Toronto
4 min

But does he mean it?

Julian Fantino works his PR campaign

JUST WALK AROUND. The cops were out in full force at a public meeting between the gay community and Toronto's new police chief. Credit: David Wall

He’s trying to make friends.



Police chief-designate Julian Fantino agreed to attend at least two quiet meetings with selected gay and lesbian activists within the last month.



“If I didn’t know about London, I would have been very impressed,” says Tom Warner, who was invited to both gatherings. “He’s fairly masterful, he made people feel he was listening. It’s kind of hard to separate that from everything I know and have heard.”



Fantino – on his own time – met with members of 18 organizations at a Jan 31 get-together at the 519 Church Street Community Centre, organized by staff of the Victim Assistance Program.



It was set up after what many consider a fatally flawed performance a few days earlier at the annual general meeting of the Church-Wellesley Neighbourhood Police Advisory Committee.



“I realize there’s a perceived problem,” Fantino said that evening, “but I’m here to address those issues and I welcome the opportunity.”



But the night, which began with applause, ended with heckling, hissing and booing. “He basically didn’t answer any questions,” says Warner, who speaks for the June 13 Committee (named for the first night police began a series of raids on The Bijou porn theatre).



Fantino may be best known for Project Guardian, which appeared to target gay men paying for sex with teen hustlers, launching a misnamed paedophile scare that was no such thing. He was the chief of London police at the time.



But here in Toronto, Warner says Fantino is trying. “I’m cautiously optimistic, but also remaining vigilant and skeptical.



“Really, what else can we do? We have to take him at face value. What really matters is what happens after he becomes chief.”



The meeting at The 519 made tentative plans for a new community liaison committee between gay men and lesbians and the chief. Another meeting will be held within six weeks.



Meanwhile, a lunch with Fantino and a group of hand-picked homos went bust earlier last month.



Warner says he was asked to break bread with Fantino at a Rotary club luncheon at The Royal York in mid-January. City councillors Joe Mihevc and Pam McConnell would facilitate.



Warner says the “bizarre” event was called off amid fears of gay pickets when The Bijou was visited (again) and threatened with liquor charges.



A staffperson at the mayor’s office confirms that a meeting was scheduled, but blames the cancellation on an incident with York police (where Fantino still works) that required the chief’s attention.



The date for Fantino’s ascension to Toronto’s top cop has changed yet again. He’s scheduled to take over Mon, Mar 6.



FANTINO SPEAKS



At a packed – and raucous – Jan 26 public forum at the 519 Church Street Community Centre, police chief-designate Julian Fantino said he treats all citizens the same. He also talked about “accountability” – but was unprepared to answer questions relating to issues the gay and lesbian community cares about.



On Project Guardian

The crackdown was a “witch-hunt” (according to the London group HALO) against gay men having consensual sex with teens: “I will tell you right here and now that I’m not going to discuss it.”

Fantino told the audience to do the research and find out the truth; a spokesperson for the Coalition For Gay And Lesbian Rights In Ontario noted that, in fact, CLGRO had done the research – and written a damning report.

Individuals cannot now research the specifics of Project Guardian, as criminal files (and evidence) are sealed from the public once a trial has ended.



On child porn

Responding to fears of arrest from an adult who might take nude pictures of a playful 16-year-old lover while on holiday: Fantino said he had more important things to worry about than “your camping.”



On police harassing bathhouses

“There’s a process and there’s a system and that’s the way it is….

“I’d hate to think that the constructive dialogue that deals with gay and lesbian community issues is… only that which revolves around bathhouses, because there’s greater global issues.”



Targeted policing

Last summer’s Community Action Policing appeared to focus on hassling gay men in parks, the homeless and other marginalized people. “As the new guy on the block, I have no awareness of that particular program.”



On the police complaint process

Problems with police must now be filed to the very colleagues of the officer you’re complaining about – who’ll do the investigation. “Obviously, we have different viewpoints, you and I, on the issue…. That was done within the last year or so to make it more effective, more efficient.”



On assault by police

Questioner was directed to the head of 52 Division.



On drugs, threats and community safety

Fantino forwarded specific questions to the head of 52 Division.



On showing his support

“I don’t know that I need to go into a parade to express my sincere appreciation for the issues. I wouldn’t be here this evening if I didn’t care.”



Fantino did, however, say he’d attend a meeting of PFLAG – where the heterosexual parents and friends of gay people meet.



On what he would do to be a role model for the rank and file on how to treat gay people

“I just wanted you to know it would be a very difficult task for me this evening to try and point out that a lot of the labels that have been put on me, and the stereotypical rhetoric, if you will, is unfair, unjust, ill-informed and devoid of thought.

“So it’s pretty difficult for me to be here… and talk about your community, your issues, your concern, and at the same time be labeled.”



On releasing race-based crime statistics

“The committee [which asked for the numbers] made the mistake. I didn’t.”

After being heckled, Fantino added: “I apologize for the hurt.”



On arresting people for victimless crimes

“What you interpret as a victimless crime may be perceived otherwise by other people.”

– with files from Nancy Nicol