By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Senior Editor
It was terribly worrisome to many of us in the Black community, especially those of us who supported John Tory for mayor, that one of his first major decisions following his election win was to remove the only Black city councillor from the Toronto Police Service Board.
While Councillor Michael Thompson was one of former mayor Rob Ford’s appointees to the Board, and it is the new mayor’s prerogative as to who he appoints, there is much more to this story.
Thompson has been a thorn in the side of the police chief and the top brass of the service for a long time. For us, that is not necessarily a bad thing. Of course, for the top cops, nothing could be more discomforting than to have board members who take their job of oversight seriously.
That was not always the case. In fact, there have been too many instances of lap-dog board members – entire boards even – for whom the cops could do no wrong.
There have been individual board members over the years who tried to buck the trend, swim against the current, but they eventually went down in flames (pardon the mixed metaphors). It is not easy to stand up to the police in this town. In fact, it is not easy to stand up to the police in any town, as recent events in the United States have shown.
This current board was the exception. Thompson, board chair, Alok Mukherjee and a couple of other members made an effort to take their responsibilities seriously. For us, one of the important positions they took was on the issue of the police carding (or over policing) of young Black men in our community.
They demanded answers and solutions.
It is no secret that Mukherjee, Thompson and Chief Bill Blair did not get along. In fact, to hear it told by some, it was worse than that. It is also no secret that some board members – including Thompson – wanted Blair gone. No wonder that when the Chief’s contract came up for renewal, he was turned down and asked to leave.
I personally didn’t agree with that decision since I understood that Blair was seeking just one additional year added to his contract. I felt he deserved the accommodation. But I might be biased – for my own reasons.
Now that John Tory has entered the picture, everything has been turned on its head. Thompson is the one who is gone and Blair is still there…until his contract expires in April. Or not…
Tory and Blair are very close friends. There is another board member who is also a close friend and supporter of Blair and who used to work for/with Tory in another life. See where this is going?
The deck on the board is being stacked in Blair’s favour.
Tory says he will hold the police accountable. He says this also when he is asked about the carding issue. Will he? Can he? As far as I can tell, he is already caving to the cops. What kind of board can we expect once all the dust settles?
Another thing. Some time ago, Blair announced that he is not seeking an increase in the police budget this year. As far as I can remember, this has never happened before. He also announced that he is in favour of reducing the number of police officers.
What’s up with that? Budget time is where the board and the Chief always had a major fight as he refused to move an inch on his demands for increases. Suddenly he is in favour of a stand pat budget and cuts to personnel?
And if he is indeed leaving, why would he want to saddle his replacement with such a contract?
Was this an olive branch to his buddy, the new mayor, or was it a ploy to have his contract extended – or both?
Actually, if he really wanted to do a solid for Tory, what he should have done is wait until they both met around the table to debate the budget and then pretend to cave. That would have been perceived as a big win for Tory. Now, it just leaves us scratching our heads.
Here’s where the wise money is these days. Tory has said he would not revisit council’s decision not to renew the chief’s contract. So, here’s how he will get around that. His new board will go through the motions of searching for a new chief and, after failing to do so, which they will, Blair will be offered the year he wanted all along. They will also tell us that they don’t want to upset things too much with the PanAm/Parapan Games just a few months away.
Oh, and that budget freeze Blair has so willingly put on the table? Just wait until the bills for policing the Games come in.