Thursday, January 27, 2000

Bruce DeMara

p. A3

Fantino faces gay critics

Chief-to-be criticized for vague replies

Toronto police chief-designate, Julian Fantino took on some of his fiercest critics in the gay and lesbian community last night, but left many unhappy with his refusal to address specific concerns.

Fantino won some applause from the capacity crowd at the 519 Community Centre in the heart of the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood with his promise to try quickly learn about their most important issues.

"I'm humble enough to tell you that I need your help, I need your support as I seek to find my way," said Fantino, who takes over the chief's job in early April.

"I asked your indulgence. I also need time. Admittedly, I have a lot to learn. My learning curve is very demanding. I need your help to fast-pace my appreciation for critical issues that impact the gay and lesbian community," he added.

But the crowd frequently hooted their derision at Fantino's vague responses. One loud heckler was eventually escorted from the room.

When asked how he would deal with the Toronto Police Association and its controversial fund-raising True Blue campaign, Fantino said he couldn't get into specifics.

"We're always accountable. There is no such thing as the police not being accountable. I don't know if that helps you," Fantino said.

Fantino also said he wouldn't answer questions about Project Guardian, an operation he oversaw as police chief in London, Ont., and which was widely viewed by the gay and lesbian community as a witchhunt.

But after growing increasingly annoyed at the tone of some of the questions, Fantino lashed back at his critics.

"A lot of the labels that have been put on me and the stereotypical rhetoric… is unfair, unjust, ill-informed and devoid of the facts," Fantino said.

"It's very difficult to be here, stand here in front of you and talk about your community and your issues, your concerns and at the very same time, be labelled, stereotyped and basically found guilty of something," he said.

He also refused to commit himself to marching in Gay and Lesbian Pride Day along with Mayor Mel Lastman.

"I don't know that I need to go to a parade to express my sincere appreciation for the issues. I wouldn't be here this evening if I didn't care," Fantino said.

Members of the audience expressed disappointment with Fantino's speeches and his answers to the questions.

"It was really disappointing. I hope the next time Julian Fantino comes to talk to us, he puts the cue cards away and learns to speak from his heart," said Bonte Minnema, co-chair of Lesbian Bi Youth Line, a counselling service.

"As before — when he was selected chief — he says very nice words. but he shies away continually from any concrete commitment on almost any question," said community activist Lee Zaslovsky.

Toronto Centre Rosedale MPP George Smitherman, who is openly gay, described Fantino's appearance as "a deliberately low-key and in my view, sub-par performance.

"Someone who seeks to have such an extraordinary role in the City of Toronto ought to provide more than platitudes in answer to excellent questions," Smitherman said.

But it wasn't all bad.

One man even held up a sign saying, "Our Future Mayor Julian Fantino."

Toronto Police clippings… [Fiona Stewart]

Created: October 8, 2000
Last modified: October 8, 2000
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