Toronto police chief defends the service, promises change during news conference

WATCH ABOVE: Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders was asked Thursday about the service's $1-billion budget and if that level of funding was appropriate. He said there is value being provided by Toronto police and called for a broader dialogue about equality.

Toronto’s chief of police is promising big changes to the force, but he says that change will look like a continuation of existing efforts to combat anti-Black racism.

Mark Saunders made the remarks in a news conference Thursday about “current events,” in which he promised an end to incremental change while defending the force’s approach to policing.

His comments came in the wake of a massive protest over the weekend in solidarity with the family of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old Black woman who fell from an apartment balcony while police were in the home.

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The protest was also in solidarity with massive anti-racism demonstrations south of the border following the police killing of an unarmed Black man, George Floyd.

The events have renewed calls among some activists and experts to take some taxpayer money away from law enforcement and put it towards mental health and other community services.

But Saunders, who is Black, says his department needs the cash to tackle gun violence.

From the time he took over as chief, Saunders said, he started making changes such as adding an extra day of training on community engagement and de-escalation, which takes community members’ “lived experience” into account.

“This recent past around the world and here in Toronto has clearly shown that the time is now over for incremental change,” Saunders told reporters.

But asked what that would look like, he said the service would “do what we’ll continue to do.”

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Saunders said the force is also preparing for another potential protest over the coming weekend, though he declined to give specifics.

Social media posts show several different actions are planned in the city on Friday and Saturday, and Saunders wouldn’t say which ones officers would attend, or how big he thought they’d get.

He noted that in the past — including last weekend — protests in Toronto have been peaceful, and there’s nothing to suggest that will change.

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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