By TOM GODFREY
Toronto’s lone Black councillor Michael Thompson is against racial profiling and stands by remarks he made about a large number of residents being strip searched during the tenure of Chief Bill Blair which landed him in hot water.
A bid to muzzle Thompson, who is the Vice-chair of the Police Services Board, by a few of his colleagues on the seven-person board fell flat last week.
The councillor for Ward 37 will no longer be pursuing legal action after some members of the board dropped a formal complaint against him for comments to the media critical to the extending of Blair’s contract.
Thompson had called for a “complete shakeup” of the police service and said he would not support renewing the Chief’s contract.
For speaking his mind, and voicing the concerns of many residents, Thompson became a target of pro-Blair allies on the Board who tried to silence him.
“They were trying to censor me,” he told Share last week. “I was elected by the people and part of my job is to inform them on issues and that is what I have been trying to do.”
The chair of the Economic Development Committee remains vocal about the huge amount of residents being forced to undergo strip-searches by police.
He suspects a large number of those being searched are members of the Black or visible minority communities. No data is publicly available on the nationality of those being searched.
“They (police) are conducting thousands of searches that are largely unsuccessful,” said Thompson. “These searches are very degrading and is such a vile process.”
Those who have undergone a strip search will agree the process is inhumane and dehumanizing the say the least.
Thompson has also been vocal on the racial profiling and carding allegations leveled against police by members of the Black community. Those issues led to protests by the community and now officers have to follow anti-profiling guidelines in interacting with the public.
The allegations also led to a $200 million lawsuit filed against the Board by the Black Action Defense Committee over the profiling allegations.
Thompson is not one for blowing hot air. He is popular in his Scarborough Centre riding, where he has created an annual job fair that helps thousands of young people. He is also a winner of an African Achievement Award for Excellence and a Bob Marley Award.
He co-founded the Taste of Lawrence Avenue East Festival, which brings together tens of thousands of people each year; and “Scarborough Rocks,” a community image building campaign, that emphasizes the area’s unique cultural blend.
Many have accused the Chief of being in a bubble and slow to react to the profiling issue. It is not clear if he has enough votes on the Board to obtain an extension since members are poised for possible new bosses in the looming October 27 municipal elections.
The board voted unanimously to extend his contract in 2009 for a second term, which expires at the end of April, 2015.
Blair, 60, is a Scarborough native, who was sworn in as chief in 2005.
A cop for 39 years, he earned $337,653 in salary and benefits last year. Not bad for a kid who began his policing career in Regent Park.
Blair is a pleasant guy who is credited with modernizing the force and building stronger relationships with the city’s diverse communities.
Still, his critics have knocked him for not adequately responding to concerns about strip searches and racial profiling considering our multicultural city.
He also faced fierce criticism over how police dealt with law-abiding protesters during the G20 summit in June 2010, when hundreds of residents were “kettled” behind police lines for hours.
The Chief was also blasted for taking a well-publicized fishing trip with board member Andrew Pringle, who was John Tory’s chief of staff when he was the Conservative leader at Queen’s Park.
Needless to say, mayoral candidate Tory is supporting Blair. It all seems too nice and cozy for many of us.
Maybe Thompson is right and it is time for Blair to surrender his weapon and head to the course to work on his swing.