Thursday, December 2 - 8, 1999

Enzo Di Matteo

p. 19.


To the shock of many, devious process lands police hard-ass Julian Fantino the top job

Now that he's been named chief designate, everyone's wondering which Julian Fantino will emerge when he takes the reins of power he's so coveted.

T.O.'s new top cop has certainly been making all the right moves to give the appearance that he's serious about community input and civilian accountability. but Fantino's critics are legion.

Some worry what his law-and-order mentality will unleash on the streets. they say it's no coincidence the province is passing tougher laws against squeegees and panhandlers just as Fantino is set to take control.

He deserves a chance to prove his critics wrong, even if he's just playing the angles.

Controversy trail

But it's also true that wherever Fantino's policed — from Toronto to London to York region, and back again — controversy has followed.

Much has been made of the man's cop charisma, but not much has been said about his thin skin, how he doesn't readily admit when he's made a mistake, how it's his way or the highway. There's a lot of baggage there.

Fantino's scrapes with the gay community in London over his "kiddie porn" ring that never was are well documented.

Less well known, is how several of the alleged "victims" were enticed into making their allegations of sexual misconduct with the promise of money from a victims' compensation fund.

The London affair was a real mess that soon found Fantino trying to put out fires as revelations emerged that the ring was really an organized police effort to arrest older gay men who were buying sexual services from teenage hustlers who happened to be under 18.

Fantino took then Globe and Mail freelancer Gerald Hannon to the press council for writing a feature to that effect.

A London-based freelancer, Joseph Couture, laid a formal complaint of his own against Fantino with the Canadian Committee for the Protection of Journalists.

Couture had been threatened by London police with charges of obstructing justice for trying to talk to another of the alleged victims of the London "kiddie porn" ring.

Then there was the Jeffrey Gateman affair. The London police officer had sex with a 17-year-old prostitute and was demoted to third-class constable after an internal discipline hearing.

It came out later that senior officers with the London police and the regional Crown decided not to lay criminal charges against Gateman despite complaints by the woman.

She eventually got a justice of the peace to lay sexual assault charges against Gateman.

Andy Stevens, a former member of the London police services board who publicly criticized the force's handling of the Gateman affair, was pressured to resign.

But it didn't end there.

When the special investigations unit's (SIU) former director, Howard Morton, went public with statements that the London force was taking its sweet time handing over documents related to the affair, it came out looking like Fantino was trying to protect one of his own. Fantino wrote then premier Bob Rae asking for a public inquiry into the unit.

Fantino's also asked for former SIU director Andre Martin's head. For all his talk of policing accountability, Fantino would rather see the SIU gone. And while he's received mostly rave reviews for his short tenure in York region, even there he's leaving controversy behind.

Chief doesn't like to answer to civilians

His visit to two of his officers charged in the shooting death of Tony Romagnuolo has sparked criticism in the Italian Canadian community and press.

Fantino did not return NOW's calls. But police services board chair Norm Gardner is quick to jump to Fantino's defence when it comes to his selection as chief.

"There's been so much speculation during this whole process that it's been absolutely sickening," says Gardner.

But those who' ve had occasion to cross Fantino's path in the past see the behind-the-scenes manoeuvring to get him appointed as a bad omen.

"I can't remember a process being so devious," says veteran cop-watcher James Dubro.

Dubro, who also acts as chair of the Church-Wellesley community, doesn't expect Fantino to pull a London and start closing down bars in the gay ghetto where sex sometimes goes on.

Fragile balance

But he's not sure the fragile balance on issues like community policing won't be disturbed a year from now once senior officers whose idea of policing doesn't jibe with Fantino's either leave or are pushed out of the fold.

"That's why they want him," says Dubro. "They don't want all this waffling with various community groups."

Bob Katz, president of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, says Fantino's statements about doing away with the SIU are worrisome. "No one should be above the law," Katz says.

Fantino is been reaching out to his critics, including Kyle Rae. They've chatted.

"I'm prepared to work with him, Rae says. Philip Tsui of the Chinese Canadian Council is also looking to extend an olive branch.

"His track record hasn't been good (but) maybe he's improved."

Not likely, says former police services chair Susan Eng. "Julian Fantino has demonstrated his disdain for civilian accountability," Eng says. "That is the danger we face. A few bad things may have to go down before people look up from their cappuccino" and take notice."

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Created: October 8, 2000
Last modified: January 19, 2001
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