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Toronto Chief Blair 'insubordinate' to Toronto Police Services Board, former vice-chair says

Chief Bill Blair attends a meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board in Toronto on Thursday March 19 2015.

Chris Young/The Globe and Mail

The former vice-chair of the Toronto Police Services Board says Chief Bill Blair has been "insubordinate" to the board tasked with overseeing him, and that the board has been ineffectual in standing up to him.

In an exclusive interview with The Globe and Mail, former police board member Michael Thompson described the relationship between the soon-to-retire Chief Blair and the civilian oversight board as "the tail wagging the dog." The comments by Mr. Thompson, a critic of the chief, follow many months of turmoil surrounding the board – including the personal intervention of Mayor John Tory to address tensions.

"The chief has, in many instances, not followed the direction, not followed policy," Mr. Thompson said. "And in fact, the board has not been able to muster the energy to say 'You know what? You're being insubordinate.' I believe that's what it is. He's being insubordinate to the board."

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On controversial policing issues such as "carding" – the practice of collecting personal information that has been plagued by accusations of racial profiling – the councillor said the chief has been especially unco-operative. The chief agreed in January to suspend the practice and to work with the board in reviewing the policy, but the board announced last month that an outside mediator has since been brought in to resolve the issue.

Chief Blair responded to Mr. Thompson's comments with a statement. "I don't normally respond to personal attacks, but I will make an exception in this case," he said. "I believe integrity and public safety are more important than cynical political expediency."

The councillor's comments came after he was asked about the search to replace Chief Blair, who will retire in April. The board decided not to renew Chief Blair's contract in late summer, and at the time, board chair Alok Mukherjee said it was to find someone with new, "unorthodox ideas."

But Mr. Thompson, who has butted heads with the chief over policing costs and who was part of the board that decided not to renew his contract, suggested there were other issues at play. Mr. Thompson was later removed from the board by Mr. Tory.

"We want someone who leads this organization who actually can work with the board. Not the current chief – that has not been his forte. His forte has been more of 'I'm the chief' – the suggestion or view is that he's telling the board what to do," Mr. Thompson said. "What we have is actually the tail wagging the dog, as opposed to the board leading the organization."

Mr. Mukherjee responded by saying that the relationship between the board and Chief Blair is "based on dialogue and consultation."

"However, it is a relationship that is also characterized by what I like to call 'creative tension,' for the simple reason that occasionally disagreements are bound to occur on the best way to achieve an objective, as I believe you would find with [the] relationship between any police board and service," he said. "I believe that we have been able to resolve those areas where there was initial disagreement."

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Another board member, Shelley Carroll, said any struggles between the chief and the board are simply a function of the chief's role.

"A police chief is a difficult job, because you represent the service to the board, but then you go back on Monday morning and you have to represent the board to the service," she said. "That's happened from time to time with police services across the country."

Mr. Thompson's comments follow a tumultuous year between the board and police leadership, which Mr. Tory described as showing "evidence of dysfunction." The past year has included a legal feud between Mr. Thompson and the rest of the board – he accused them of attempting to "censor" him – as well as a call for Mr. Mukherjee's resignation from union head Mike McCormack, in response to controversial comments made on the chair's Facebook page.

To ease tensions, Mr. Tory decided shortly after he was elected to personally sit on the board, and replace Mr. Thompson, Frances Nunziata and Mike Del Grande with new councillors.

A spokeswoman for the mayor, Amanda Galbraith, declined to comment on Mr. Thompson's statements, saying Mr. Tory was not on the board during the period described. "Like any relationship where there is oversight, there is natural give and take on issues," she said in a statement. "As a current member of the Board, the mayor is optimistic that the Chief and Board are working well together and will continue to do so."

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