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LUNNEY – Disappointed


January 20, 2014
By Robert Lunney

To be disappointed in someone is to reflect sadness because of a failure to fulfill ones’ hopes or expectations. Unfortunately it is a word that will forever be associated with Toronto Police Service Chief Bill Blair.

By now all the connected world is aware of the problems and proclivities of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Thousands, possibly millions, know that during an October media conference Blair revealed that a police investigation of a drug-related matter had turned up a video depicting the mayor allegedly smoking crack cocaine in the company of young men known to police.

The chief was asked if he was shocked by the evidence and the video in police possession. Blair replied, “As a citizen of Toronto, I’m disappointed. I know this is a traumatic issue for the citizens of this city and for the reputation of this city and that concerns me.”

This remark reverberated through the city and the international media. Senator Bob Runciman, a former solicitor general of Ontario, was quick to say that Blair may have overstepped his authority by saying he was “disappointed.” An unnamed senior member of the prime minister’s caucus said it was “shocking to see a chief of police use that choice of words.” Former British Columbia premier Ujjal Dosanjh tweeted, “by saying what evidence he has against Ford Blair entered (the) political arena.” The mayor’s brother, councillor Doug Ford, suggested that the chief had overstepped his authority and should temporarily step down from office.

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How the public viewed the issue was another matter. A November Ipsos Reid poll reported that 70 per cent of Toronto residents sided with Blair and believed he should stay as chief. Blair received 86 per cent credibility compared with Doug and Rob Ford, who were both at 30 per cent.

Look across the spectrum of comments by Canadian police and you will find many instances where leaders have made statements alluding to both broad moralistic and judgmental issues; morality referring to a code of conduct that would be supported by all rational persons. Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu is quoted on the Vancouver Board of Education web site emphasizing the importance of education and literacy in deterring youth from criminal acts. Winnipeg chief Devon Clunis, in a call to action at his swearing-in ceremony, spoke movingly of social conditions contributing to crime. Both chiefs expressed personal views not directly associated with law enforcement but relating to community health and well-being.

It is typical of police to offer some degree of value judgment about the investigations they are conducting. Examples include “Thanks to the cooperation of the community, a dangerous suspect has been taken off the streets,” or “We are relieved to have brought some closure to the family of victims.” A senior Northern Ireland police officer, speaking to a mass theft of sandbags protecting a neighbourhood from flooding, said recently that “If people have been taking property like that and trying to make a profit, I think it is morally reprehensible.”

Leaders of public agencies are frequently called upon to express their reaction to serious or critical incidents. It is a mark of leadership that they rise to these occasions and express their emotional as well as professional opinion. In Toronto it was left to the police chief to comment, however obliquely, on the morality of the mayor’s behaviour at a time when, with a few exceptions, members of the city’s business elite and religious leaders were notably missing in action.

In times of moral uncertainty the community looks to its leaders to define limits and articulate commonly held public standards. Leadership requires courage – courage to speak truth to power and courage of convictions.

Given the community’s need for clarity and reassurance, Blair’s remark was entirely reasonable and responsible.