Tuesday, June 23, 1998

Leslie Ferenc and Harold Levy

p. A1.

London's top cop tackles York job

Julian Fantino will head troubled regional force

Julian Fantino, the outspoken, controversial and popular chief of the London police department, is about to take on perhaps the toughest job of his career -- heading the York Region force.

After a weekend of heavy negotiations, York Region finally got the man they had been aggressively courting for weeks, ever since former chief Bryan Cousineau left the job the day he was charged with breach of trust.

Fantino's appointment was to be officially announced at a news conference this morning at York Region headquarters in Newmarket.

It will probably be somewhat of a bittersweet moment for Fantino, who three years ago lost out by just one vote the job he still quietly covets -- chief of the Toronto police force. David Boothby got that job, and has about two years left in his mandate.

A Challenge

But after seven busy years in London, it is time for new challenges for Fantino, who is described on that force's Web site as a "staunch advocate for the principles of integrity, honesty and accountability in policing."

Taking on the York Region job is seen in policing circles as quite a challenge.

The 850-member force has been struggling to overcome steadily sinking morale after a highly critical government audit on how it was run; the investigation and charging of its former chief; and years of complaints that the force's promotion and discipline processes are unfair.

Despite the controversy, there was no shortage of people lining up for the chief's job, about 20 candidates. But right from the start Fantino was the acknowledged frontrunner.

London police chief takes York Region

The beleaguered force needs a "no-nonsense kind of guy," said one senior York Region officer, and that man is Fantino.

While York Region officials contacted by The Star refused to confirm Fantino's appointment, he got a ringing endorsement from Paul Bailey, president of the York Region Police Association. "Our association indicated to the board that Fantino has the style we believe is necessary for the job at hand," Bailey said yesterday.

"If Fantino is our new chief, we see it as a great decision. His style is what's needed to get a sick police force back on the rails. He 's up front and direct, and is an accomplished administrator," Bailey said. "If anyone is going to clean up this mess, he's the one to do it."

Fantino lives in York Region. He commuted to London for the past seven years, staying in an apartment there during the week and returning to his Woodbridge home on weekends.

Sources in the London force say the phone lines between that city and York started heating up as soon as the race for the top job began, about six weeks ago. But Fantino kept everyone guessing, said one senior officer with the London force, and like a good poker player, never tipped his hand.

He was attending the Ontario Association of chiefs of Police conference at the Hilton Hotel in Windsor yesterday, and made an unexpected exit from the conference in the early afternoon after receiving what a conference co-ordinator described as an "urged message." Fantino couldn't be reached for comment last night.

He began his policing career as a security guard at Yorkdale Mall in North York.

While on the Toronto force, Fantino won supporters -- and detractors -- with his tough style

On the Toronto force, he started out walking a beat. Later, he moved into undercover drug work before becoming a detective, working in intelligence gathering, and the homicide squad.

He served 23 years with Toronto, moving up the ranks to acting staff superintendent, before leaving in 1991 to take the top job in London.

Fantino's tough style earned him plenty of supporters, and some detractors, while he was on the Toronto force.

Said one senior officer about Fantino during his stay at Number 52 division, in downtown Toronto: "You either loved the guy, or you hated him. There didn't seemed to be a middleground."

Fantino sparked a controversy in 1989 over his release of crime statistics related to race, criticism he has steadfastly maintained was totally unfair.

The crime data he gave to a Jane-Finch community group allegedly showed that North York's black population was responsible for more crimes in the area per capita.

But Fantino maintained he compiled those statistics after community activists asked him to do so. After that, the force stopped gathering statistics based on race.

He was one of the force's first members to identify a major crime problem within Metro's Asian community after investigating a 1983 gangland murder in Chinatown.

Not one to shy away from controversial issues, Fantino soon found himself in the midst of another potboiler after becoming chief of the London police.

Fantino became the driving force behind "Project Guardian," an investigation that saw 61 men charged with child exploitation in a two -year joint investigation with London, Metro Toronto and the Ontario Provincial Police.

The investigation was criticized by gay community organizers, who said the project singled out homosexuals in cases involving consensual sex with teenage prostitutes.

Since the project did not look at heterosexual child exploitation, critics said it attempted to link homosexuality with pedophilia.

Fantino has since become a crusader against child exploitation, focusing on the use of the Internet by predators and child-sex tours to Third World countries.

During his stay in London, Fantino has kept up a hectic schedule in the policing community.

He is the first vice-president of the Ontario association of Chiefs of Police, a director of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, and a past chair of the criminal Intelligence Services of Ontario. He has also traveled to Stockholm, Sweden, Buenos Aires and Budapest to attend Interpol meetings.

He has also won a number of awards, including volunteer of the year in 1993 from the London Urban Alliance on Race Relations, and the order of merit in 1994 from the National Congress of Italian Canadians.

Fantino will need all of his policing experience in tackling his new job, which pays upward of $140,000 a year.

York Region is among the fastest growing municipalities in the country, but it has a troubled police force.

To see their former chief investigated by the Ontario Provincial Police, and charged, has been a painful experience for the members of the force.

Equally stinging is an independent probe of the York Region force by the south Simcoe police department.

It was recently ordered to look into hoe York region police handled more than $100,000 worth of seized materials used to build a Mediterranean dream home.

The Ontario Civilian commission on Police Services ordered the investigation after York Region police refused to probe a complaint that the materials were mishandled while in police custody.

Morale slumped further after a prosecutor decided in May to assign a case to the Peel Region force after the York region force badly botched the initial investigation into the strangling death of a 7-month-old infant in a home day care centre.

Newmarket Crown Attorney Bob Ash abruptly suspended an inquest into the death and requested the re-investigation by an outside force after receiving background information about the owner of the centre.

the force received a reminder about one of the most notorious investigations in its 29-year history in April when Justice Fred Kaufman delivered his report into the wrongful conviction of Guy Paul Morin.

Kaufman reported that the investigation into the disappearance of 9-year-old Christine Jessop from her Queensville home on Oct. 3, 1984 was "flawed" and "inadequate."

"After decisions by York to resort to psychics and a dowser it has been said that no lead is to small to investigate," he wrote.

"However in the face of the leads that were not investigated, these simply highlight the investigation's lack of prioritization at times."

Fantino takes office at a time of severe conflict between the region's police association and its police services board, the civilian body that acts as watchdog over the force.

Relations between the rank and file have degenerated to the point that in April the association asked Queen's Park to order a formal hearing into the way in which the board works. The association alleges the board failed to provide the force with the tools it needed to do its job.

The Ontario civilian Commission on Police Services has not yet indicated whether it will consent to the association's request.

Ironically, as the police board prepared to officially announce Fantino's appointment, Cousineau was in Ontario provincial court in Newmarket yesterday. He appeared briefly in a pre-trial hearing, facing five counts of breach of trust.

However, yesterday's hearing was postponed to June 30 after Cousineau's lawyer said he needed more time to prepare his case.

One of the charges alleges that Cousineau accepted $125,000 from Aurora auto parts giant Magna International to work for the firm as a security consultant after he retired from the force.

Cousineau resigned as chief in February, shortly before charges were laid.

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Created: November 14, 1998
Last modified: November 14, 1998

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