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Police chief Mark Saunders facing non-confidence membership vote

Last Updated Feb 15, 2018 at 11:36 pm EDT

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders is facing a non-confidence vote from the police membership.

The Toronto Police Association says it has begun an online electronic vote to determine if the membership has confidence in the Chief’s leadership.

Results of the vote won’t be known until February 22nd.

The Toronto Police Service refused to comment on the reported vote.

Police Association boss Mike McCormack told CityNews the vote was launched out of frustration.

“We have been talking to the mayor, to the chief, to the chair of the police service board for quite some time, trying to resolve this crisis in policing, this crisis in staffing,” said McCormack. “And again, we’re not against modernization but definitely the way that they are moving towards this, we believe it is an irresponsible way that is jeopardizing public safety, officer safety and the well being of our members.”

Saunders has come under fire from the police union over recommendations made in the transformational task force plan, which will see as many as 250 officers eliminated by the end of 2019.

The union commissioned a survey at the end of 2016 which revealed morale to be at an all-time low among front line police officers. Union head Mike McCormack has also warned public safety is at risk because of understaffing and a “mass exodus” of officers looking for jobs elsewhere. An agreement was reached last August to hire 80 new officers despite a hiring freeze.

McCormack says in the first six weeks of this year alone, 81 police officers have left the force.

“We have fewer officers answering radio calls, people are calling and they’re involved in domestic disputes, assaults, sexual assaults where they are waiting hours and hours for police officers to arrive. And our officers, the first words out of their mouths are, ‘Sorry it took us so long.'”

Last month, the union paid for a billboard above the Gardiner Expressway which blamed Mayor John Tory, Saunders and Police Services Board Chair Andrew Pringle for longer than normal wait times on 911 calls.

“They’re saying we’re going to fix this in 2019 or whatever? No, we’re saying we need it fixed now, our members have had enough and they want to have a voice,” said McCormack. “They’ve given us a mandate and they’ve said, we want the chief to know we’ve lost confidence in his leadership and he better fix it.”

Mayor John Tory says he has complete confidence in Saunders.

“I remain committed to the plan to modernize the Toronto Police Service and know the Chief is dedicated to addressing the concerns which always arise when significant change takes place,” Tory said in a statement released Thursday night.

“I strongly believe that continuing constructive discussion is far preferable to billboards and online votes as a way to address genuinely held concerns on the part of our police officers.”

Saunders has also come under fire of late for how the force has handled several high profile investigations, including the deaths of billionaire Apotex founder Barry Sherman and his wife Honey. Police leaked to the media that it was a suspected murder-suicide, angering the family. The conclusion has since been disproven.

Saunders was also criticized for being slow to investigate men that had gone missing from Toronto’s Gay Village and playing down reports of a serial killer. Investigators have since arrested one man and charged him with six counts of murder amid concerns there are more victims.

Police were criticized for their handling of the investigation in the death of Tess Richey. After initially saying foul play was not suspected an autopsy later confirmed her death to be a homicide. An internal investigation is underway to look into how officers handled the initial stages of the case.

Saunders was named chief of the Toronto Police Service in April 2015, succeeding Bill Blair, whose second five-year contract was not renewed.

It’s believed this is only the second time in the last 15 to 20 years that a non-confidence vote against the chief has been held.