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opinion

Andray Domise is a freelance writer based in Toronto.

A lifetime ago in 2013, the Toronto Police Service published a landmark report dubbed PACER, or the Police and Community Engagement Review. The document offered a remarkably progressive approach to policing, spending a bulk of its contents outlining a path to better community relationships through "bias-free" policing and ongoing neighbourhood consultation. The third page of the report is a list of contributing authors, and just below the name of former deputy chief Peter Sloly hangs that of Mark Saunders (who was, at the time of PACER's publication, also a deputy chief). In the three years since Chief Saunders was chosen over Peter Sloly to lead the Toronto Police Service, his tenure as chief can be described in much the same way as the report to which he signed his name, yet failed to follow.

Precious opportunities squandered.

Recently, Chief Saunders drew heavy criticism for his comments to The Globe and Mail, insinuating that members of the LGBTQ community could have done more to aid their investigation into missing community members. In his typically vague manner, Chief Saunders said "I've heard a lot of sources say certain things, and had those sources said those things when we had Project Houston, I think there is a very strong potential that the outcomes could have been different."

Considering that members of the LGBTQ community had, for years, been raising the alarm and bringing information forward to Toronto Police about friends and neighbours who had gone missing, the backlash was warranted.

In response to critics, Chief Saunders released an hour-long recording of his interview with The Globe editorial board. In context, his words landed much the same. The chief referred continuously to 2012's Project Houston (in which Toronto Police set out a task force to search for men missing from the city's Gay Village), and spoke of possible witnesses who "self-vet" valuable information that could have aided the investigation.

At no point in the recording did the chief speak of regrets, or accepting responsibility for the ongoing causes behind the strained relationship between Toronto Police and the LGBTQ community.

Since his 2015 appointment as chief, this has become Mark Saunders's brand: speaking at length about improving the public's confidence in the police, yet failing to acknowledge the extent of the damage done by the status quo. And when the service's status quo fails the community, Chief Saunders's response damages those relationships even further.

At his first public address, the chief denied that carding was "catastrophic" to Torontonians of colour, but promised to listen to communities and improve the system. He then proceeded to dig in his heels when faced with Mayor John Tory's recommendation to abolish carding, and again when faced with massive resistance to the practice by black Torontonians. After several community consultations, the Ontario government finally had to step in and ban random street checks.

When 20-year-old Dafonte Miller of Whitby, Ont., was allegedly chased down and beaten with a metal pipe by off-duty Toronto Constable Michael Theriault and his brother Christian Theriault (who have been charged with assault and other offences), Chief Saunders was questioned why the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) was not immediately notified. His response was to deny any cover-up, adding "my officers acted in good faith."

Later in the year, the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) launched an investigation against Toronto Police detective John Theriault, father of Michael and Christian. A complaint lodged with OIPRD alleged that Det. Theriault had indeed interfered with the process of notifying the SIU that one of Mr. Miller's alleged attackers was a Toronto Police officer.

Chief Saunders's response to this development? Silence.

And then there was the matter of the Pride Parade last summer. After Pride Toronto's board voted to remove uniformed officers and police floats from the parade, Chief Saunders released a statement announcing Toronto Police would not participate at all. Even though the board clarified that police were still welcome to celebrate, as long as they left the guns and uniforms behind, Chief Saunders refused to budge on the matter. Once again, despite promises to listen, learn from and respect the communities his officers serve, the chief showed no intention of honouring his word.

And here we find ourselves again, expecting Chief Saunders to demonstrate leadership, if not some degree of humanity, at a time when public faith in the Toronto Police service is in question. Chief Saunders's response is, as it has ever been, to squander that opportunity by redirecting blame and promising to do better in the future.

On Page 27 of the PACER report, there is a quote which reads: "The worst enemy of effective policing is the absence of public confidence." Although it was drawn from the 2003 report on racial profiling by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the quote is broadly applicable. Toronto Police cannot effectively do their jobs when they are not trusted by its communities, and those communities cannot offer their trust when the police chief either waffles or remains silent after officers make HIV-phobic remarks, profile youth in our neighbourhoods and allegedly interfere with an SIU investigation. There is no trust to be offered when he insinuates a grieving LGBTQ community has somehow failed.

By now, Chief Saunders has had plenty of time to listen, learn from past mistakes and make the necessary improvements. But as he said in his first public address, "If anyone thinks tomorrow's a new day, it's not."

This is why Mark Saunders, who has had ample opportunities to prove himself, is not capable of rebuilding the Toronto Police Service's broken ties to our communities. And lately, it's difficult to believe he ever intended to try.

It's time for him to resign.

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