Haldimand reviewing OPP contract

By Marissa Nelson
The Hamilton Spectator
(Apr 14, 2007)

The OPP's ability to do its job as Haldimand County police is impaired by the public's view of them, Mayor Marie Trainer says.

And that is why her council is reviewing whether the OPP is the right force to do the job.

"They're viewed negatively. That's why we're talking about it," Trainer said. "There's definitely a feeling that there are two rules of law."

Council will examine whether a contract, which expires September 2008, with the OPP should be renewed or whether another force should be hired to police the county.

Trainer said starting a Haldimand-only municipal force would likely be too expensive, but she'd like to see whether nearby municipal forces from Brantford, Hamilton or Niagara might be interested in putting in a bid. They could also look at bringing in the RCMP.

Haldimand's municipal police force disbanded in late 1998. Trainer said the OPP contract costs about $7 million a year.

For his part, OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino remained silent again yesterday about an e-mail he purportedly sent to Trainer threatening to pull his force out of Caledonia.

For the second day in a row, OPP Inspector Dave Ross said Fantino was unavailable to comment.

Ross again wouldn't discuss the e-mail, even though concerns in town continued to percolate that the OPP were already scaling back their operations -- something Ross flatly denies.

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

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

In the e-mail at issue, Fantino takes aim at Councillor Craig Grice for supporting Gary McHale, a Richmond Hill man who has been described by police as an outside agitator.

Fantino's e-mail says if any of his officers are hurt in future protests held by McHale or his supporters, Fantino will hold Grice, the county and McHale responsible. He also vows to support any injured officer launching a civil suit, to forward ensuing costs to the county and recommending the OPP not renew its contract with the county when it expires.

Trainer said some residents have asked her if Fantino is trying to beat the council to the punch in terms of not renewing the contract.

Grice, who lives next to the disputed property, says Fantino has misinterpreted his e-mail and worse, that he is "way off base" and has "overstepped his bounds" with his response.

Grice said he ran on a platform of reviewing the OPP contract. While the county may not be able to afford to start up its own force, some question "how we can move forward with a force we don't have respect for."

"The trust level is gone," he said.

Grice wonders if Fantino's reaction was fueled by council's decision not to pass a motion promoted by the OPP that would have prevented people from stopping on Argyle Street.

A Hamilton police department spokesperson said their mandate is Hamilton and that's how it'll likely stay. Brantford police haven't given it consideration either, but it would be up to the police services board.