Toronto’s police chief is stepping down from his post in two months, even though his contract was recently extended until next year.
Chief Mark Saunders’ final day in charge of Toronto Police Service is July 31, he told reporters Monday. His contract had been extended to April 2021 just last summer.
Saunders didn’t explicitly say why he has decided to leave his post, but said, “I look forward to being a full-time dad and a full-time husband.”
The move follows global protests calling for the defunding of police and an end to anti-Black racism. Toronto Police had specifically been criticized after a Black woman, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, died after police were called to her home last month. Despite saying he could not comment on the case because it was under external investigation, Saunders also aggressively defended police, calling commentary surrounding the case “lies.”
Saunders didn’t say whether ongoing unrest played a role in his decision, but said he admires the youth who are protesting right now.
“What I like about the protests is we have our young engaged,” he said, adding that Toronto Police Service has less work to do than other police organizations to improve their track record when it comes to racism.
When asked how he feels about calls to defund police, Saunders said the move will only work if other agencies are funded to replace services currently offered by police.
“In the absence of that, it won’t work,” Saunders said.
Two Toronto councillors have suggested decreasing Toronto Police Service’s $1.22 billion budget by 10 percent.
The $122 million in savings will fund community programs, Coun. Josh Matlow said.
Saunders also said it’s time to invest in technology that’ll help police keep the community safe.
“The more informed the community becomes about the things we (Toronto police) have done, you will see our starting point is much higher,” Saunders said.
The outgoing police chief has faced criticism for several controversial decisions during his tenure, including his support for carding, a practice that allows officers to conduct random checks and interrogations to gather information. Critics have repeatedly pointed to the disproportionate number of Black Torontonians who get stopped by local police.
"It is legal. And it does enhance community safety," Saunders told CBC in 2015.
Saunders also reassured people in December 2017 that there was no evidence of a serial killer after several men disappeared from Toronto’s Gay Village.
A month later, Toronto police arrested Bruce McArthur and charged him with eight counts of first-degree murder, all for deaths of men who had close ties to the city’s gay community.
Earlier this year, Toronto police conceded that some officers had also been using Clearview AI, a controversial facial recognition tool, since October 2019.
The tool, which isn’t available for public use, scrapes troves of data online to provide a wide range of information, including a person’s name, address, and phone number.
Saunders directed his staff to stop using Clearview AI on February 5, after he learned they were using it. But CBC reported it’s unclear who originally approved the use of the app.
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