OPP commissioner still mum about controversial Caledonia e-mail

By Marissa Nelson
April 13, 2007

OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino is again declining to talk publicly about an e-mail he purportedly sent to the mayor of Haldimand County in which he threatens to pull his force out of Caledonia.

OPP Inspector Dave Ross said the Fantino was unavailable to comment.

He again wouldn't discuss the e-mail or speak to its authenticity because it is correspondence meant for a particular recipient.

"We value our contractual relationship with Haldimand County," Ross said, adding that "peace and tranquillity" is their first priority in Caledonia.

While people in town, both native and non-native, were surprised this week when the customary cruiser that's been posted at the disputed property for more than a year disappeared.

Mayor Marie Trainer said this morning there are also fewer officers posted near the back gate, in an abutting subdivision.

"I can't comment on the e-mail, but our operational commitment to preserving the peace has not changed," Ross said.

Asked whether Fantino plans to speak to Haldimand officials, Ross said that would be between the commissioner and the politicians.

Clyde Powless, one of the spokespeople for the natives on the disputed property, said yesterday the reduction of OPP around the property is a "de-escalation" and an "evolution."

Powless said there have been several steps taken in the native community and on the site and that the end of a cruiser parked at the property's front gate was by mutual consent.

In an e-mail to the mayor and Haldimand County's council, Fantino takes issue with Councillor Craig Grice commending Gary McHale, a Richmond Hill man who has organized several protests in the town.

Fantino's e-mail, sent at 5 p.m. April 7, says if any of his officers are hurt, he will hold Grice, the county and McHale responsible; that he will support any injured officer launching a civil suit; will forward ensuing costs to the county and will recommend that the OPP not renew the contract with the county when it expires.

Comments attributed to Grice are "gravely detrimental to the morale and safety of my officers," the e-mail states.

But Grice says Fantino has misinterpreted him.

"(Fantino) has misunderstood. He thinks I support McHale and his marches, and that's the furthest thing from the truth," Grice said just before noon today. "It does nothing to end the occupation."

Grice said he was "disappointed" by Fantino's stance.

In Grice's e-mail -- which sparked Fantino's response -- currently circulating on websites, blogs and message boards, the councillor says McHale brings attention to the town's situation and that he does agree with McHale's stance on "two -tier justice."

"Do I commend Gary for some of actions and standing up? Yes I do," Grice writes in the e-mail. "Do I have concerns on how Caledonia is seen and how others I represent feel when he comes town? Yes I do."

Grice said he sent the offending e-mail to a constituent and it was that constituent who forwarded it on to McHale, not Grice himself.

Mayor Marie Trainer said in a telephone interview that her council will discuss the issue Monday and she expects there will be a formal response.

She doesn't question the authenticity of the e-mail, which she received from Fantino at 5 p.m. April 7.

"I take it as threatening," she said.

The council had already considered not renewing the OPP contract when it expires in September 2008.

"We want to look at all avenues," she said.

Trainer took issue with Fantino's interpretation of Grice's e-mail, saying she believed it was "on the fence" and not supportive of McHale.

Trainer is meeting with the local OPP inspector today.

Watch thespec.com for updates.