IT CAN BE no mere coincidence that Julian Fantino’s 2007 hardboiled memoir, Duty: The Life of a Cop, is an as-told-to composed by the PR consultant Jerry Amernic – a self-described “developer and executor” of “strategic public relations programs designed to introduce an organization to the media and make them media-friendly.” If there is anyone currently warming an Ottawa cabinet seat who requires a media makeover, that person is Julian Fantino.
Rehearsing the long career of this one-time Toronto shopping mall security guard, one can’t but notice the unbroken and uniform trail of soot which seems always to have attended him. Indeed, a pattern emerges. The late NDP MPP Peter Kormos, himself a practitioner of the scrappy and insubordinate mode of politics, once accused Fantino of line-crossing, lack of self-control and Rambo-styled policing. The charge was levelled by Kormos in one of several instances of allegedly illegal wiretaps in which Fantino was a participant – in this instance involving cell phone conversations with the Tyendinaga activist and rabble rouser Shane Brant.
Perhaps the more telling example, however, was Fantino’s illegal wiretapping and surveillance of then Metro Toronto Police Services Board Chair, Susan Eng, appointed by the province to undertake reforms in the wake of police shootings of young black men. Thus began a pattern of vindictive behaviour followed by swift redeployment, as Fantino became the public relations hot potato of his successive bosses and handlers. In 1991, shortly after the Susan Eng affair, Fantino left Toronto to accept the warm embrace of the London Police Services.
At the time of this promotion, the bulk of Fantino’s controversies were yet ahead of him. In London, the Rambo style flourished again as Fantino undertook the prosecution of Project Guardian, an alleged child pornography ring which uncovered instances of prostitution and drug possession but none of child pornography. As Toronto Chief of Police, Fantino would repeat this performance as Project Snowball, publicly and wrongly identifying victims of credit card fraud and identity theft as guilty child pornographers – a clumsy and stupid act which led to ruined lives and the suicide of an innocent man named James LeCraw.
Possessing a curriculum vitae fattened on the work of apparent incompetence, supreme (and unwarranted) self-confidence and righteousness, Fantino was elevated once again by Dalton McGuinty to the position of Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police. In this role he undertook additional pursuits of child pornography (at long last with seemingly credible results and with eventual charges against thirty-five individuals) and presided over the chaos of Caledonia, personally meddling in the affairs of the town’s mayor – an act which led Peter Kormos to call for his firing.
Unfortunately for Kormos, as for the many others who then agreed and who would agree today with a similar course of action – Fantino has been consistently rewarded by his political masters with curious promotions for a job notoriously done. Belligerent and allergic to criticism, he has never quite grasped the not-so-fine line between professionalism and personal attack. When he restored the official Ontario Provincial Police colour scheme to black-and-white, in 2007, I remember thinking to myself: “and why not, since it’s precisely how he views the world.”
Even the name Fantino suits him, its Italian origins referring to the supposedly manipulative and under-handed trade of horse-dealing and its connotation of manoeuvring for advantage in a race. In the race of electoral politics, Fantino has thrived – but again his promotions as well as his horizontal movements have come not as a result of merit and achievement. As the Serial Minister of Various Affairs, the man has blustered and blundered, alienating constituents and stakeholders and using the resources of his office to engage in partisan attack. His latest insult, this time against war veterans, is proof of his unsuitability – one more instance in a long career of similar proofs. The time is overdue for him to reap the final reward he so richly deserves.