Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders announced his resignation Monday afternoon.
Saunders said he would be leaving the role as of July 31.
“Thank you, Toronto, for working with me during my tenure,” Saunders said during a news conference.
“It is something I’ll cherish forever.”
Saunders is leaving his post eight months before his contract was set to expire in 2021. He did not give a reason for his departure, but said there are things he wants to do for the city of Toronto “for free.”
WATCH | Toronto’s police chief announces he is stepping down:
“I’m a free agent now,” he said, adding with a smile, “I’m certainly going to work, because I don’t think my wife will want me in the house.”
He said he is looking forward to being a full-time dad and husband, and added that his health was not a factor in his decision to leave. Saunders underwent a kidney transplant in 2017.
“Family is the most important thing to me right now,” he said.
Saunders, who is Toronto’s first Black police chief, was appointed in April of 2015. He has worked in policing for over 37 years.
Mayor thanks chief
In a statement issued Monday afternoon, Toronto Mayor John Tory said Saunders told him last week he planned to retire.
“On behalf of all Toronto residents, I want to thank Chief Saunders for his exemplary service,” Tory said, adding that prior to his five years as chief, Saunders had held “just about every leadership position available” in the Toronto Police Service.
“He has been a dedicated and responsible chief of police who has always worked to protect the city. He cares deeply about the people of the city, all of its neighbourhoods, and about the men and women who serve with him.”
Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg said Saunders would be “sadly missed.”
Watching my friend and colleague <a href=”https://twitter.com/marksaunderstps?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@marksaunderstps</a> announce his retirement makes me feel both sad, as he will be sadly missed, but happy as he can now focus on enjoying his family and his well deserved retirement. Congrats Chief in your well deserved retirement!
The city’s police services board announced last summer that it had made the decision to renew Saunders’ appointment until April 30, 2021. It was only the second time in the last 40 years that a Toronto police chief would serve more than a single term.
In the last five years, Saunders had overseen Toronto police through a host of high-profile incidents and cases, like the controversies around carding and the eventual arrest of serial killer Bruce McArthur, as well as a mass shooting in Toronto’s Greektown neighbourhood and the city’s deadly van attack.
Calls to defund police
Saunders is leaving just as a massive discussion about police reform is sweeping across North America, with protests in many cities sparked by deaths like that of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Toronto resident Regis Korchinski-Paquet.
Two Toronto councillors plan to bring forth a motion to cut the city’s police funding by 10 per cent and use that money for community resources instead.
Coun. Josh Matlow said he will bring a motion to the next city council meeting at the end of the month, with support from Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam.
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Matlow said he wants to see the savings — about $122 million — spent on community programs. Similar discussions are happening in other jurisdictions.
When asked if he was bowing out to avoid these discussions, Saunders said that his track record “speaks for itself.” He did not completely shut down the idea of defunding police, but did say that money would have to be funnelled into the right programs.
“If we get it right, then there needs to be other agencies that satisfy the needs of the community. In absence of that, things will not work,” he said.
Recent weekend protests in support of the international Black Lives Matter movement played out peacefully in Toronto, and featured Saunders taking a knee as a show of solidarity with demonstrators.