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Much ado about Fantino

January 18, 2010 Toronto Star

Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Julian Fantino is on the hot seat again – this time over his handling of the native occupation in Caledonia. He faces a criminal charge, brought by a private citizen, of trying to influence the local council. The case was supposed to proceed last week, but it has been put over until next month to give the Crown more time to review evidence.

Provincial NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who should know better, has said Fantino should step aside as OPP commissioner while the charge is before the courts. That would set a troublesome precedent.

The case revolves around Gary McHale, the private citizen who brought the charge against Fantino. Usually described as an "activist," McHale heads up a group called Canadian Advocates for Charter Equality, which is dedicated to the "restoration of the rule of law in Ontario." He is not a resident of Caledonia, but he has organized demonstrations in the community against the native occupation. Fantino and the OPP, who have been working hard to lower the temperature in the Caledonia conflict, do not appreciate McHale's efforts.

So in 2007, Fantino emailed the local mayor and councillors to ask them not to egg McHale on. Fantino also suggested that the OPP contract with the county would not be renewed if councillors continued to back McHale. The implied threat was perhaps ill-advised, but the thinking behind the email is understandable, given the pressures on the OPP from all sides in Caledonia.

If McHale can force Fantino aside by laying a private charge in this case, then what is to stop anyone else who disagrees with the OPP from doing the same?

The Caledonia situation is most regrettable and has been dragged out for far too long (four years). But it won't be resolved by prosecuting Fantino or pushing him out of the commissioner's office. Rather, it will take good-faith bargaining on the land claims and related issues by both the federal and provincial governments and the Six Nations.