The Yonge Bloor Bay Business Association (YBBA) a private association of business owners in one of the biggest and wealthiest concentrations of business in Toronto, sits at the junction of three Toronto Police divisions, 51, 52 and 53. They cooperate closely with TPS, and – among other things – conduct an annual walk of their business area accompanied by the Chief.
On March 3 at the Royal Canadian Yache Club premises on St George St., the YBBA held an appreciation breakfast for Chief Bill Blair prior to his April retirement.
About 90 people attended the gathering, which was made livelier still by a full turnout of city media to an animated pre-breakfast scrum, drawn by the Mystery Tunnel Affair, the impending switch to encrypted police radios, and of course speculation about Chief Blair’s own future plans.
Blair refused to speculate about his own future, saying only, “when you’re wearing this uniform and doing this job, you’ve got to stay focussed on this [uniform]”. But he added that “Perhaps a few months from now I’ll have an opportunity to continue to serve this community perhaps in another capacity.
“I’m a little bit cautious,” Blair told the gathering, ”I’m approaching the end of my ten-year term of Chief of Toronto Police Services and I’m a little reluctant to write my eulogy at this point, but it’s a good time to reflect on where we can go and where we can grow in this city which has been, identified by the Economist as one of the safest cities and most livable cities in the world. That should be a source of pride to every Torontonian. People from all around the world come here, and people ask me how they can live so peacefully together…I’d like to tell them it’s brilliant policing, but its really because this is one of the most socially cohesive places in the world.”
“When you walk around this neighbourhood you see some of the wealthiest people in town. But when you turn aside into a laneway you are face to face with the poor and the homeless and those who experience disparity. You meet people who have faced discrimination but whose kids will have the same opportunity others might have.”
Blair praised the cooperation between businesses and the TPS, referred to in an introduction by Al Stuart, owner of The Pilot Tavern: “When I took over the Pilot, I was told by everybody in the business, don’t get involved with the cops, it’s trouble, but I’ve found the exact opposite to be true.” Nick Vesely of the Cambridge Suites Hotel, who has managed hotels in the area for years, underlined the need for close relations between the hospitality industry and the police services.
Blair was asked by MPP Glen Murray what changes he has seen in relationships between TPS and the LGBT community since the 1980s, when he noted that there was a lot of gay-bashing and a very tense relationship.
“How do you attribute the change in what is really a short period of time?”
“The relationship with the LGBT community is for me really a great example of how we needed to change,” responded Blair. “I’ve been around for 38 years and I remember how difficult that relationship was. A lot of really good people on both sides of the issue have worked hard at resolving those issues. We discovered there was so much common ground, and I have to give credit to the people who had the courage to come and work with us.”
Blair told the story of his very first consultation with the LGBT community at Metro Hall, “And the night before, the police had raided an event in the community and there was a huge controversy. I showed up convinced I was going to be alone in the room, and they were mad, but they came, and that was extraordinary.”
A questioner from the floor asked about police and body cameras. “Cameras are now a fact of life everywhere,” Blair responded. But he noted that there are serious complexities beneath the surface, as for instance what privacy issues arise the moment an officer steps into a private residence with the camera running. More generally: “Half the people think they’ll make the cops behave better. The other half think they’ll make the people behave better. I don’t care as long as everybody behaves better.”