By TOM GODFREY
Roy Williams, the first Black Toronto Police Services Board member, says Chief Mark Saunders can expect a short honeymoon period before he is forced to do something to calm the community over a new carding policy.
Williams is sad and disappointed that the watered-down policy was adopted by the Board earlier this month during their last meeting with former Chief Bill Blair.
Blair, 61, retired last Sunday after 10 years of leading the force through some tumultuous times. He will be seeking the Liberal nomination for the federal riding of Scarborough Southwest.
His previously stellar legacy has been overshadowed by events coming out of the G-20 summit in Toronto which saw hundreds of citizens arrested and held in deplorable conditions and scores more being “kettled”, surrounded on all sides by a wall of riot-clad police officers in pouring rain. The issue of carding, otherwise known as Community Engagement, in which young Black or Brown males going about their legitimate business are arbitrarily and excessively stopped, questioned and documented by police officers, will also be forever linked with Blair.
“Chief Blair did a very good job right down until the end with the carding issue,” Williams told Share. “He appointed three deputy chiefs who were visible minorities.”
Chief-designate Saunders, Peter Sloly and the now retired Keith Forde were appointed deputy chiefs by the board during Blair’s tenure.
“Don’t forget that he also promoted many others in the Divisions,” Williams said. “He also promoted a lot of women as well.”
The service in the 1990s, with Williams on the Board, was forced to provide racial data on all new hires to help create a more diversified service.
At 83, Williams is still active in the community and makes regular treks to the Jamaican Canadian Association’s center, which he helped to start in 1962 with Bromley Armstrong, George King, Ira Dundas and Mavis Magnus among others.
Ironically, the JCA’s first meeting was held in the old YMCA building at 40 College St., now the site of police headquarters.
Williams was selected to the Board for two terms from 1987 to 1993, during some controversial and testy times with Susan Eng as chair.
He said Saunders has attended many community meetings on the carding issue and has helped with the PACER Report.
“Chief Saunders can be the one who can eliminate carding forever,” Williams told Share. “That can be his legacy for the police force and the community.”
Saunders, who will be sworn in as chief next month, has said he will meet with groups to discuss their concerns. He plans to lay out a road map for his term in office.
“I believe that Saunders has to lead the charge,” said Williams. “He seems to be close to the Police Association and officers in general.”
There are reports that Saunders was supported for the chief’s job by the powerful police union, which did not want Sloly.
He believes the issue should be a top priority for Saunders.
“The honeymoon for the new chief will be short,” Williams said. “This is a top priority and Saunders just cannot be given a pass on this.”
Williams is a passionate supporter of Toronto Police which, he said, is the best force in the world.
“The force does have a few black marks when it comes to the carding issue,” he said. “We have done a lot of work and much more is left to do in race relations.”
He credits Blair for being a visionary in policing, who will also be successful in politics.
“I don’t think the carding issue will leave much of a blemish on Blair,” said Williams. “Maybe more so in the visible minority communities.”