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The five year contract of Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders, seen here, is set to expire in April, 2020.Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

The Toronto Police Services Board is deciding whether Mark Saunders should remain at the helm of the country’s largest municipal police force, which he has led through one of the most tumultuous periods in its history.

Chief Saunders’s five-year contract is set to expire in April, 2020, and the board will decide over the next few months whether to renew that contract or launch a search for a new leader.

In an e-mail statement Wednesday, board chair Andy Pringle said that the details of any decision-making process “will remain completely confidential.”

“Of course, the board recognizes the public interest in this topic and will release information as appropriate,” he added.

Mayor John Tory, who sits on the police board and has been a vocal supporter of the chief, declined through a spokesperson to comment on whether he would support a renewal of the chief’s contract.

“This matter will be considered by the Toronto Police Services Board in the near future,” spokesman Don Peat said. “Given that this is a personnel matter that must be discussed by the board, the mayor won’t be making any public comment at this time.”

Through his own spokesperson, Chief Saunders declined to comment on what he is requesting.

Bill Blair is the only Toronto police chief in recent memory to have had his contract renewed for a second five-year term. Now the federal Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, he led TPS for a decade, from 2004 to 2014. He’d requested to stay on for a third term when the board decided that it was time for a change.

James Mackey was TPS’s longest-serving chief since the force was amalgamated in 1957, holding the title from 1958 to 1970. His successor, Harold Adamson, lasted from 1970 until 1980.

Since 2015, Chief Saunders has led the service through some of the most high-profile crime events in Toronto’s history, including the Yonge Street van attack and the Danforth shooting. He faced criticism for his communication during the investigation into serial killer Bruce McArthur, who was ultimately found to have murdered eight men with ties to the city’s Gay Village.

The chief was also tasked with implementing an ambitious modernization plan that included changes to the police force’s operations, in hopes of reining in a billion-dollar budget.

The rollout of that plan led to an adversarial relationship with the officers’ union. Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack has argued that staffing cutbacks were made before certain duties had been alleviated, and that a hiring freeze in particular left the force with a shortage of front-line officers.

The clash between the chief and the association came to a particular boil last January, when the TPA took out a full-page newspaper ad and then a billboard, criticizing the minutes-long wait times that some 911 callers in the city had experienced. A month later, the association announced that they had launched a “no confidence vote” against Chief Saunders, noting in an internal memo that it had lost faith in his ability to address its issues.

The chief characterized the vote as a political move by the union head during an election year (Mr. McCormack was re-elected as association president last fall).

Although the tensions between the two cooled after TPS announced the hiring freeze would be lifted, the union’s concerns about staffing levels lingered throughout what was ultimately one of the city’s most violent years, with a record-breaking number of homicides occurring in 2018.

On Thursday, Mr. McCormack said that the association “will work with whoever the chief is, but I think this chief’s record speaks for itself.”

Mr. Pringle declined to comment on the board’s deadline for their decision, or what the different renewal options are.

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