Fantino still shoots from the lip

by Jim Rankin and John Duncanson
Toronto Star Staff Reporters
Toronto Star

JULIAN FANTINO becomes Toronto's eighth police chief today. Some would say he has chosen the worst possible way to begin his tenure as top cop in a diverse, modern and sophisticated Toronto. They would be right.

For the man who always seems clothed in controversy has chosen to ride into town like the meanest son-of-a-gunslinger, packing heat and the reputation of being the fastest draw in town.

We are not talking literal shootouts, here. Already, since being named the force's eighth chief since Metro Toronto was formed, Fantino has engaged in several verbal gunfights that remind everyone he is a caustic, take-no-prisoners type of guy who isn't afraid to sacrifice a sacred cow or two.

Ignore the statistics that show crime is on the decrease, he tells Toronto. Remember, violent crime among youth is up. That means the police need more money from city hall. Lock your doors because carjackings and home invasions are the wave of the future, he said two weeks ago. Canada is so soft on crime, it is the laughingstock of the world.

This is a warmonger extraordinaire, waging the war on crime, of course. Obviously, not much has changed from the early days when Fantino burst into the media spotlight with awkward attempts at mixing police work with pop psychology and pseudo-social work.

Think back to February, 1989. Relations between the Toronto police and visible minorities, particularly blacks, were at rock bottom. The previous summer, Toronto police shot and killed black citizen Lester Donaldson. In December, 1988, Peel police had shot and killed Wade Lawson as he drove a stolen vehicle.

With charges of racism flying, the province set up a task force headed by Clare Lewis to look at the matter.

Into that charged atmosphere, a staff inspector named Julian Fantino tossed another grenade - statistics he said he compiled that showed blacks in the Jane-Finch area committed more than their share of crime, and it was this criminal element that was responsible for the bad blood between police and blacks.

To shield himself from the controversy that predictably and justifiably erupted, Fantino offered several defences. He claimed the then-North York race relations committee asked him to provide the statistics, he didn't know a reporter was in the room, and the statistics were needed to help cure a serious problem.

The facts paint a different picture. Fantino had been transferred to 31 Division with a mandate to clean up the Jane-Finch area. Members of the race relations committee, the first in Canada and one of the most respected, having received complaints from community leaders about aggressive policing, asked him for an overview of the problems.

They did not ask for race-based crime statistics. That would have been at odds with this progressive, liberal-minded committee that normally bristles at even the mention of such an idea.

As Fantino got up to speak that Feb. 16, I was seated at my regular seat at the press table in the North York city hall, to the left of the committee chair. I duly recorded Fantino's claims that blacks in the Jane-Finch area committed 82 per cent of the crime and made up only 6 per cent of the population.

As he spoke, faces of committee members grew angrier and more troubled.

Fantino was not shy about the statistics. He said blacks accounted for 82 per cent of robberies and muggings, 55 per cent of purse snatchings and 51 per cent of drug offences in 1988. He even answered my questions following the meeting. This was information he wanted publicized.

When asked how the statistics came into his possession when chief Jack Marks had told the police commission that no such statistics were being compiled, Fantino said he did it just for the meeting.

One committee member, York University provost Thomas Mininger, objected to the collection of the data and challenged Fantino's presentation of them.

Fantino said he tabulated the figures ``in light of the criticisms that we pick on black youths.'' He told the committee police have an ``inordinate number of negative contacts with black youths,'' whose involvement in crime was ``a significant reason for the tensions'' between the black community and the police.

The implications of his presentation were clear to the committee, which had often called for more sensitive policing, the hiring of more non-white police officers, and race-sensitivity training of police. Mininger asked Fantino about the ethnic composition of officers in 31 Division. Fantino said he had no figures on that.

``They should be on the tip of your lips,'' much the way statistics on black crime were, Mininger said. ``You can't have it both ways.''

In a story in yesterday's Star, Fantino calls the crime stats release the ``biggest mistake of my life,'' while clinging to the claim he was told to release the figures. One learns from one's mistakes. Fantino? He's still trying to have it both ways.

Courtesy of the Toronto Star
March 6, 2000

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