Chief Saunders in focus with The Camera

Chief Mark Saunders talks about policing in Toronto in 2016.
Chief Mark Saunders talks about policing in Toronto in 2016.

While Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders has been repeatedly taken to task on racial profiling and carding, he stressed that the issue is currently in the hands of the provincial government, specifically with Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Yasir Naqvi.
Naqvi’s task is to draft regulations for every police service in Ontario. And, Saunders noted, Naqvi has stated firmly that “our government has been clear that we are opposed to any random police checks.”
The draft regulations so far prohibit random and arbitrary collection of indentifying information by police, protect civil liberties in voluntary police-public interactions regarding safety or crime and require new training, data management and reporting by forces.
Saunders said the challenge for forces like his will be finding the right balance – protecting civil rights especially for visible minorities without hindering officers’ ability to fight crime.
For Saunders, however, the main thrust of his approach to policing a city as racially, culturally and economically diverse as Toronto lies is balancing the budget and building trust and bridges.
On gun violence, the chief said he is working on the issue but noted the entire community needs to play a role. He urged citizens to join groups working for safe communities.
He acknowledged that gun violence is a serious concern. As of Dec. 21 there were 243 shootings involving 381 victims in the city in 2015 compared to 174 shootings and 231 victims by the end of 2014.
Appointed in 2015, Saunders has a unique grasp of issues affecting the Black community. With more than three decades service with the force, he is the first Black chief in the force’s history. Born in 1962 in London, England, to Jamaican parents, he moved to Canada as a child.
A father of four, he has had roles in the urban street gang unit, intelligence division, drug squad, community safety command, emergency task force and served as the unit commander of the homicide squad
Saunders said he is looking into areas of deployment of officers at the right times “so they can reduce that from happening. And that’s the process we’re moving towards right now.”
Police and communities alike are in a public trust “crisis” and that’s a challenge, according to Saunders.
“Do we have some slip-up? Yes, we do but the vast majority of our officers are good at what they do and have an understanding of what is required of them,” Saunders said.