Former Toronto police chief Mark Saunders to join crowded race for mayor

Former Toronto police chief Mark Saunders says he will run to be the city's next mayor, joining a crowded contest that now includes current and former councillors.

'Every corner of Toronto is feeling the unease' of recent violence, Saunder says

Former Toronto police chief Mark Saunders says he will run for mayor of the city. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

Former Toronto police chief Mark Saunders says he will run to be the city's next mayor, joining a crowded contest that now includes current and former councillors.

In a statement Monday evening, Saunders said his priority would be "restoring" a sense of community safety.

According to Saunders, who unexpectedly stepped down as police chief in 2020, "every corner of Toronto is feeling the unease" from a spate of recent violence. He said that during his nearly four decades as a police officer, he "never experienced this level of fear creep across the city."

The statement goes on to refer to two unnamed people that Saunders says told him they are scared to ride the TTC.

"The citizens of Toronto need to be safe and feel safe, in every neighbourhood," Saunders said. "I don't want to see anymore lockdowns of elementary schools. Not another story of a woman getting attacked on a streetcar. No more gangs shooting up townhouses where children are sleeping. Enough."

Saunders said the city needs to offer better services for those struggling with their mental health and homelessness. 

He added that Toronto is at a "pivotal moment" and that his leadership experience in policing would uniquely position him to be a mayor who could bring "all voices to the table to focus on the real priorities and start fixing the problems."

Controversies as police chief

Saunders, the city's first and only Black police chief to date, served in the role from 2015 to 2020. He said he was stepping down eight months before his contract expired to spend more time with his family and that he wanted to do things for Toronto "for free."

His time as the city's top cop was not without controversy. Saunders and the force were repeatedly accused of downplaying the concerns of Toronto's LGBT community that a serial killer was targeting victims in the Church and Wellesley neighbourhood. Bruce McArthur would later plead guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder in connection to the slayings of eight men between 2010 and 2017, most with ties to the neighbourhood.

In 2018, Saunders publicly supported an external review into how the Toronto Police Service handles missing persons cases.

The year after he left the police service, Premier Doug Ford's government appointed Saunders to a six-figure job as a special advisor on the redevelopment of Ontario Place. A plan to convert part of the grounds into a private spa has drawn strong criticism from some residents who want to see Ontario Place remain publicly accessible.

Saunders ran an unsuccessful campaign as the Progressive Conservative candidate under Ford's banner in the riding of Don Valley West in the 2022 provincial election. 

The upcoming June 26 mayoral byelection was triggered by fomer mayor John Tory's sudden resignation last month, which came after he admitted to an extramarital relationship with a former staffer in his office.

Candidate nominations officially open on April 3 at 8:30 a.m. and close May 12 at 2 p.m. 

Who's in, who's out so far

It's shaping up to be a crowded field in the race to replace Tory.

On Tuesday, current city councillor Josh Matlow confirmed he will put his name on the ballot. Meanwhile, last week former three-term councillor and top Tory ally Ana Bailão said she would also run.

Days earlier, former Toronto councillor Giorgio Mammoliti announced he's planning to join the contest. Mammoliti lost his council seat in the 2018 election and moved to Wasaga Beach, where he launched an unsuccessful bid to become the mayor of that town.

Other current councillors are also positioning themselves for a mayoral run, including Brad Bradford and Stephen Holyday, though none have said definitively that they're "in."

Some who ran in the last mayoral election are also set to run again, including Gil Penalosa, Chloe Brown and Blake Acton.

Then there are those currently outside the city hall orbit. Provincial politician Mitzie Hunter is also exploring options, telling Queen's Park reporters she's "thinking about it." Meanwhile, former Toronto Sun columnist Anthony Furey has announced his own bid for the mayor's chair. 

Plenty more Torontonians are expected to put their name forward in the weeks to come. In the last election, 31 people ran for mayor only to see Tory cruise to victory.