October 7-13, 1999, Vol. 19, Number 6

Enzo Di Matteo

p. 18.

Is Julian Fantino The Police Chief Toronto Needs?

He'd rein in the renegade cop union, but it's the other stuff that makes him scary

Julian Fantino. In policing circles, the name inspires as much angst as it does admiration.

The buzz once again is that he's on the way back, after stops in London and now in York region, to take over the police reins in Toronto. The votes on the police services board have been counted. All the pieces are in place.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the coronation. The cop affectionately known as "Julie" has fallen out of favour — or so it seems.

There was Mel Lastman, as he took over councillor Judy Sgro's seat on the police services board last week, distancing himself like the plague from Fantino, saying how he doesn't know much about the heir who's suddenly not so apparent.

Police union chief Craig Bromell has also soured on Julie.

Seems Bromell, who's had the run of the shop in this town since assuming the presidency of the Toronto Police Association, is a little worried that disciplinarian Fantino, if he gets the top job, may not as easy to push around.

He's writing in the police union mag Tour of Duty that David Boothby's replacement for chief must come from within the organization. The silly season has begun.

But you can never be too sure about what you're hearing when it comes to the highly politicized, cutthroat chief-selection process.

It's why some police insiders are convinced that the mayor, the undisputed master of political game-playing, is up to his old tricks with his recent "Fantino who?" posturings.

They think he's really bucking for Fantino, has his sights on reining in the unpredictable Bromell and knows Fantino's the guy to do it.

Contrary to his recent statements in the press, Lastman and Julie go back a long way — all the way back to when Fantino was top dick in 31 division in North York.

Racism debacle

They talked regularly on the phone, at least once a month, say sources in the know. There were meetings in Lastman's office.

Then came the race-based-stats debacle at a breakfast meeting of the mayor's, and Fantino's fall from grace in the firestorm of controversy that followed.

One North York councillor says the stir caused a rift in the Fantino-Lastman relationship. another says the entire affair was forgotten once the damage control was over. "Fantino was glory boy," this source says.

Any animosity that may have existed between the two was more than likely washed away earlier this year when the mayor's wife, Marilyn Lastman, found herself in a shoplifting pinch in Fantino's backyard in York region.

No criminal charges were laid. And word has it Fantino was happy to oblige when the mayor called about reprimanding the individual or individuals responsible for the embarrassing leak. Fantino announced an internal probe the day after the story hit the papers.

"Call me paranoid, but wouldn't Mel owe him one?" asks one police insider.

To this source, all the talk from the mayor and some others on the police services board about preferring someone from within the organization is smoke and mirrors.

"It's all for show, to make people think the fix is not in," this source says. "What do you expect them to say — that we don't have someone from inside with the right stuff?"

Even Jeff Lyons, one of those board members touting an inside choice, is leaving the door open for Fantino. "It doesn't mean people can't go and seek him out," Lyons says. "That's a possibility."

While some may view Fantino's arrival as a huge step backward for policing, the prospect of his return does resonate on several levels. For the mayor, Fantino makes immense sense politically.

"He would want Fantino in there," says the city hall insider. "The first Italian police chief, Fantino's Conservative ties to (Mike) Harris and the law-and-order platform. It would be a natural choice."

"Union head Craig Bromell is paranoid going head-to-head with Fantino"

There are also some nuts-and-bolts reasons for wanting Fantino. For starters, city council is clamouring for someone who can control the police budget and cut the bloated senior ranks that are swallowing up big bucks.

The star with the mix of administrative and street-cop know-how they're looking for hasn't emerged in the current crop of names. One candidate, deputy chief Steve Reesor, was the chief's designate during contract negotiations with the union.

But he' better known for the mess he got into earlier this year over guns going missing from the property unit. There was an embarrassing story in the Toronto Star, too, that used a questionable arrest record to paint Reesor as overly ambitious. "Fat chance" is how one board member assesses Reesor's prospects.

Quick rise

Deputy chief Mike Boyd, the supposed front-runner, rose quickly through the ranks. But some say too quickly. His unprecedented jump from staff sergeant to deputy chief in 95 was mostly due to a board initiative to cast a wider net in its search to fill senior ranks.

As one observer says, "The board's looking for managers, and what they've got to choose from is field cops."

The prevailing political feeling is that a candidate from inside current ranks will be more reluctant to make cuts in the senior ranks.

It's not something Boyd, for example, is willing to commit to — at least not just yet.

Having spent 20-plus years on the T.O. force before leaving for the top job in London and now in York region, Fantino has the management credentials and is not exactly an outsider.

At the same time, seven years removed from his T.O. days, he doesn't have the same allegiances to the current senior brass that his contenders do. Most of his contemporaries on the force have retired or moved on. For him, getting rid of the deadwood, as council wants, won't be as personal an exercise.

Then there is the Bromell factor. The police union head has been wreaking havoc in all things policing — most recently with his threat of job action during the city's contract talks with municipal workers. His act, it seems, it wearing a little thin.

"After a while, people start to lose respect for you," says Lyons.

If anyone can keep Bromell on a tight leash, it's Fantino. Policing observers say it's the reason Lastman elevated himself to the board seat vacated by Sgro. He wants to ensure Fantino's choice.

The only stumbling block seems to be that Fantino wants a five-year contract and the board is talking three.

"Bromell is paranoid about going head-to-head with Fantino," says this observer. "If Fantino, Mel and (police services board chair) Norm Gardner get together, he's in for a hell of a gang-up."

The question for others not so enamoured of Fantino, however, is who or what is going to be sacrificed in the rush to slap down Bromell?

The kind of policing Fantino embodies is the scary part. The steroid boys will get a free hand. It'll be road-boss country again." It's moving the policing discussion a huge step backward," says another councillor, recalling the "kiddie porn" busts Fantino presided over in London that, when all was said and done, amounted mostly to an anti-gay witch hunt.

Bromell and company, in any event, see the writing on the wall. It's why the police union is bucking for Boyd — at least unofficially.

That Boyd was instrumental in squeezing an extra $1.2 million in overtime pay from council for cops to sweep homeless people and squeegees off the street has something to do with it.

But just as important a consideration, says one union insider, is the union's view that Boyd is not as "political" as Fantino. With Fantino, "it's basically his way or the highway," says this union symp.

Passed over

But does Fantino want the job? Some speculate his time has passed, that he's happy in York and doesn't want to risk the embarrassment of being passed over yet again. He lost on a tie vote to Boothby last time.

Fantino did not return repeated calls from NOW. Ditto for Andy Stein, the mayor's contact on police issues. Bromell is out of town and unavailable for comment.

Police services board chair Gardner, whose close relationship to Fantino is well known, is not tied to selecting a successor from inside. And for his part, he doesn't consider Fantino an outside candidate. "He's a leader, " Gardner says.

Lyons seems to suggest that the police union's choice, whomever that may be, will be in for a rough ride.

"It's good that we hear from the association, but they're not running the police services board," Lyons says. "Some would beg to differ, (but) it's important to us to send a signal, let it be known that we're not letting him (Bromell) run the board.

"But I don't have to be elected by the public, so I don't need his support at election time, where he can send police officers out to hurt or help you."

Olivia Chow, the newest member of the board, is pushing for a more open public consultation process. "People should take a break from all these backroom games," she says. "Give the public a chance."

Toronto Police clippings… [Fiona Stewart]

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