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I have no regrets, says Toronto top cop

Published:Saturday | June 13, 2020 | 12:19 AMNeil Armstrong/Gleaner Writer
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders.
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders.

TORONTO’S POLICE chief, Mark Saunders, surprised many with the announcement that he will retire from the service on July 31 – eight months before his contract is set to expire.

Saunders, who was born in London, England, and is of Jamaican heritage, said he was not leaving the police service he served for 37 years – five as chief – with a heavy heart and that he would be spending more time with his family.

“I look forward to being a full-time dad and a full-time husband that’s not an exhausted by-product that walks through the door at the end of the day,” he said, noting that his health was not a factor in his decision to resign. In 2017, he underwent a kidney transplant.

Saunders plans to work for free to help the city in his next venture, noting that he sees “a lot of young black boys getting killed by young black boys, and law enforcement deals with those symptoms”. However, he wants to “help cure the disease”.

Speaking at a press conference at police headquarters on Monday, he thanked members of the service and asked them to keep building the strong relationships they need with the community with action, not just words.

“The public is asking, and I know that you will continue to listen,” said Saunders, noting that he was leaving without regrets.

Saunders mentioned the Transformational Task Force that he co-chaired with former Toronto Police Services Board member Andy Pringle as one of the highlights of his law-enforcement career.

Starting Point

As a starting point for modernisation, culture change calling for a more “comprehensive people-management strategy” was identified as a key component.

“The concept of the Transformational Task Force was giving equal ownership of what the Toronto Police Service should look like, and no one has ever done that before,” he said.

The chief noted, “We haven’t been perfect, but we have always tried to move towards excellence. My advice is to never stop, always listen, and serve with compassion.”

However, Donna G., a community radio host, thinks Saunders is “a man caught between the black and the blue”.

“One black man at the top can’t address the systemic problems of policing when he doesn’t have the power or the allies to support him. The mayor is just learning about white privilege, and the premier doesn’t understand systemic racism. Internally, how many black officers are there? How many white officers are allies? Betray the blue, and you’re pretty much powerless, even as their leader. Betray the black, and you are disrespected by the community,” she said.

She wondered how Saunders could “move forward as chief of police with ‘Black Lives Matter’ and calls to defund the police”.

“I think him kneeling sums up his quandary: a black man in a blue uniform. That’s got to be a burden on the psyche.”

Recently, Saunders knelt publicly in solidarity with anti-racism protesters in downtown Toronto who were calling for police reform and marching in remembrance of George Floyd, who was killed by police in Minneapolis.

Meanwhile, Yvette Blackburn, a former vice-chair of the police service’s Black Community Consultative Committee and a former member of the Police and Community Engagement Review Committee, says Saunders should be applauded for being successful in his role.

She said that during his tenure as chief, he had to deal with some tumultuous issues and did his best to work with communities although there were some shortfalls.