police union head craig bromell is not the kind of guy to pick fights he can't win -- a lesson learned during his days as a beat cop in rough-and-tumble Regent Park.But the union honcho who's made his name pushing around those who stand in his way seems to be losing his grip. Or, at the very least, desperately trying to find some direction for his association.
There's the recent libel suit filed by Bromell and the association against the chief.
It alleges, among other things, that Julian Fantino conspired with one of his senior officers to plant an unflattering story in the Toronto Sun.
The suit says that the allegations have seriously injured the reputation of the association and its executive.
But Bromell's suit goes even further. It suggests the Sun was in on Fantino's alleged conspiracy. The union's asking for $27 million in damages.
There's no shortage of intrigue around police headquarters these days. But Bromell's latest salvo caught many by surprise -- and for all the wrong reasons.
Few can figure out the method to Bromell's manoeuvrings, or if there's any method at all.
This legal thrust against Fantino seems hastily prepared. To begin with, there are a number of technical problems with the claim -- including the fact that it's been served on SunMedia Corporation, which no longer owns the Sun. The newspaper is owned by Quebecor.
When reached by NOW, Sean Dewart, the lawyer hired by the association to argue the claim, doesn't seem to be apprised of its finer points,
He doesn't deny that the suit may be seen, as he puts it, as "one more thing in the arsenal" in the union's ongoing tiff with the chief. "On the other hand, maybe the chief crossed a little bit of a line here."
Fantino's office did not respond to a request for comment. The Sun's legal counsel, Alan Shanoff, also declined to comment. "We seem to have been dragged into a feud."
But others at the Sun say that unnamed sources quoted in the offending story are prepared to go public if need be.
Bromell, meanwhile, is not offering comment on the suit or anything else right now, at least not while he's in contract negotiations.
That would be a rare prudent move on his part.
These days he seems to be ignoring the advice of the cop union bible that he's been taking how-to lessons from in recent years -- the aptly titled Police Association Power, Politics And Confrontation: A Guide For The Successful Police Labour Leader.
It warns that "conflict for the sake of conflict will wear thin with the members, with the public, and even with political allies and friends, and in the end will prove to be unproductive."
Indeed, with every shot he takes at Fantino, Bromell may unwittingly be doing more to boost the chief's stock -- especially among politicians and the public, who figure the chief must be doing something right for Bromell to be so wound up.
"Is being attacked by the head of the police association something you would be embarrassed about? My guess is no," says U of T criminologist Anthony Doob.
"It's a very peculiar fight. The police association has blotted the copybook with the public already. Maybe they're just trying to stay in the public eye."
The conventional wisdom is that Bromell's manoeuvrings are aimed at gaining, among other things, some leverage in contract talks that have been underway for three weeks.
There's also been much ink spilled on the fight Bromell and Fantino have been having over the chief's disciplining of rank and file officers.
The union feels betrayed.
The fact of that matter, however, is that fewer officers have been charged with discipline offences under Fantino than his predecessor, David Boothby.
Aiden Maher, superintendent at 52 Division, figures the union wants more of a say in the actual operation of the force, which isn't going to happen.
"From a senior officer's perspective, we support the efforts of the chief and the direction he's taking the service," he says
Others offer that Bromell's antics are just a convenient smokescreen for some of the union's less publicized defeats.
For all their "men in black" mystique, Bromell and company just haven't delivered to their membership on the meat-and-potatoes issues.
Meanwhile, the union's spent a whack of members' hard-earned dues fighting every imaginable battle in court.
The rank and file still haven't seen any of that lump sum payment from the estimated $53 million surplus in the pension fund they thought was coming to them three years ago.
The union hasn't been doing very well defending the labour interests of its members either.
Of 16 recent cases that went to conciliation, the union has come away winning just two.
Recently, the association also lost a bid to have internal affairs officers moved out of the union over concerns that investigating fellow members puts them in a conflict of interest.
"You may not see every battle," says Police Services Board chair Norm Gardiner. "But Bromell's lost a lot. A lot of (union) members are not happy."
More importantly, Toronto cops can also no longer lay claim to being the highest paid in the province, never mind the country.
The OPP, Durham, York and Windsor police are all paid more than T.O. cops -- in the case of four-year constables, up to $6,000 a year more, to be exact. Toronto has lost 100 cops to other police forces this year alone.
To hear Gardiner tell it, some of the cops who left the force this year did so because they felt "abandoned" by the association "for not backing them up."
While no one is suggesting Bro-mell's leadership's on the brink, he most certainly won't be able to deliver the kind of pay increase he did last time, a point Gardiner likes to stress.
Then again, maybe Bromell and the association are smarter than everybody else.
"Unless," says Doob, "they're just playing games."