Former Toronto police chief Mark Saunders is now a P.C. candidate in June elections

Mark Saunders and Doug Ford

The upcoming June Ontario provincial has given the media their first tantalizing tidbit when it was announced that former Toronto police chief Mark Saunders will be an Ontario PC candidate.

Saunders will run in the Don Valley West riding, which former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne has held since 2003. Wynne has already announced that she won’t be running again.

Following the departure of a number of other candidates, including two cabinet members, premier Doug Ford was quite pleased to have the first Black police chief of Toronto on his team. The party referred to him as a committed community leader.

“There is no one I’d rather have on the ballot in Don Valley West than Mark,” Ford said.

While some may be somewhat surprised that Saunders has chosen to run in the elections as a P.C. candidate, last May there was a signal that this was in the works. The provincial government, following his retirement, appointed him special advisor on the Ontario Place redevelopment project. The job paid up to $171,000 per year. He has since resigned from the post.

Mark Saunders

Saunders was born in England to Jamaican parents, and moved to Canada in 1967.  He holds a bachelor of applied science in justice studies from the University of Guelph-Humber. Saunders joined the Toronto Police Service in 1983 and retired after serving five years as chief in 2020.

Early in his tenure as police chief, Saunders landed in the middle of the “carding”

controversy. The Black community felt that their members were targeted by police for random questioning and have their vital information recorded on cards, which were kept on file for future reference.

Saunders disagreed with Mayor John Tory’s opinion that carding should end.

“When we do it right, it’s lawful,” Saunders said. Because, “When we do it right, it enhances public safety.”

That did not endear him to many Black community members and organizations. To say that it was a love-hate relationship may be as fair a description as you can get.

On his watch, he has had to deal with a number of unprecedented criminal matters that tested his force’s ability and resources.

Among them was the Toronto van attack. In 2018 a rented van ploughed into pedestrians on a crowded sidewalk on Yonge in North York. It was a targeted attack which killed 10 persons and injured 16. It was the deadliest incident of its kind in Canadian history.

In the same year was the Danforth shooting which left two dead and thirteen wounded. And in 2018, Bruce McArthur, a 66-year-old self-employed landscaper, was arrested for murdering a number of men between 2010 and 2017.

Speaking about Saunders’s tenure, John Sewell, one his stronger critics, said on his resignation, “He kept himself out of trouble and things walked along… that’s not what we needed. We needed some serious change.” His supporters on the other hand, felt he was a cop’s cop. Just what the city needed at the time.