By PATRICK HUNTER
It probably should not have come as a surprise that Deputy Chief Peter Sloly “chose” to sever his relationship with the Toronto Police Service, yet it did – at least to me. I somehow thought that he may stick around, at least for a little while longer. But then, looking at the cards on the table, logically and in reality, the situation was – and would probably continue to be – untenable. He was, in effect, the frontrunner to get the job as chief. To continue in his role as deputy chief, and having been reassigned to other (seemingly less) responsibilities would be uncomfortable for both Chief Saunders and Deputy Chief Sloly.
To be brutally honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was pushed – although, magnanimously, he denies this, exiting with a flair and head-held-high posture that would leave the impression that this was his decision, and his alone. It was a remarkable exit of someone who had become comfortable and knowledgeable about public relations.
Sloly was a cop (and probably still is at heart). He had reached within striking distance of heading up one of the largest police services in the country. Most significantly, he is Black – a Black senior-tier officer in a traditionally White world.
No, he was not the first. Keith Forde preceded him as a deputy chief in the same service.
Jay Hope was a deputy commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police, later becoming deputy minister for correctional services.
And, of course, there is Devon Clunis, chief of the Winnipeg Police Service.
To say that cops and the Black community do not have a “loving” relationship would be to state the obvious. And, for many, the fact that a police officer is Black does not ease the tension by much. There is a sense that the Black officer would more likely side with the White officer in an unreasonable confrontation with a Black person.
Sloly appeared to understand this relationship. He essentially became the unofficial TPS “ambassador” to the Black community. His task, it seems, was to work to bridge the gap between these worlds. To his credit, he faced up to these challenges, meeting with community groups – small and large – and handled these, sometimes hostile meetings with grace.
So, through these troubling moments, especially during the days of Julian Fantino, Sloly essentially tried to make peace, if you will, between the community and TPS.
At one of the infamous town hall meetings Fantino held with the community at the Jamaican Canadian Centre, I was sitting behind one young woman, still in high school, I presumed, getting up to ask the Chief: “If the police doesn’t respect us, how do you expect us to respect the police?”
Fantino’s response was so hostile, the young woman was in tears. Many immediately started walking towards the exit. Sloly, not yet a deputy chief, appealed to those heading for the exit not to leave.
It was Sloly who publicly danced on the thin line of defending “carding” while trying to make changes that would lessen the impact on the Black community. It was a dance that did not necessarily earn him many “friends” as he did come across as being supportive of its continuity. Some of his proposals for change to carding were at first accepted, then rejected through the engineering of Bill Blair.
As we have since learned, Sloly had some ideas about the future of the TPS. These ideas, he has said, and corroborated by members of the Board’s interview panel, were proposed in his bid to become the chief. He was not given the job, therefore his ideas were, in effect, rejected. Since then, another report has surfaced from an outside source that suggested many of the changes in direction for which Sloly advocated.
Remarkably, Sloly seems to have won the support of the community – or least its respect. I would venture to say that most of us would probably have preferred to see him in the chief’s chair. It would not necessarily mean that the “love” between the community and the police would improve overnight, but one gets the sense that it would probably head in the right direction.
I suspect that Sloly will have a smorgasbord of jobs from which to choose. Given his sense of police reform, I would not be surprised if he ended up as deputy minister of community safety in Ontario, or a senior post to review policing in the province. His former boss, Bill Blair, has been tapped by the Prime Minister to head up the marijuana legalization project. I would be surprised if these two chose to work together. I suspect they did not part on good terms.
I would not be surprised if political parties have already begun to court him for the next election – provincially or federally.
One other thing: I would suspect that this is probably the last time, at least for a while, that he will make any public pronouncements critical of the TPS leadership or direction. Yeah, I suspect he will be under some kind of a gag order, although I would like him to tell Police Association head, Mike McCormack to get stuffed.
“A distraction”? Really?
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org/ Twitter: @pghntr