The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Not quite a resounding mandate

When Julian Fantino finally ran for office, many of us breathed a sigh of relief. After all, he had been more politician than police officer all along.

Even when Fantino was police chief in the small, laid-back city of London, Ontario, every single standard police action -- police actions that go without publicity in other parts of Canada, even when they are much larger in scale -- became a media production: until even staid little London started to wonder if it was indeed such a hotbed of crime. At the very same time, the actual police statistics showed a drop in the numbers of violent crimes, a trend which predated Fantino's tenure: but to listen to the unrelenting publicity out of the police chief's office, you would never know it.

The pattern continued when Fantino took on the higher-profile role of York's police chief in 1998, then Toronto's police chief in 2000 (cutting short his stay in York to do so); and then the Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police between 2006 and 2008 (after his contract in Toronto was not renewed), which was extended to 2010 after the Toronto G8 was announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. At every step, Fantino's stay was marked by glaring, self-serving publicity spotlighting the kind of average results that are to be expected of any police chief, and spinning some results one might hope are not typical of any.

The glare of spun publicity made it increasingly difficult to see many of the high-handed actions that were becoming a Fantino trademark. Under Fantino's leadership in London, over two dozen homosexuals were arrested as part of Project Guardian, with Fantino claiming they were part of a child pornography ring -- a ring which, it turned out, had never existed. Even back in 1991 when he was still just a superintendent of detectives in Toronto, Fantino shouldered aside at least one court order in order to keep on recording the telephone conversations between Peter Maloney, a lawyer and critic of the police, and Susan Eng, chair of the Toronto Police Services Board: one of several wiretap controversies involving Fantino. Fantino has also repeatedly sent direct demands to elected officials over the Caledonia stand-off, and has been charged with influencing or attempting to influence an election official. (That charge was stayed in January 2010.)

At the same time, several corruption scandals broke out among Toronto's drug squad, where Julian Fantino had once been a detective. Internal Toronto police investigation never found them. It took an RCMP investigation into gangster activity to accidentally uncover them: and even then, the subsequent task force in charge of investigating police corruption was shut down by Fantino when the investigation started taking it into other parts of the Toronto police force. Problems with the Toronto police force are far from new: but Fantino has certainly done his part to sustain them.

(Recent investigations into G8 claims of excessive force by the Toronto police force were dropped last week. Even though the footage clearly shows punching and other unacceptable behaviour, many of the Toronto police officers had removed their identification badges beforehand, so no certain indentification was possible. This is a fairly common practice among parts of the Toronto police force, dating at least as far back as the demonstrations of the 1960s.)

More often than not, Fantino's leadership appears to have been based more on fundamental beliefs than on any solid evidence. Many of his police actions have targeted homosexuals out of proportion to the general population. Demonstrations even in public places are unwelcome. As OPP police commissioner, Fantino tried to force a violent confrontation at Caledonia, but was overruled by the commander on site, who did not wish "to put people at risk for a piece of pavement." Nearly alone among high-ranking law enforcement personnel, Fantino opposes the handgun registry.

With such a polarising background, entering the political arena may have been inevitable.

True to form, Fantino's campaign has been heavy on law enforcement and cracking down on crime and very light on extraneous details such as public accountability. It won't be surprising that Fantino tended to avoid events which could involve actual public questioning, that he skipped at least one public debate altogether, or that he had absolutely nothing to say about the proroguing which killed so many of the Conservatives' crime crackdown bills (but allowed the issue to stay active in the news that much longer).

Yesterday, Julian Fantino was elected the Conservative MP for the riding of Vaughan, an election where he represented the Conservatives at the explicit request of Stephen Harper. Like most of metro Toronto, Vaughan is old Liberal territory. It is also one of the very few ridings in Toronto which is not dominated by visible minorities (74.3% white, 43.9% Italian, fewer than 1% native), although immigration patterns are starting to change this.

Out of 39,196 valid votes cast, Julian Fantino won by just under 1,000 votes, with 49.1% of the final vote.

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