The chief of Toronto police unexpectedly announced he will step down at the end of next month, just hours after a city councillor launched an effort to cut the force’s budget by 10 per cent amid widespread protests across North America against police brutality.
While Chief Mark Saunders gave no indication he was leaving under pressure, his exit creates an absence at the top of the Toronto Police Service as it and other forces face increasingly strident calls for some of their budgets to be allocated elsewhere.
Saunders said the emergence of young protesters calling for police to be held accountable for violence against marginalized communities was an opportunity for dialogue.
“What I liked about the protest is we’ve got our young engaged,” he said at a news conference on Monday, noting in the past adults would often speak on their behalf.
“Now they’re coming to the table, this is a fantastic opportunity for all of us,” he said.
Saunders, one of the first Black chiefs of a Canadian police force, said he would step down on July 31 — eight months before his contract was up — but that he would remain engaged in the challenge of reducing violent crime within Black communities.
“I see a lot of young Black boys getting killed by young Black boys,” he said. “Law enforcement deals with those symptoms and I want to help find the cure for the disease.”
Saunders, who had been in the top job for five years, said he informed Mayor John Tory and the police board of his decision early last week.
Meanwhile, city councillor Josh Matlow is proposing that a tenth of the force’s $1 billion-plus budget be shifted to community investments that would “enhance resiliency in marginalized communities", including community-led alternatives to policing and the criminal justice system, anti-racism education, affordable housing and tenant rights, food security and skills training.
“We recognize that many of the impediments to community safety will not be solved by the police,” he said. “Too many people are unable to access the life-saving resources they need to thrive, while growing affordability, mental health and addictions crises are having massive health and safety impacts.”
The move follows a pledge from a majority of Minneapolis’ city council to dismantle that city’s police force and replace it with an alternative model in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
Toronto's police chief says he will step down at the end of July, while a city councillor is proposing a 10 per cent cut to the force's 2021 budget.
But Toronto’s mayor is instead focused on getting more officers wearing body cameras, and more police training and community outreach, and Matlow acknowledged the motion is unlikely to succeed.
“The truth in Toronto is that, as it stands now, it’ll be challenging to even get 10 per cent approved at council, given that we have a mayor and majority who still haven’t committed their support,” Matlow said in a tweet.
“We need to get this door open and need your help,” he added. “Please email the mayor and your councillor.”
Alastair Sharp / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada's National Observer