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Fantino vows to fight illegal influence allegation


January 9, 2010 Hamilton Spectator

Pat Hewitt

TORONTO — Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Julian Fantino is vowing to fight an allegation from an activist that he illegally influenced elected officials in Caledonia, Ont., the site of a long-running aboriginal occupation.

“I intend to vigorously defend myself and the OPP against this allegation and have the utmost confidence in the judicial system,” Fantino said in a statement issued Saturday.

A summons was issued Friday against Fantino on one count of influencing or attempting to influence municipal officials — a legal step required before charges could be officially laid and court dates set.

However Fantino has not received any paperwork, said Insp. Dave Ross, a provincial police spokesman.

”The commissioner has been made aware of a process that’s been issued by a justice of the peace against him concerning an allegation brought forward by a private citizen,“ said Ross.

“At this particular time we haven’t seen the process so we don’t know what the details are of it nor has the commissioner been served with any sort of a process,” said Ross.

Activist Gary McHale has been trying to have Fantino charged after the commissioner sent an email in April, 2007, allegedly telling the mayor and councillors in Caledonia not to attend McHale’s rallies.

McHale led a number of rallies to protest what he called two-tier justice in the policing of the land occupation in the town south of Hamilton.

In his statement, Fantino also defended police efforts to keep the peace and protect the public in Caledonia during the land claims dispute.

“I am proud of the work that the men and women of the OPP have done in Caledonia over the years in a complex and, at times, extremely volatile environment,” Fantino said.

“The OPP and its officers have taken a measured approach and acted in accordance with legislated responsibilities and exercised police discretion appropriately, fairly and equally,” he added.

McHale released a copy of a letter he received from the Ministry of the Attorney General, which said a special prosecutor will be assigned to prosecute the case for the Crown.

He also said Friday he was informed by the court in Cayuga, Ont., that a judge signed a summons on a charge of influencing or attempting to influence municipal officials, a Criminal Code offence that carries up to a five-year prison term.

In an email to The Canadian Press, McHale said Fantino is summoned to appear before criminal court in Cayuga on Feb. 3 at 10 a.m.

A justice of the peace who heard McHale’s complaint refused to issue a summons or warrant for Fantino.

But in a decision released last week, Ontario Superior Court justice David Crane ruled Fantino must face the unproven allegation brought forward by McHale.

Fantino and McHale have tangled in court before.

McHale faces charges of counselling mischief and Fantino testified during a preliminary hearing last April that he told subordinates he would have gladly arrested McHale himself for inciting civil unrest in Caledonia in December 2007.

McHale, who is representing himself in that case, 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.”

The normally media conscious Fantino would not be commenting on the case beyond Saturday’s statement, said Ross.

“He also obviously respects the judicial process and will not be saying anything further and we’ll have to let the judicial process run its course,” said Ross.