WATCH: In his year end sit down with Dave Trafford, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair says he would do his job forever if he could.
He quickly corrected me when I suggested that his might be one of the toughest, if not one of the (‘superlative expletive deleted’) jobs in the city.
Bill Blair insists his job as Toronto’s Police Chief is the “best (‘superlative expletive deleted’) job” anywhere.
“I love this job. I’ve been a cop for 38 years. I’ve been the chief for nearly 10. I’d do this forever, quite frankly.”
Blair says he thought they’d have to “drag (him) out of here.”
The fact is, they are, in a way, dragging him out of the chief’s office – albeit not kicking and screaming.
Toronto’s two term police chief wraps up his tenure on April 25th, 2015, ten years (give or take a day or two), since Julian Fantino handed Blair his ceremonial sword in front of friends, family and dignitaries crowding the foyer of 40 College Street.
Blair understands that his time would eventually end but he offers a sideways grin when he admits: “I also understand that there’s a political decision that gets made every five years and all chiefs are subject to that.”
Those politics were played out in public after the chief confirmed he’d seen a video that appeared to show Rob Ford smoking crack. His fate might have been sealed when he suggested the content of the video “disappointed” him.
The mayor and his brother Doug took dead aim at Blair. Rob Ford dared Blair to arrest him and insisted the investigation was waste of tax payers’ money. Councillor Ford accused the chief of going “rogue” and violating the Police Services Act.
The decision not to renew Blair’s contract was made publicly on July 30, 2014, but the chief already knew he wouldn’t be extended.
But what are the chances he’d stay on the job – if the circumstances were right, under the new Police Services Board. Would he come back?
“I don’t even think it’s right to speculate. I was appointed to two terms. My current term is up on April 25th,” he said.
While he may not sound like a guy who’s willing or ready to leave, he is already considering the possibilities once he closes the door one final time on his seventh floor office.
“I intend to continue to do this job every day, all day, right up until that last day and when my time as the chief of police ends here — I’ve been a public servant my whole life — I’ll find another way to serve,” he said.
He doesn’t take the bait when asked whether he might consider running in next fall’s federal election. Nor does he offer any insight or a comment when asked the what-next-question. He does say he’s not ready to sit around and “do nothing.”
In the same breath, Blair offers up litany of accomplishments and accolades the service has enjoyed over the past decade, sounding a lot like a guy who’s rhyming off a resume.
Among the highlights, Blair points out that Toronto’s crime rates have steadily declined since he took office in 2005. (And that happened against the darkest days that included the “Summer of the Gun,” the Danzig Street and Eatons Centre shootings, and the G20.)
But despite declining crime rates, particularly in some of Toronto’s roughest neighbourhoods, the Toronto Police Service under Bill Blair still struggles with racial issues. There is a deeply rooted mistrust of police in a number of Toronto communities – particularly the city’s black communities.
It’s been highlighted recently by the controversy around “carding” (i.e., the process of stopping, questioning and documenting the contact with an individual on the street). The matter of mistrust and racial tensions, however, isn’t new in Toronto. It’s been an issue since the late 80’s and reached a violent crescendo with the Yonge Street riots in May of 1992.
Blair doesn’t accept the suggestion that it’s an historic and systemic failure by the Toronto Police Service and the Toronto Police Services Board to manage and bridge that gap.
“I would ask the people of Toronto to look at what has actually transpired. I can speak fairly authoritatively over the last ten years. We have done enormous work in the service. First of all we have created on of the most diverse police services anywhere. I would put our diversity – the languages my officers speak, the cultural competencies they possess, the communities they come from and represent – this is a remarkably diverse police service.”
All of that is true. Nonetheless, the community mistrust and the sometimes overheated rhetoric remain.
“I think we need to remind people of all of the good work and all of the progress that has been made,”says Blair. “And as long as anyone feels excluded, anyone feels treated differentially, disparately, and discriminatorily then we’ve got work to do.”
That’s work that will be taken up by a new mayor, a new police services board and, at the end of April, a new chief.