issue was not about censoring a colleague.
“For my own personal self, I wasn’t trying to muzzle anyone,” he said. “But that then has to be balanced against the issue of personnel matters, and whether the commentary in any way would infringe upon personnel matters.”
Mr. Del Grande added that he is “disappointed” the provincial bodies decided not to investigate the complaint.
The chief has faced controversy in the past year. He was the target of repeated attacks from Mayor Rob Ford after he revealed that police had a video showing the mayor allegedly smoking crack cocaine.
On Thursday, Frank Iacobucci, a former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, is expected to release a report on the use of lethal force by Toronto Police ordered after the shooting death of Sammy Yatim.