For someone who supposedly wants to keep his job as Toronto's top cop, police Chief Julian Fantino is certainly playing some very strange games with the people who'll decide his career future. "It's almost as though he's daring the police services board not to renew his contract," says one well-situated denizen of City Hall. The source is perplexed by Fantino's response to the police corruption scandal rocking a municipality that counts on the chief's forces as its shield from crime.
"He knows he's in trouble here," the insider adds. "The perception isn't that it's just a few bad apples on the force. People think there's a bigger problem."
And they're really starting to wonder if Fantino's the man to solve it. Hell, half of city council's members have already made it clear they think an outside law enforcement agency should be called in to investigate a local constabulary that has seen four officers charged with corruption amidst allegations they have links to organized crime. And then there are two other officers - police union prez Rick McIntosh and the namesake son of former chief Bill McCormack - who are under suspension while internal affairs investigates allegations that plainclothes cops from 52 Division were running a protection racket.
With more charges expected there, you'd figure Fantino would be doing his damnedest to get along with a police services board that is his appointed civilian overseer and boss. But the chief seems so desperate to be seen as the guy who'll tame the corruption monster, he's further alienating a board that's already en route to showing him the door when his contract expires next March.
Indeed, police board chair Alan Heisey was the picture of ticked-off alienation when he showed up at police headquarters on short notice Tuesday morning, April 27, so Fantino could announce that retired judge George Ferguson has been called in to help implement recommendations Ferguson made in a February report on police misconduct.
It took the chief until last week to respond publicly to the report. And when he finally did, his support for its action plan (public snitch lines, whistle-blower protection for on-the-force informants, drug testing, financial testing, random precinct inspections) seemed pretty limp. But Tuesday morning Fantino was all gung-ho as he introduced the ex-contract arbitrator who three decades ago made T.O's police force the best paid in the country.
Ferguson lavished praise on the "great chief" seated next to him while an obviously uncomfortable Heisey stood in the background wondering what the hell was going on.
Less than 24 hours earlier, the idea of enlisting the judge in the corruption cleanup had been tossed around by board members, and the chief had been asked for his opinion. It was finally decided that the proposal would be discussed further at the board's next regular meeting today (Thursday, April 29). If Ferguson's appointment passed muster, it would be announced by the board and the chief at a joint news conference. But Fantino came up with his own plan. And when Heisey entered the cop shop's media lounge to be greeted by a table with places set for just two, it was obvious he'd only been invited as an afterthought.
"I think what we're seeing here today is consistent with what I've seen the chief do in the three years I've been on this board," the chair said when he was asked to chip in his 2 cents' worth.
It was a statement just begging for interpretation. And some was provided by police board sources who said members had been less than amused at their meeting the day before when Fantino showed up to brief them on the charges laid against four officers including Mike McCormack - brother of Bill Jr. and a director of the Toronto Police Association.
According to one source, the chief only got around to informing the board "after he'd told the world" at a news conference. "He just doesn't get it. This is a critical time when he should be working closely with the board - not playing Lone Ranger.'
Councillor and police board vice-chair Pam McConnell confessed to being "a bit surprised" when Fantino flew solo with the Ferguson appointment before she and her colleagues had their final go-round on the matter. But she expressed pleasure "that the discussions we had with the chief (on Monday) came to some fruition.
"I'm hoping that this is just the first step in a concerted plan that we and the chief can put forward in order to assure city residents," McConnell said. "I think it's very important, though, that we go together and that we not have separate processes."
That position got a strong endorsement from Mayor David Miller. "I think it's important for Mr. Justice Ferguson to report to the board - not just the chief," the mayor said. "The board has to take ownership of this issue," Miller stressed. "That's the board's oversight role. Clearly, there are some serious issues here."
Fantino is clearly one of them.