Say what you like about Canada’s foremost metropolis, Toronto; it continues to make progressive moves, in both the political and judicial arenas.
The appointment of Mark Saunders as the city’s new chief of police attests to that. He becomes the first person of African descent to hold the position, replacing former chief Bill Blair, whose tenure was marked by periods of upheavals, especially with the Black community.
Saunders, who previously headed the force’s gang and drug squads, as well as the homicide division, takes the mantle of leadership of the force’s 8,000 uniformed and civilian police staff and will oversee a $1 billion annual budget.
The 32-year veteran of the department comes highly recommended, “[he] represented the best choice among excellent choices available to replace Blair,” Toronto Mayor John Tory told a news conference.
He was also endorsed by Alok Mukherjee, head of the police services board as “a credible and inspiring leader who is expected to bring real change.”
However, enthusiasm in the Black community over his appointment is tempered by expectations, especially by activists and community workers who are in opposition to the current policy of “carding” by police officers, which they say disproportionately targets Blacks.
Saunders signalled his awareness of the prevailing issue and the expectations that accompanies his appointment.
“Being Black is fantastic, but it doesn’t give me super powers,” he commented on his appointment. “If you’re expecting that all of a sudden the earth will open up and miracles will happen, that’s not going to happen.”
He further delved into the issue in a short speech to some members of Toronto’s Black community at a recent African-Canadian Summit where he was quoted as saying that he “knows that African-Canadians have a completely different experience living in Canada than others. But he cautions against expecting too much from him.
“It is not going to happen overnight. If anyone in here thinks tomorrow is a new day it is not,” he said. “I need your help in order to make this happen.”
Saunders, born in England of Jamaican heritage, moved to Canada as a child. He is the father of four children. He officially took over the job on Sunday, April 19.