Justin Trudeau, Bill Blair defend record over handling of G20 protest

Former Toronto police chief Bill Blair faced questions about his handling of the 2010 G20 protests and his support for Conservative anti-crime legislation as he appeared with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau Monday in Ottawa.

Former Toronto police chief still faces nomination meeting in Toronto's Scarborough Southwest riding

Bill Blair is a strong get for the Liberals heading into this fall's federal election. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Former Toronto police chief Bill Blair faced questions about his handling of the 2010 G20 protests and his support for Conservative anti-crime legislation as he appeared with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau Monday in Ottawa.

Blair announced Sunday that he wants to run for the Liberals in Scarborough Southwest, a Toronto seat now held by New Democrat Dan Harris.

Blair still faces a vote by Liberals in the riding before he can become the party's officially nominated candidate, making it unusual for him to be at a media question-and-answer session with the party's leader.

He also faced questions about his time as police chief of Canada's biggest city.

Police clear protesters outside the provincial government buildings in Toronto during the June 2010 G20 summit. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Asked how he could represent the party that introduced the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, given the Toronto police's crackdown on protesters during the G20 summit in Toronto, Blair said that as chief he had answered many questions on the controversy.

He also said that after the protests, in which 1,100 people were arrested and many were detained in a makeshift detention centre in east-end Toronto, he ordered an independent review of police actions and implemented its recommendations.

"We had a very, very truncated period of time in which to prepare. There was very little time to train our officers and put them through various scenarios, but we did our best. And I acknowledge that we faced some very significant challenges, particularly when violence began to occur and the destruction of property," Blair said.

"I know that the citizens of my city and across this country had concerns about how that event was policed. As the chief of police in Toronto, it was my responsibility to try to answer those questions."

Open nomination questioned

Reporters also pointed out that Blair supported some of the Conservative government's tough-on-crime legislation. With Trudeau nodding beside him, Blair said he believed in law in order and the need to provide support for victims, but said that must be balanced by following the charter and by support for communities that are affected by crime.

The Liberals have already faced a number of controversies surrounding their pledge to hold open nominations, with some complaining party officials have interfered or interpreted the rules to favour certain candidates.

Other previously declared candidates have publicly welcomed Blair's entry to the nomination contest.

Michael Kempa, an academic who says he has spent more than a year pursuing the nomination, tweeted a greeting to Blair on Sunday, saying he would see the newly retired police chief "in the trenches" within the riding.

A similar message came from Tim Weber, a former television journalist. Weber tweeted that he welcomed Blair to the race in Scarborough Southwest, where he said a "great group of candidates" are ready to paint the riding red.

Trudeau told reporters Blair will have to fight for his nomination just like everyone else, and said he made that clear when the Liberals approached Blair to run.

Having to compete for a nomination, Trudeau said, puts the decision over a candidate in the hands of local party members and it teaches candidates such as Blair the basics of being a politician. 

Money promised for emergency responders

"For all his experience elsewhere, that connection to community as a politician, while deeply informed by his years as a beat cop, is a different experience when you're asking for people's vote," Trudeau said. 

"One of the things you've all seen from me over the past two years is that I have dedicated myself to trying to draw great people into politics," Trudeau said to explain Blair's appearance.

The pair spoke to reporters following Trudeau's speech to the International Association of Fire Fighters Canadian Legislative Conference.

In his speech Monday, Trudeau proposed a public safety officer compensation benefit of $300,000, which would be paid to the families of firefighters, police officers and EMS workers killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty.

Trudeau also promised to reinstate federal funding to Canada's four Heavy Urban Search and Rescue (HUSAR) teams, which the government cut in 2012, and create a national action plan on post-traumatic stress disorder.

with files from Geoff Nixon


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