Fantino puzzles women by sidestepping crucial sex assault discussion
Julian Fantino has been eager to pass himself off as a man of the people. But the revved-up top cop has been reluctant, or too busy, to meet with women’s groups over their concerns about the operations of the sexual assault squad.
A steering committee representing women’s groups had been meeting with higher-ups in the squad to discuss how the force should implement the 57 recommendations — particularly those around training — in a highly critical city auditor’s report tabled last fall.
The group had the blessing of both council and the police services board.
But former police chief David Boothby unexpectedly pulled the plug on the working group before he rode into the sunset in February.
Boothby didn’t offer any reasons — except to say that operational matters are the purview of the chief — in a letter read out at a meeting of the group by staff inspector Roy Pilkington, head of the sexual assault squad.
Jaws dropped. To the women in the room, the news came as a shock.
After all, it was the same squad’s investigative and training practices that led to the audit and prompted rape victim Jane Doe to successfully sue the department for negligence.
The working group, of which Doe is a co-chair, has since asked Fantino for a meeting.
Despite a letter and follow-up phone calls, there’s been no response from the chief who’s made it his mission to meet with anyone and everyone since he took over. That is, until NOW began to ask questions. There may be a meeting after all.
“There’s been a little communication problem here or something,” says inspector Jane Dick, the chief’s media liaison.
Suddenly, I get a call from Doe that the chief, mysteriously, is seeking a meeting with her group.
But Fantino’s recent moves where the sexual assault squad is concerned signal that women’s advocates may be hard-pressed to actually get their concerns addressed.
Exhibit A: Inspector Tony Warr, the officer in charge of setting up the squad’s behavioural assessment unit — and one cop who’s seen by women’s groups as someone they can work with — has been transferred out to special investigative services. The official line is that the sexual assault squad command structure doesn’t provide for an inspector-level position.
Exhibit B: Fantino has passed the task of dealing with the women’s concerns to deputy chief Joe Hunter, who, for legal — and optical — reasons may not be the best choice.
Hunter is one of several senior officers named in a civil suit brought by David Girdlestone, a former detective with the sexual assault squad.
The suit has been dropped with the proviso that the particulars of Girdlestone’s complaint, including the seeking of damages, will be dealt with in a labour arbitration.
The suit claimed that senior officers conspired to sweep under the rug sexual harassment complaints against a former supervisor involving three female officers with the squad.
Girdlestone, who was eventually transferred out of the unit, claimed in his suit that he became the target of reprisals, threats and slanderous statements — among them, that he was mentally unfit — after he reported the alleged harassment.
Hunter did not respond to requests for comment.
Will the recommendations in the city auditor’s report also be swept under the rug?
“Clearly, we have a police department that refuses to understand sexual assault… and the systemic issues that prevent police from adequately investigating these crimes and keep women from picking up the phone and dialing 911,” Doe says.
Women’s groups are insisting on a meeting with the chief, Doe says because without the chief’s support, changes recommended by the auditor to the sexual assault squad aren’t worth much more than the paper they’re written on.
“We’ve been meeting with these guys (the police) since 75,” she says. “We’ve been spinning our wheels, and we’re committed not to do that again.”
Councillor Pam McConnell, council’s point person on the issue, went with Doe to meet with police services board chair Norm Gardner this week. They want Gardner to put the squeeze on Fantino to move on the auditor’s recommendations.
“They’re wasting time,” says McConnell of the force’s intransigence. “Their job now is to change the way they do business. That was what the Jane Doe case was all about.”
Staff inspector Pilkington, who’s expected to table an update on the auditor’s report next Friday (May 26), notes that recommendations pertaining to increased staffing and expanded hours have already been adopted.
When he’s asked about the recommendations around training, which make up the bulk of the auditor’s report — and account for the majority of women’s concerns — some of that father-knows-best attitude women’s groups have been complaining about seeps into Pilkington’s response.
“What everyone is forgetting is that these are only recommendations. Not every one has to be adopted to the nth degree,” he says.
While Gardner may have been conciliatory in his meeting with Doe and McConnell this week, he stopped just short of labelling Doe et al a special interest group in an earlier interview with NOW.
Back then, he offered the following gem: “Just because people are women doesn’t make them the sole experts on how to deal with sexual assaults.
“In the final analysis, it’s the police who have to be running their own show,” Gardner says, before suggesting that the $75,000 the women’s groups were asking as consultation fees for their time and advice presented a stumbling block.
All of which prompts Doe to wonder about the millions police have recently spent on new uniforms.
Sexual assault squad staff be restricted to cops trained in sexual assault investigations.
Training provided to recruits and front-line officers be re-evaluated.
All training courses and conferences attended by sexual assault squad officers be evaluated.
Skills and qualifications required to become a trainer at police college be formalized.
Community groups be asked for input on training.
A protocol that provides for the reporting of inappropriate police behaviour be developed.