Fantino warns of terrorist threat

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Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Julian Fantino has undertaken to set the record straight in an illuminating autobiography entitled: Duty: The Life of a Cop, which he wrote with the editorial and research assistance of Toronto writer and consultant Jerry Amernic.

That Fantino felt the need for such a book is understandable: In recent years, few public figures have been more frequently and viciously maligned than he.

In his book, Fantino recounts how he emigrated to Canada as a youngster from Italy; learned English as a schoolboy in Toronto; earned a high school diploma by correspondence; joined the Metropolitan Toronto police force at age 27; and rose rapidly through the ranks.

His baptism in the fires of political controversy came as a staff inspector in 1988, when he was asked by the North York Committee on Community, Race and Ethnic relations to gather information on the socio-economic status and race of persons charged with criminal offences in the Jane-Finch area. As requested, Fantino prepared a report detailing the high proportion of crimes committed by blacks in the violence-prone district.

Inevitably, the media obtained the report. The result was a political controversy featuring Fantino as the fall guy. Any fair-minded commentator would have lauded him for doing his duty. Instead, he was maligned as a racist. Then-premier David Peterson led a chorus of politicians demanding the police stop collecting racial statistics on crimes.

Fantino was so hurt by the North York controversy he resolved to resign from the Toronto police force. However, he was persuaded to carry on and three years later, he was appointed police chief in London, only to be vilified again.

This time the controversy focused on his initiation of Project Guardian, an investigation of child pornography and pedophilia by the London police that came up with 62 complainants and 61 suspects. “If that’s not a ‘ring,’ I don’t know what is,” says Fantino.

He reports: “The ages of the complainants ranged from seven to 17 years, with 50 per cent of them being 13 years of age or younger, while the average age of the suspects was 40.”

The investigation resulted in 535 criminal charges. Moreover, the conviction rate for Project Guardian was 86 per cent, a proportion described by Fantino as “almost unheard of in the criminal justice system.”

Nonetheless, many critics contend that Project Guardian unfairly targetted homosexuals. In a nationally televised report on the investigation, the CBC referred to Fantino’s “perceived homophobia” and alleged failure to “distinguish between consensual gay sex and abuse.”

Naturally, Fantino resents such charges. He is proud, and rightly so, of his leadership in combatting the sexual exploitation of children. “I am not anti-gay or homophobic and never have been,” he avows. “However, I am very much against anyone who abuses kids or young people, and as long as I’m in law enforcement, I will go after these characters with everything I’ve got.”

As OPP commissioner, Fantino now bears heavy responsibility for domestic security. He maintains that Canadians are far too complacent about terrorism. Having gained access to national and international intelligence on terrorist activities, he insists it is urgent for Canada to emulate more security conscious European countries such as Italy, where police officers are authorized by law to conduct random checks on people right on the street.

As it is, Fantino warns: “We are sitting back, but the day will come when we’ll have to change our attitude. When the bombs go off, you just watch how things will go the other way and the knee-jerk reaction that takes place.”

Altogether, Duty: The Life of a Cop is a fascinating and informative account of the life and thinking of one of Canada’s most accomplished police officers. While Fantino might not always be right, his well-informed views on key issues of public safety deserve consideration.

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