7 min

Out with the old, in with the new

Sussing out the candidates for Fantino's replacement

Credit: Xtra files

Police chief Julian Fantino’s term is coming to an end, and for many in Toronto, it can’t be soon enough.

Fantino’s tenure, which ends March 2005, has been marked by raids on queer bars, bathhouses and porn theatres, not to mention police brutality, corruption, racial profiling, heavy-handedness and just plain rudeness.

Toronto homos were wary of Fantino from the outset. Prior to his time in the big league, Fantino was chief in London, where he presided over a supposed child porn investigation that became a kind of witch-hunt of gay men.

Until the last municipal elections, the Police Services Board – the body that oversees Toronto’s police force and will be responsible for hiring a new chief – had been supportive of Fantino. But now with city councillors Pam McConnell and John Filion on the board, joined by new city appointee Alok Mukherjee and recently announced provincial appointee Hamlin Grange, the seven-member board has an assured majority of progressive members. And with the police association, which represents the rank and file officers, having rid itself of its extremist and politically aggressive leadership, and the province having promised to abide by the city’s decisions, the chances of hiring a progressive chief are better than they’ve been in decades.

The board is currently in the midst of bringing in a consultant to set up the process for finding a new chief, including a timeline, and a plan for how and where to advertise the position (for example, should the position be open to applicants from the States or Europe?).

The most likely outcome is that the board will hire a new chief either from within the Toronto force or from the force of another large Canadian city. It’s barely possible that they could hire a civilian, as former board chair Susan Eng has been advocating.



Although all those involved are remaining tight-lipped, several names have been floating around the city since the summer as possible favourites. These include current Toronto officers Bill Blair, Jane Dick and Keith Forde; RCMP officers Ben Soave and John Neily; and former Calgary police chief Christine Silverberg.

Supt Blair was a candidate for chief last time around and is currently head of detective operations for the city. As the former head of corporate communications for the police, he had a reputation for soothing the feelings of groups, like queers, who had to deal with a force not known for its sensitivity. As the former head of 51 Division, Blair earned praise for his work in Regent Park, especially for reaching out to residents and for attempts at community policing.

Staff Supt Jane Dick is the force’s highest-ranking female officer. She too used to be in the force’s communications department. She is currently conducting a “major management review” of 52 Division, following the well-publicized extortion ring apparently operated by plainclothes detectives on bars and nightclubs in the precinct.

Supt Keith Forde is the force’s highest-ranking visible minority officer. He is currently heading CO Bick College, the force’s training school for recruits. Forde was also the head of the community policing support unit, responsible for community relations, volunteer resources and community programs. He has often said that the Toronto force must become more diverse and representative. However, he also has a reputation for not rocking the boat and is supposed to have had a good relationship with Fantino, which might not help him in the current situation.

RCMP chief superintendents Ben Soave and John Neily have each headed up an investigation into corruption on the Toronto force, including the notorious drug squad corruption.

Soave has made it known that he’s interested in taking over as Fantino’s successor. After a 35-year career with the RCMP, he announced last week that he’ll be retiring in April. He’s been heading up Ontario’s Combined Forces Special Enforcement unit for the last nine years, with a mandate of fighting organized crime that was expanded since Sep 11, 2001 to include counterterrorism.

Christine Silverberg was chief of Calgary police from 1995 to 2000. She is currently practising law at a Calgary firm. As chief, Silverberg was credited with establishing excellent relations with the city’s queer community. Police backed off on cruising crackdowns, recruited several lesbian officers, tried to recruit gay men, set up a well-respected liaison committee, included gay issues in training and appointed a well-liked liaison officer. Activist Stephen Lock told Xtra West in 2002 that Calgary was one of the most “proactive and pro-gay police departments in North America.” Unfortunately, it’s all gone to hell since Silverberg’s departure.



Other potential candidates could come from the major cities in the country. Here’s a quick look at some other police chiefs who could be potential candidates, although it should be stressed that there’s no indication any of these chiefs are interested in the job, let alone under serious consideration.

In Vancouver, Jamie Graham has been chief since 2002. He’s faced multiple accusations of police brutality against demonstrators, poor people and concert-goers, most notably a case where six officers pled guilty to beating three accused drug dealers in Stanley Park. Two officers were fired.

Graham has also been seen as backing away from community policing and shutting out input from queer bar owners and businesses.

In Edmonton, Fred Rayner has only been chief since May of this year. But he’s already been accused of trying to entrap a member of Edmonton’s police board and a journalist into drunk driving charges.

In Calgary, Jack Beaton took over from Silverberg in 2000. In December 2002, police raided Goliath’s bathhouse, laying a number of charges. Even the city’s liaison officer expressed anger at the raid. Things have only gone downhill since then, with police cracking down anew on park cruising.

As well, Beaton is accused of covering up police brutality, racism, incompetence and drunkenness. A poll of Calgary police earlier this year showed that 70 percent of the cops wanted a new chief.

In Saskatoon, Russ Sabo has been chief since 2001. He was recently forced to fire two officers found to have abandoned a drunk native man to die on a winter night in 1990. Sabo was also accused of sexually harassing his executive assistant.

In Winnipeg, Jack Ewatski has been chief since 1998. In 2000, two Metis women were stabbed to death after five 911 calls were ignored. In 2002, police were accused of several cases of police brutality. In 2003, police were accused of not warning an informer of a death threat by the Hell’s Angels. The man was killed in May 2003. Ewatski has also been accused of meddling in several investigations into police accused of crimes.

In Ottawa, Vince Bevan has been chief since 2000. Bevan recently admitted that Ottawa police helped the RCMP investigate Maher Arar, who was later deported to Syria by the US, apparently with RCMP cooperation, where he says he was tortured. Bevan was also in charge of the Niagara Regional Police Green Ribbon Task Force, investigating the Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka case, which was accused of massive bungling.

Bevan’s predecessor Brian Ford, however, was credited with establishing a well-respected hate crimes unit, making serious efforts to get more queers on the force and appointing a gay activist as director of community development. Ford is currently working for a security firm in Ottawa.

In Hamilton, Brian Mullan has been chief since October 2003. Last August a raid on the Warehouse Spa And Bath and the Show World porn theatre enraged Hamilton queers. Several allegations of abuse during the raid were also made against police.

In London, Murray Faulkner was only hired in April 2004. His predecessor, Brian Collins, received good reviews for his willingness to work with the homos, especially on hate crimes issues.

Collins was in the news for a botched drug raid in 2002, where police killed an innocent dog. He was also named in a lawsuit in a 2003 case where a woman was allegedly killed by an abusive spouse when police failed to arrest him.

In Windsor, Glenn Stannard has been chief since 1999. Stannard has been credited with working to prevent hate crimes and with supporting AIDS prevention strategies such as methadone clinics and needle exchanges.

In Halifax, Frank Beazley has only been chief since 2003. Against the wishes of many city police officers, he apologized this year to boxer Kirk Johnson in response to a 1998 racial profiling case. Police have also worked to protect patrons of Halifax’s gay bars, left the bathhouse alone and participated in Pride. But police have also been arresting gay men having sex on the beach.



Recent events indicate exactly why we need a new police chief who’s diametrically opposite of Julian Fantino. His reaction to the recent legal settlement compelling the Toronto police to undergo gay and lesbian sensitivity training was typical. Fantino was defensive, resentful and sulky, insisting that the police didn’t need sensitivity training, didn’t have time for it and hadn’t done anything wrong in raiding the Pussy Palace, anyway.

Toronto needs a chief that’s able to acknowledge mistakes and work to remedy them, with the affected communities if needed. We need a chief who understands that Toronto is made up of diverse communities that need to be policed in diverse ways. We need officers that understand the various cultures, peoples and the way of life in those communities. Instead, Fantino cut any attempts at preventative community policing, resulting in the widespread dislike of police we’re seeing now.

A new chief needs to ensure that officers are actually walking Church and Wellesley, learning about the businesses, the residents and the problems, and why queer bars and bathhouses can’t be treated like bars at Yonge and Eglinton. Gay cruising has to be approached as a distinct phenomenon. Officers need to be visible, to recognize what doesn’t belong and to be able to greet people by sight.

We need a police liaison officer who is queer and has experience in the community. Most importantly, the chief has to listen to that officer, and to a representative liaison committee with actual influence. Community meetings shouldn’t be held just to whitewash police screw-ups. The police need to make a real effort to actually hire more queers.

A chief needs to consider such steps as supporting decriminalization of drugs and prostitution, and reworking Canada’s sex laws in favour of focussing on larger issues.

The police aren’t there to frighten people. Fantino’s constant scare-mongering, and his political gamesmanship in the pursuit of power, has to go.

In short, a new chief should have a record of doing things very differently from Fantino. Toronto needs a fresh start.