Fantino’s alter ego

Chief plays Mr. Nice Guy at fete in his honour

Rating: NNNNN

from the west, on highway 7,Woodbridge, that enclave of monster homes north of T.O., can seem like any other small town you might have occasion to drive through in rural Ontario.Until, that is, you begin to notice the upscale malls, seeming abundance of manicure boutiques and fitness studios with names like Prima Donna.

This is where the nouveaux riches among Italo-Canadians have chosen to live, the real Little Italy, albeit with an SUV twist. Forget College Street or St. Clair West. More Canadians of Italian descent inhabit these parts than any other region in Ontario.

And this afternoon, about 600 of them have come to the Da Vinci banquet hall to pay tribute to one of their own, none other than Toronto police chief Julian Fantino, who lives just up Islington.

The consul general of Italy, Francesco Scarlata, will be in attendance, as will auxiliary bishop Nicola De Angelis. And Fantino will be presented with a plaque “in recognition of his dedication, commitment and loyalty to all communities.”

But this is no gathering of effete types or the uppity yuppies who typically occupy the leadership of the National Congress of Italian Canadians.

No. This event is being sponsored by the Association of Italian Regions, a group that came together last July, shortly after Fantino was named chief.

Gino Cucchi, the group’s founding chair, runs a men’s fashion store on St. Clair, and is the kind of guy who can tell you what part of Italy you hail from by your last name.

The mostly middle-aged men and women streaming in in their Sunday best, past the honour guard on horseback, are decidedly salt-of-the-earth types, working-class folk who toiled hard at immigrant jobs to make a better life for their children. The doctors, lawyers and accountants are outnumbered here.

And Fantino, who’s usually locked and loaded whenever he’s in public, seems to be remarkably relaxed — in his element almost, perhaps remembering his own humble beginnings on Perth Avenue. The chief’s wife, dressed in classic black, is here, too.

It’s amazing what can happen, it seems, when the television cameras aren’t around, no horde of reporters watching your every word. There he is, mugging for a NOW photographer.

Is this the same guy who was calling on advertisers to boycott NOW after we ran a photo of his house?

With those sound-bite-ready quotes, Fantino is the darling of the TV news. The print media in this town, however, are becoming more circumspect.

The Globe and Mail and the National Post, arguably this city’s most conservative newspapers, are taking Fantino’s budget-woes spiel with a huge grain of salt.

The pro-cop Sun will forever be pro-cop, but the Star, whose police coverage has verged on puffery of late, played an alleged death threat against the chief inside last week, on page 4 of its Greater Toronto section.

According to the Star, graffiti depicting a machine gun and the message “We know where you live” was discovered scrawled in the ground-floor hallway of a Metro Housing apartment building on River Street.

Superintendent Ron Taverner of 51 Division has yet to respond to my request for a precise location for said graffiti. Ditto for the Star reporter who wrote the story.

Much has been made of the 24-hour surveillance the chief’s house has been under since NOW published a photo of his Woodbridge home.

But when I drive by after the Fantino fete Sunday, there’s nothing, no one resembling a bodyguard anywhere in sight. Hoax or reality?

Back at the Da Vinci banquet hall, Fantino has just delivered his keynote speech. A group of mostly older women mills around him. He’s aglow, signing autographs. It’s the strangest thing.

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