By PATRICK HUNTER
At some point during this year, we expect the appointment of a new chief of police of the Toronto Police Service (TPS). Whomever takes over that post has some major challenges ahead. The outgoing chief, Bill Blair, certainly was not perfect. He however took the TPS further into the realm of, shall we say, humanizing the Service. By that I mean he admitted, very early, that there was racism in the Service, that racial profiling happened, and that relationship with the African Canadian community needed work – lots of work. I am probably exaggerating the last point.
Compared to the previous chief, Julian Fantino, he was a breath of fresh air.
The potential for a “first” with this appointment is strong. We could have the first female chief of one of the largest police services in the country. Or, it could be the first person of African descent who occupies the chair. There are many who are hoping that it will be the latter.
While it is possible that the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) could go outside the Service to pick a new chief, we have the luxury of three deputy chiefs from whom the TPSB can make its selection. Notably, none of the three is a woman.
Of the three, Deputy Chief Peter Sloly and Deputy Chief Mark Saunders are the ones of African descent. Of the two, Sloly is probably the best known, partly because of his administrative role in command structure and partly because of his regular interface with the community.
Saunders has had over 30 years policing, Sloly, 25. From his biography on the policing website, it seems that Saunders is currently working on his first degree in justice studies, while Sloly has a degree in Sociology and an MBA. Sloly has also held his command post longer than Saunders as he was among the first group of deputies that Blair designated after he (Blair) was appointed.
The job is not easy. Along with all the standard politics of being the chief and having to deal with not only the Board, and the public, not to mention the police association, as a Black chief, the Black community’s expectations of a Black chief would be like a microscopic version of African-Americans’ expectations of Barack Obama.
Sloly has also had more time, in this command position, to deal with the internal racism that he surely confronted within the force. He probably will not escape it, but surely he would have developed strategies to deal with it.
One also has to wonder whether Bill Blair’s recent cancelling of carding could be seen as a gift for Sloly to make his transition easier. Sloly, to give him credit, has walked the fine line of defending carding as a legitimate police activity as opposed to a racist exercise of control. And he has done so, to my mind, to protect Blair. If Sloly is now appointed, he will not have the burden of having to cancel the carding practice, which would leave the impression of him bowing to his community.
The other key appointment to look forward to is the new head of the Toronto Community Housing (TCH). This one will probably be a mystery appointment. Greg Spearn is currently the interim president and CEO, having taken over from the ousted Gene Jones.
Let’s face it, Jones screwed up totally. Embarrassingly so.
It would certainly be good to see another Black person in this role, given that the population of the TCH has such a high percentage of Black people. On this I won’t hold my breath.
Whomever takes over also has a major task ahead. Of course, he or she would have to be someone who knows more about the administration of such a large corporation. Apart from the Herculean task of taking on the backlogged repairs the TCH faces, equally daunting is building confidence in the corporation to meet its mandate.
Since the dismissal of Jones, the TCH has not been much in the news. One would like to believe that the reconstruction is underway, out of the public’s eye. Chances are we will not see more news until the CEO is confirmed and the media takes a deeper look at who has been chosen and his or her capabilities to steer the corporation in the right direction.
Blacks in high positions over the past couple of years have not fared well. The two major falls, Jones at TCH and Chris Spence at the Toronto District School Board have left us wondering: what the hell?
Let us hope that the new Black appointments this year fare better. Of course, I am being optimistic here that there will be Black appointments to key positions this year.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / Twitter: @pghntr.