TORONTO — As Toronto police investigate a string of high-profile shootings, a war of words is brewing in the force’s upper echelons, with the mayor and chief on one side and the head of the police union on the other.
It all goes back to a letter that Global News reported was written by veteran investigator Sgt. Mark Hayward and addressed to Mayor John Tory. The sergeant accuses Tory of being a direct contributor to the city’s gun violence by cancelling a police anti-violence strategy in 2016, the news outlet reported.
Hayward says the controversial program known as TAVIS provided police a crucial tool in keeping violent street gangs at bay. He also calls Chief Mark Saunders “a puppet on strings,” which he says are being pulled by the mayor, according to Global News.
In response to the letter, police have launched an internal investigation and Saunders has promised that the officer — whom he does not name — will be disciplined if they are found to have committed misconduct.
In a statement Friday night, Saunders said there are “conflicting points between what has been reported in the media and what our investigation has uncovered,” but he did not expand on what those points of conflict are.
He said TAVIS was cancelled as part of a modernization effort that included 32 recommendations from members of the public as well as “highly trained members of the service.”
Hayward declined to comment on Saturday, citing the internal investigation.
Tory released his own statement on Saturday, saying he supports Saunders and the city’s police services board “100 per cent.” The mayor’s statement blames the head of the police union for what he calls “a dangerous set of tactics.”
Mike McCormack “could be a partner with us in our fight to rid our streets of the gun violence we’ve seen recently,” Tory said, adding, “Unfortunately, he has chosen not to be.”
Tory accuses McCormack of holding up shift schedule changes that would allow the city to “deploy more officers where we need them.”
McCormack did not mince words in responding to the mayor’s statement, calling it an attempt to distract from the surge of shootings that has gripped the city in recent weeks.
“He’s deflecting towards me. Well, I got big shoulders — so be it,” McCormack said in a phone interview Saturday.
“But that’s really not helping the dialogue.”
Regarding Tory’s allegation that McCormack had held up changes to shift schedules that would have helped the force deploy more officers where they are needed, the union head was equally blunt.
“You can’t deploy officers you don’t have,” he said.
“We just don’t have the resources, and the mayor knows that.”
He said hundreds more officers are needed to deal with the issues the city faces.
The Canadian Press