Monday, November 29, 1999

John Saunders, Nathalie Southworth

p. A1.

Fantino chosen Toronto's top cop

Next chief moves fast to soften tough image

Julian Fantino, who will become Toronto's police chief on March 1, set out last night to soften the tough-guy image that cost him the job five years ago.

The North Region chief, who won command of Canada's biggest municipal police force by a 5-2 vote, said he will establish a liaison committee "representative of each and every race, creed, colour and sexual orientation" and will strive to make the city safe for "all "Torontonians." He underlined the word "all" in his prepared text.

The Toronto force, where he started as a part-time auxiliary officer and rose to acting staff superintendent, will be the third he has headed. He left for the top job in London, Ont., in 1991, and took over the troubled York force last year after failing in his first run at the Toronto chief's office in 1994.

He was a favourite that time but lost out to David Boothby by one vote. A lesbian member of the board charged that he was hostile to gays. His candidacy this time has been controversial. Although he did not apply for the job, a recruitment firm hired by the board put his name in the running again.

Also in the running were Toronto deputy chiefs Mike Boyd and Steve Reesor and Superintendent Bill Blair.

Two Police Services Board members, Councillor Olivia Chow and law student Sandy Adelson, each said she had voted for an internal candidate, but they would not reveal their choices.

Mr. Fantino was born in Italy and came to Canada with his family as a boy.

No-nonsense Fantino not always politically correct

Mr. Fantino's Toronto experience ranges from uniformed patrol to undercover drug work and includes eight years on the homicide squad.

He has been less than politically correct at times. as a staff inspector in the late 1980s, he compiled crime statistics by race in his North York police division, but apologized when the figures were made public.

As London chief, he spearheaded Project Guardian, a joint-forces investigation in which scores of men were charged with sex offences against minors. He was accused by gay groups of trying to link homosexuality and pedophilia.

In Toronto not everyone is enthusiastic about him.

"Five years with Fantino really scares the community," Philip Tsui, president of the Toronto chapter of the Chinese Canadian National Council said before the vote was announced. He said minority groups are worried about what they see as insensitivity on Mr. Fantino's part toward their interests and toward community policing.

"For the past two years, I have been telling people we have to support the police and find a way to work with them. My greatest fear is Julian Fantino will say, "Forget it; we don't want to work with the community," said Bob Katz, president of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations.

Mr. Fantino is an outspoken critic of the Special Investigations Unit, the civilian police watchdog, which he would like to see eliminated entirely.

'The appointment of Mr. Fantino will set back community relations with the police 10 years or more," Toronto lawyer Julian Falconer said Mr. Fantino's rigid command-and-control; approach to policing is just what the police union and politicians are pushing for, he said.

Mr. Falconer said that community organizations were concerned about the board's hiring process and appalled at the intimidation tactics former board member Judy Sgro alleged were used against her by the Toronto police union.

Ms. Sgro said on a CBC news program last week that she was bullied by members of the police union for criticizing police conduct. According to transcripts, she said seven members of the union's executive grilled her for 45 minutes at a meeting presided over by police board chairman Norm Gardner.

Since then, "I've heard the police union was having me followed and building a case to ruin my municipal career," she said in an interview yesterday. Ms. Sgro said she is seeking legal advise this week and might take action against Mr. Gardner as well.

Mr. Falconer, the lawyer, filed an official complaint Saturday on behalf of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations and the Chinese Canadian National Council asking that the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services remove Mr. Gardner as police board chairman.

Also in the complaint is a reference to comments made to The Globe and Mail in which Mr. Gardner described those who criticized candidates for chief as "scumbags."

Toronto Police clippings… [Fiona Stewart]

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