Monday, November 29, 1999

Christie Blatchford

p. A18.

New chief was always right choice

York Region Police Chief Julian Fantino is the new boss of the Toronto Police force. The announcement of Chief Fantino's appointment by the Toronto Police services Board was made official last night.

Though the four candidates for the job — Deputy Chiefs Steve Reesor and Mike Boyd and Superintendent Bill Blair, in addition to Chief Fantino — were formally interviewed yesterday, the York Region chief emerged as the winner at a vote of the board last Thursday, the National Post has learned.

Chief Fantino had made it known he wouldn't appear for the interview unless the job was in essence already his, a remnant from the bitter and highly public battle for the same job in late 1994, when board members were sharply divided between two candidates — Chief Fantino, then the head of the London, Ont., force, and deputy Chief Robert Kerr. what ended up happening was that another deputy, David Boothby, became the winning compromise candidate.

"Fantino was the best candidate in '94," one source told the Post yesterday, "and he's far and away the best candidate now."

What tripped up Chief Fantino in his first run at the most powerful police job in Canada was always more a question of perception than one of reality.

Now 57, Chief Fantino had once been the fall guy in a brouhaha about the controversial release of crime statistics by race.

In 1989, a Toronto superintendent in North York, Fantino had been asked by a local police race-relations committee on which his boss sat to collect and release those numbers.

Then, when the proverbial dung hit the fan — the statistics showed a disproportionate amount of black crime in the troubled Jane-finch corridor — ever the good soldier, Fantino took the heat alone.

The result was that he was left tarred in some quarters — particularly with the then very active and outspoken Black Action Defence Committee — with a reputation for being particularly tough on black crime.

Even in 1994-95, he was also seen by segments of the city's homosexual community as anti-gay, this the result of a controversial probe he launched while the London chief into an allegedly organized gay child-porn ring.

That probe — a Southern Ontario-wide joint task force called Project Guardian — had its beginnings in 1993, when a bagful of sex' videotapes that showed boys in sex acts was turned into London Police.

But though the investigation yielded the laying of more than 300 criminal offences, and saw, by late 1994, 18 men plead guilty and receive sentences that ranged from 15 years to probation, only two men were ever charged with possessing child porn.

Since gay activists have long argued that the law that makes anal sex illegal for those under 18 is anti-gay, so was Chief Fantino stuck by those activists with the same label — though, in fact, his senior officers running the probe had been on his instructions acutely sensitive to the potential impact of such a probe on the larger gay community in the city and had taken pains to avoid even using the word "homosexual" when discussing it.

This two-headed monster of a reputation did in Fantino in 1994 on what was then a highly political board.

In those days, the board was headed by race relations activist and lawyer Susan Eng, and among its six members were Laura Rowe, a lesbian who is now widely regarded as having been the best and most intelligent board member in a decade, and Arnold Minors, a black man who lurched from controversy to controversy during his ineffective term.

Labels on Fantino unfair

Ms. Eng, Ms. Rowe and Mr. Minors all of them members appointed by the then- New Democratic Party government, were committed to Deputy Kerr.

Lined up on the other side in Fantino's corner were the elected members, politicians Brian Ashton, Norm Gardner (now the current chair of the board) and Alan Tonks.

Holding the decisive vote was Reverend Massey Lombardi, and when, at the key board meeting, it became clear Rev. Massey couldn't bring himself to vote for Fantino and that none of the pro-Kerr contingent would be moved, Boothby came up the middle to take the job.

During his interview with the board five years ago, Fantino was taken by surprise when presented with the news that an activist pastor of the gay Metropolitan Community Church downtown, had written a letter to the board denouncing him as anti-gay and saying, "We can under no circumstances accept Julian Fantino." Proud of the work Project Guardian had done to protect young people from sexual exploitation, he felt sandbagged.

Some of the same special-interest groups rallied again this fall when it became clear that Fantino was the leading candidate to succeed Chief Boothby, as indeed, given his 31 years of policing and stints as chief in London and York Region, he arguably ought to have been.

But this time around, he didn't apply for the job, was approached by the head-hunting firm hired by the board, and wouldn't even be interviewed unless he was assured he had the job — fair enough, given the mess he'd stumbled into a few years earlier.

And the makeup of the 1999 board is different, too. Only Mr. Gardner remains, and the majority of the current members are more conservative. In addition, the political climate in the province and in the city, has undergone a radical shift.

Finally, there is a growing sense that the force needs a strong chief who won't knuckle to the demands of the powerful Toronto Police Association, the union which represents most of the 7,000 strong members. The new chief is known as a hard liner with low tolerance for police misconduct. "If you screw up and admit it," one source says, "he'll give you a second chance. But lie about and you're toast."

And in fact, the labels that were once attached to Julian Fantino were always unfair.

He was never the homophobic racist the 1994 board deemed him, but rather a tremendous Canadian success story — the child of poor Italian, Roman Catholic parents, who came to this country as an 11-year-old, and who worked his way in the process becoming widely read and a smart articulate commentator not just on law-and-order issues, as he will now be able to say, to the very top of his profession.

Toronto Police clippings… [Fiona Stewart]

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