The Toronto Police Services Board is not renewing Chief Bill Blair’s contract when it is finished next spring.
The board announced its decision in a statement, saying “After considerable discussion related to the Toronto Police Service’s continuing need for organizational renewal the Board has decided not to renew the employment agreement of Chief Blair. Chief Blair will complete his term of office on April 25, 2015.”
The announcement follows a closed-door meeting Wednesday morning of the seven-member civilian oversight body. Chief Blair had until the end of last week to tell the board if he wanted to renew his contract when it ends in April. He had requested an extension, but the board decided against that.
Chief Blair will be serving out the remainder of his contract.
A veteran of the Toronto Police Service, Chief Blair rose through the ranks to take the top post at the country’s largest civilian police force in 2005. It’s been a tenure that’s seen political strife in the past year. The chief found himself the target of Mayor Rob Ford’s anger over an ongoing police investigation into the mayor that, among other things, turned up a video apparently showing him smoking crack cocaine.
At a news conference announcing the retrieval of the video last October, Chief Blair said he was disappointed at what it showed.
The mayor, who later admitted to smoking crack cocaine in a “drunken stupor” and took time out for addictions treatment last month, repeatedly said the probe into his activities was politically motivated. He publicly accused Chief Blair of wasting taxpayers’ money with the investigation.
Mr. Ford also earlier this year was caught on camera using profane language to describe the chief. Chief Blair told television station CP24 in February that he was “deeply offended” by the remarks. Mayor Ford admitted he had been drinking when he launched into the rant in Jamaican patois that was surreptitiously filmed at a Toronto restaurant.
Board Chair Alok Mukherjee told reporters neither the investigation of Mayor Ford nor Chief Blair’s handling of the G20 protests in 2010 played a role in the board’s decision.
“The board did not single out any particular incident to talk about or to base this decision on,” Mr. Mukherjee said. “It was not a decision against Chief Blair. It was a decision about what’s the best way to move forward for the city.”
Mr. Ford faced reporters briefly Wednesday afternoon to thank Chief Blair for his years of service.
“This is a decision that was made strictly by the police board,” said the mayor. “I look forward to working with the next police chief in April of next year. That’s all I have to say today.”
Mr. Mukherjee refused to disclose how many board members voted in favour and against renewing Chief Blair’s contract, but said it was not an easy decision.
Toronto City Councillor Michael Thompson, the board’s vice-chair, told The Globe and Mail earlier this year there was “no way” he could support an extension of Chief Blair’s contract, indicating he did not think the chief had done enough to control costs within the force.
Those remarks sparked a legal tussle among board members that was resolved last week when Mr. Thompson indicated he would not be pursuing legal action against his board colleagues, who he had argued were trying to censor his critical comments about the chief.
Mr. Mukherjee said the police service faces several challenges including changing how it deals with people with mental health issues and assessing whether to reduce the size of the force, issues that will require a transformation of the service and its leader.
He praised Chief Blair for his commitment to diversity on the police force, building stronger relationships with the city’s LGBT community, and changing the way police handle sexual assaults.
He said it’s possible the board will hold focus groups and public consultations to determine what kind of qualities the new chief of police should have.
It will be an open search and the board may consider candidates outside of Toronto, Mr. Mukherjee said, adding that the board did not discuss potential frontrunners.
City Hall reaction
The mayor’s brother, Councillor Doug Ford, also thanked Chief Blair for his years of service but would not comment on his previous calls for the chief to resign.
“I just wish the chief all the best and want to thank him for his service for the last 10 years,” Mr. Ford said, repeating variations of that statement six times in response to each question.
Councillor Joe Mihevc praised the police chief for his achievements, but said he was not surprised by the decision and thought two terms was long enough for a police chief.
“It’s good to have fresh perspectives around policing,” he said. “Two terms for a police chief, I think, is sufficient.”
Councillor John Parker said while he respects the board’s decision, he “regrets” seeing Chief Blair go.
With a report from Karen Howlett