Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, who won praise early in his tenure for community outreach but fell out of favour over the G20 protests and became embroiled in the Rob Ford saga, will not serve a third term as head of the country’s largest municipal police force.
In a surprise move on Wednesday, the civilian oversight board for the Toronto Police Service rejected Chief Blair’s request for a contract extension. He will finish his term in April, 2015, making him one of the longest serving chiefs in Toronto’s history at 10 years.
Chief Blair was at his cottage northeast of Toronto when he learned his fate around 12:30 p.m. Board chair Alok Mukherjee telephoned him when the special three-hour board meeting finished.
Chief Blair was surprised, according to a close source. Not that the board had denied him a third term – he knew at least three of the seven members wanted him gone – but that the decision was so quick.
The source said the board voted for change not because of the controversies, but because of Chief Blair’s reluctance to modernize and overhaul the force.
An old friend of Chief Blair’s said the chief had indicated in recent weeks that he wanted to stay on.
The chief had until last Friday to let the board know whether he wanted to continue after his contract was up. There was some speculation at headquarters Mr. Blair planned to retire, but come Friday afternoon, a short letter arrived at the chair’s office. He wanted to keep his job, after all.
Few on the force – including, apparently, Chief Blair – seemed prepared for the snap verdict. The board had 30 days to think about it.
The quick timeline indicates the board hopes to choose a replacement before the next city council is sworn in this December. One hiccup in that plan, said a source familiar with the discussions, is that the board is interested in attracting international candidates. That would mean a longer, more complicated, search and approval process.
But, the source said, the view is that only someone from the outside could implement the kind of change needed.
Mr. Mukherjee refused to discuss the board’s vote, saying only that it was difficult.
“It was not a decision against Chief Blair. It was a decision about what’s the best way to move forward for the city,” he said.
A source said that after a vigorous debate, a clear majority opted to look for new blood.
Toronto’s police board chose Mr. Blair originally because of his commitment to diversity. At the time, the service was plagued by allegations of racial profiling. Nearly 90 per cent of new hires were white men. By the end of Mr. Blair’s first term, women and minorities made up 40 to 60 per cent of recruits. He also caused waves by acknowledging racial bias on the force. His predecessor, Julian Fantino, had vehemently denied the possibility.
In 2009, when members of Toronto’s Tamil community staged a four-day demonstration that shut down one of the city’s major thoroughfares, infuriating commuters and some residents, Chief Blair resolved the standoff without injury or rioting.
But by the next summer, tensions began to emerge between the chief and his board. It began with the G20 summit. After a small group known as the “Black Bloc” torched police cruisers and smashed shop windows, the service implemented extreme measures on all demonstrations, at one point detaining more than 1,000 peaceful protesters. The Office of the Independent Police Review Director, a police watchdog, found some officers used excessive force.
The board felt the chief did not properly consult his civilian overlords during the summit. The chief felt the board was overstepping its role. Day-to-day operations were not part of its mandate.
Over the next few years, the relationship between the chief and the board worsened, sources say. The chief and the chair began meeting less frequently. Resentment built up on both sides. The last straw was money.
The Toronto police budget is edging up on $1-billion, the largest item of city spending. Since 2011, the board has pressed the chief to overhaul the way the force operates, including outsourcing some administrative functions, cutting back the number of senior officers, and re-evaluating whether some jobs could be done by cheaper, civilian employees.
The chief promised to take on the task, but sources said the board felt that after two years, he had not made significant headway.