When someone like Julian Fantino, who never met a police power he didn't like, invokes the Constitution, you know something's weird.
The chief's recent admiration for the Charter Of Rights comes in response to ruminations by Mayor David Miller to the effect that it would be nice if the next chief maintained a T.O. postal code. Impossible, said Woodbridge resident Fantino. Constitutionally, you can't force officers to live in Toronto. Actually, not so.
The Supreme Court of Canada has never declared that residency requirements for cops are unconstitutional. Far from it. The Supremes have more or less said there's a case for making police officers live in the city over which they are the custodians.
And note to Mayor David Miller, who has an inordinate number of out-of-towners in his upper echelons: the court has sent some pretty strong signals that a similar requirement for department heads would also pass Constitutional muster.
The court came closest to settling these matters in a 1997 case known as Godbout v. Longueuil, named after the employee and the city in Quebec she took all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada after she was fired for moving outside municipal boundaries.
In Constitutional law circles it's an important case because it states that residency requirements for employees will be against the law most of the time. But there are some important qualifications.
Yes, Michele Godbout worked for the Longueuil police department, but as a mere radio operator, not as a cop. If she had been an officer, it seems pretty clear that the case would have turned out much differently.
For example, Justice Gérard La Forest, writing for himself and two other judges, including the current Chief Justice, Beverley McLachlin, gave short shrift to the municipality's first two arguments - that making employees live where they work would boost employee loyalty and the city's economy.
But here's the thing. La Forest went on to add a very important caveat - and Julie, take note. He wrote that municipalities "might well be justified in imposing a residence requirement on employees occupying certain essential positions. For example, it may be that a residence requirement imposed on emergency workers such as police officers, firefighters or ambulance personnel would conform to the principles of fundamental justice inasmuch as the public interest in ensuring that such persons are readily available in times of urgent need is plainly apparent.'
That sure doesn't sound like we can't make our cops live in the cities where they work. And it's not only cops and ambulance drivers whom we can require to live south of Steeles.
La Forest invoked the words of a lower court judge that the same rule could be extended to other "persons engaged in other forms of municipal employment' such as city councillors, "on the ground that the very nature of their occupation demands that they be intimately acquainted with the constituencies they represent.'
And some justices were prepared to go even farther. While La Forest et al. gave the thumbs-down to the argument that an in-town address fosters loyalty, Justice John Major and the two colleagues who signed on to his judgment appeared to have it in not only for detached police chiefs like Fantino but other big shots like Toronto chief financial officer Joe Pennachetti and TTC boss Rick Ducharme who'll take the pay but not the T.O. address.
"Fostering a sense of loyalty is more important for high-level officials charged with making policy decisions, such as the mayor or municipal councillors, than for support staff or routine labour,' Major wrote. "It seems reasonable to require those who make policy decisions affecting a community to reside within that community.'
So, Mayor Miller, who himself opined that the Constitution might be a block to insisting the new chief be a neighbour, has little to fear.
As for new police recruits, the sooner they get a local address to go with that uniform the better. To get a sense of how important a change that would be, all you have to do is look south of the border. The U.S. cities with the best police-community relations are those that make their cops live among the people they police rather than driving in from the burbs for the start of their shift like some - dare we say it? - occupying force.