Cop cleared in war of words

Caledonia man publicly critical of McGuinty, Fantino

John Burman
The Hamilton Spectator
(Jul 7, 2007)

A Hamilton police officer has been cleared of accusations of discreditable conduct for criticizing Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino for their handling of the Caledonia native land claim dispute.

Fantino filed a formal complaint in February against David Hartless, a Hamilton constable whose Caledonia home backs onto the native-occupied, former Douglas Creek Estates, alleging a widespread e-mail Hartless sent was "venomous" and represented "conduct unbecoming" a police officer.

Hartless did not refer to himself as a Hamilton police officer in his Feb. 17 e-mail.

Fantino complained to Hamilton Police Chief Brian Mullan, telling him "the OPP have had enough of this nonsense."

"I realize that he is also a private citizen and quite entitled to exercise freedom of speech, however, as a police officer, on or off duty, he is also held to a higher standard of accountability which is where I am coming from on his latest, vicious public rant," Fantino said in a copy of his complaint to Mullan filed with the court.

Mullan asked Halton police to investigate Fantino's complaint.

That investigation concluded Thursday after four months, and found Hartless did not commit misconduct.

A spokesman for Fantino's office said yesterday the OPP respect the findings of the Halton investigation and will not comment further.

Hartless had also launched a Charter of Rights challenge to a brief gag order on sending e-mails from Hamilton Deputy Chief Ken Leendertse that followed Fantino's Feb. 18 complaint. It has also been resolved out of court.

Hartless alleged the gag order infringed on his freedom of speech as a private citizen.

Hamilton police agreed to issue a statement indicating Hartless -- a frequent and vociferous critic of the OPP and the provincial government's handling of the Caledonia situation -- had committed no wrong.

They also agreed to pay Hartless's legal costs associated with the court challenge.

"It feels pretty good," Hartless said from home yesterday as he prepared to go camping with his kids.

The settlement "is a good compromise" for all involved, he said.

Hartless' lawyer John Findlay said he and his client feel the Hamilton Police Service handled Fantino's complaint well, handing everything off to Halton police for an independent, arms-length investigation.

Marco Visentini, legal counsel for the Hamilton Police Service, said the settlement of Hartless's charter challenge and the disposition of Fantino's complaint leaves nothing outstanding.

"That's it," he said.