it was clear from the moment he strode into the second-floor media room at police headquarters last Friday to answer the charges of racial profiling bedevilling his force that there were other places Julian Fantino would rather have been. Although it's a very carefully orchestrated press conference -- clocking in at 10 minutes, and only four questions answered -- this proves to be the one time, and the one issue, over which Fantino can't bully the press. Not like he tried to do when the controversy first broke a week ago.
Standing there a few feet from him under the glare of the TV lights, I see a man with a painfully bitter pill to swallow. And swallow he does, with the requisite contrition.
Even to his most vociferous critics, the seeming owning-up comes as a surprise. Here he is doing the right thing -- for the cameras at least. Admitting there's a problem and the need to call for an independent review of the force's race relations policies, and to opt for dialogue. It's all very un-Fantino. Quite a different story from the memo to the rank and file a week earlier taking exception to the fact that any questions have been raised.
Perhaps if he'd accepted some responsibility from the beginning and not let his familiar ego get the best of him he could have avoided this public relations catastrophe altogether.
What went on behind the scenes to change Fantino's tack?
Is he just being prudent, or were others -- perhaps his Tory masters at Queen's Park who cleared his way to the throne -- advising him to take his medicine lest the issue besmirch a rumoured future political run?
Are we to believe the chief, then, when he talks about building bridges with the black community?
"It's 89 all over again," says one longtime policing observer, referring to the controversy Fantino found himself in after his release of race-based stats, "only slicker, bigger and better. The fundamentals remain."
Police union head Craig Bromell, the same guy who wants to sue the Star over the racial profiling charges, is right there behind Fantino during the press conference in a show of solidarity never before seen. The verbal quick shooter has kept his thoughts out of the press ever since. It's enough to make some wonder if they've orchestrated a good cop-bad cop routine.
Police services board chair Norm Gardner certainly doesn't see an urgent need for change -- or a problem, necessarily.
"Police react based on criminal activity in certain geographical areas," he says. "If that's racial profiling, then we've got to live with that."
Another not so subtle message coming from police headquarters is that it's the black community's responsiblity to control the black-on-black violence that's presumably contributing to the perception that blacks are being targeted by police.
Community leaders say it's the police's responsibility to stop the violence. And the reason they haven't been able to is because the current regime has jettisoned community policing in favour of rapid response.
The black community won't be bamboozled this time.
The African Canadian Legal Clinic is considering building a civil suit against the force for "institutional negligence" based on racial discrimination. There are certainly enough government reports to support the claim.
The Urban Alliance on Race Relations, meanwhile, won't participate in the review the chief is waving as an olive branch.
Says newly minted Alliance chair Zanana Akande, "If you're not moving forward (with a plan of action), seems to me you're OK with the status quo."
Message to the chief: your problems have only just email@example.com