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How Bill Blair made his mark on Canada's largest police force

Referred to as a thinking person’s cop by his fans and heavy-handed by a public disturbed by G20 violence, how Chief Bill Blair will be remembered when he leaves his post next spring depends on whom you ask.

On Wednesday, the Toronto Police Services Board announced it wouldn’t extend Blair’s contract when it expires on April 25, 2015.

“After considerable discussion related to the Toronto Police Service’s continuing need for organizational renewal the board has decided not to renew the employment agreement of Chief Blair,” the board said in a statement.

The son of a cop, Blair joined the force in the ‘70s as a way to make money while a student at the University of Toronto.

He started out walking the beat in Regent Park and abandoned his goal of a career in law or finance as he moved through the ranks — working undercover in the drug squad as well as in organized crime and major criminal investigations before being promoted to the senior ranks.

His combined criminology-economics degree only helped his trajectory.

It was almost a decade ago, in April 2005, when Blair was sworn in as Julian Fantino’s replacement, becoming the youngest chief of the Toronto Police Service.

At his swearing-in, he set the tone for his leadership.

“There is no greater challenge to our relationship with diverse communities than the corrosive issues of racism and racial bias,” he said.

“It will not be tolerated in the Toronto Police Service.”

Exactly eight months later, on Boxing Day, bystander Jane Creba was killed in a spray of gunfire from rival gangs on Yonge Street near the Eaton Centre.

Blair’s Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) grew out of that, combining law enforcement with community outreach in troubled neighbourhoods.

Norm Gardner, former chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, called TAVIS “extremely effective.”

Indeed, Blair’s tenure has been characterized by trials — the deadly shootings on Danzig Street and at the Eaton Centre, clashes at the G20 summit, a politically-sensitive probe into Mayor Rob Ford’s drug scandal, and the police shooting of Sammy Yatim — and how he’s responded to them.

In the aftermath of the G20, which former mayor John Sewell called a “black stain on policing in Canada,” Blair sidestepped calls for him to resign.

But when Ford claimed Blair was being political by launching Project Brazen 2 — a probe into the mayor and his friend Alexander Lisi — the public was on Blair’s side.

The police board called Blair a “champion of community policing and a leader in law enforcement around the world.”

“He has demonstrated his commitment to issues of human rights, diversity and integrity, among many others, and has served Toronto admirably and tirelessly,” it said.

Despite that, the police board has decided the city’s 7,700-member force needs a new face.

Below is a video playlist of highlights from Blair’s career.