Toronto Mayor John Tory says he is committed to speeding up the reform of his city’s police force, but that a proposal to chop 10 per cent of its budget next year is too rash.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Tory said there is a consensus at city hall for a review of what the police are asked to do – and whether some of their $1.22-billion budget could be better spent on mental health or other social programs.
But he calls a motion from councillors Josh Matlow and Kristyn Wong-Tam that would request an immediate 10-per-cent chop from next year’s police budget an arbitrary measure.
“I think it seems to me most people that I’ve been talking to, including people on council and otherwise, agree that [the motion] that’s not the way to go about it, to sort of name an arbitrary number and just say let’s go forward and do that,” Mr. Tory said.
Other councillors are preparing their own motions on police reform for council’s next meeting, which starts June 29, spurred by recent protests in Toronto and around the world over anti-Black racism and police violence. And Mr. Tory says he will support other calls for change.
“The one thing you can take from me is that I am committed to leading in the process of reform, stepping up the pace of reform,” Mr. Tory said.
Most of Toronto’s 25 city councillors declined to respond to e-mails asking whether they support Mr. Matlow’s motion. Of just seven who did respond, three left-leaning councillors said they did: Joe Cressy, Gord Perks and Mike Layton. Four councillors, including Mr. Tory’s budget chief, Scarborough City Councillor Gary Crawford, said they did not. Mr. Crawford said he supports more money for “community-based anti-violence” measures.
The debate will take place against a backdrop of calls by protesters across North America to “defund” police forces after years of killings, assaults and systemic racism against Black people. And the motion hits the floor of Toronto City Council just weeks after Mark Saunders, the city’s first Black police chief, announced he was retiring eight months before the end of his recently extended contract.
Mr. Tory said he was “very surprised” and “disappointed” when Chief Saunders told him his last day would be July 31.
The mayor said the chief would not entertain a request for flexibility about the date of his departure. He said the chief made it clear his decision was firm and was for family reasons. A spokeswoman for the chief declined to comment.
Mr. Tory said the early departure allows the search to begin for a new chief who will have to implement some of the changes being demanded by the public.
Another part of Mr. Matlow’s motion calls on the province to change legislation to give city council greater control over the police budget – long criticized at city hall as opaque.
Last week, responding to questions from The Globe, the Toronto Police Services Board explained why Chief Saunders received a 20.5-per-cent increase to his compensation last year. The board said the windfall was in lieu of increases due in past years that the chief did not receive because of administrative delays.
The boost took the chief’s pay to $414,954 in 2019 from $344,398 the year before. The lump-sum payout came the same day last August that the chief’s five-year contract was extended another year, until April, 2021. But the board said it was not a signing bonus and was unrelated to the contract extension.
The board declined to provide further details. The Globe has learned the board inadvertently failed to fill out the chief’s performance evaluations in multiple years, meaning he did not receive the full annual increases promised in his contract. The error was only discovered as board staff prepared the paperwork for the chief’s contract extension.
The coming debate over police spending at council echoes the 2016 fight launched by Scarborough Councillor Michael Thompson. Mr. Thompson, the city’s only Black councillor, called for an immediate $24-million cut to rein in the police budget.
Mr. Tory opposed the move, and instead announced a blue-ribbon panel to scrutinize police spending and bring in changes to the force’s responsibilities. Some of the Transformational Task Force’s proposals, such as keeping officers in the same neighbourhoods, have since been implemented. Critics say progress has been too slow.
Mr. Thompson says while he agrees with Mr. Matlow’s intentions, an immediate 10-per-cent cut would simply mean laying off a large number of officers. He says he prefers taking a harder look at what the force does to see whether others could do it better.
With the recent case of Regis Korchinski-Paquet – a Black woman who plummeted from a 24th-floor balcony after police were called to her Toronto apartment – also prompting renewed calls for change, activists say it is time for Canada’s largest city to embrace more radical reforms.
“This is that watershed moment, a moment of reckoning for us as a city and as a country,” said Nigel Barriffe, president of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations. “Are we going to rethink how we do policing in this city?”
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