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OPP head to face Caledonia misconduct allegations

Last Updated: Thursday, December 31, 2009 | 6:35 PM ET

CBC News

Ontario's top police officer must face allegations he illegally influenced municipal officials, a judge ruled Thursday as he ordered either a summons or warrant be issued for Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Julian Fantino.

The allegations against Fantino were brought by Gary McHale, who has led a number of rallies decrying what he calls two-tier justice in the policing of an aboriginal land occupation in Caledonia, Ont.

McHale alleges that Fantino influenced municipal officials in the town when the commissioner sent an email telling the mayor and councillors not to attend McHale's rallies.

Influencing or attempting to influence a municipal official in municipal activities is an offence under the Criminal Code and carries up to a five-year prison term if convicted.

A justice of the peace who heard McHale's complaint refused to issue a summons or warrant against the commissioner.

However, Superior Court Justice David Crane, who reviewed the case, ordered the justice of the peace to issue such an order in a ruling released Thursday.

"The learned justice of the peace declined to issue process," Crane wrote in his ruling. "It is his duty to do so."

'Not a finding of guilt'

Lawyer Andrew Bell, who represented the Attorney General of Ontario in the case, said it's more likely that a summons will be issued for Fantino than an arrest warrant.

"It's not a finding of guilt, it doesn't have that weight," Bell said of Thursday's decision.

"There's a charge before the court that will have to be dealt with."

Requests for comment from Fantino or the provincial police were not immediately returned.

McHale, who represented himself in court, called Thursday's decision a "huge victory."

"We have set the standard for private citizens' rights to lay criminal charges against government officials," he said in a telephone interview.

In his decision, Justice Crane wrote that the Fantino email says Haldimand County Mayor Marie Trainer and certain councillors "were not to support the public attendances of Gary McHale in Caledonia, nor to make statements of support of Mr. McHale to the residents of Caledonia.

"The issue before the justice... was whether Julian Fantino made a threat to influence or in an attempt to influence Mayor Trainer and/or the council of Haldimand County to perform or fail to perform an official act," Crane wrote.

"I observe on the record in this application there is evidence of influenced behaviour by the mayor and county council in response to the Julian Fantino letter."

Repeated exchanges

The case is not the first time Fantino and McHale have squared off in court.

McHale faces charges of counselling mischief not committed and Fantino testified during a preliminary hearing this year that he told subordinates he would have gladly arrested McHale himself for inciting civil unrest in Caledonia.

McHale is representing himself in that case as well and questioned Fantino on the witness stand.

During one exchange, Fantino told McHale that his repeated visits to Caledonia, already tense over the lengthy aboriginal occupation, dangerously inflamed the situation.

The commissioner called McHale a "lightning rod to the conflict" during his testimony and added police saved McHale from "grievous bodily harm numerous times."