Charge against OPP commissioner put over until February

Commissioner Julian Fantino faces charge of influencing municipal officials

Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Julian Fantino responds to questions following a news conference on tasers on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 24, 2009. The Canadian Press



Romina Maurino

Cayuga, Ont. — The Canadian Press


A criminal allegation against Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Julian Fantino was put over Friday until next month, a move the activist behind the charge said shows the provincial government is unwilling to act on the accusations.

“It's clear the Crown was going to stay the charge today, there's no other reason to bring [the hearing] forward,” Gary McHale said after the proceedings.

“They knew they wouldn't get away with it so therefore they had to adjourn it for Feb. 3. There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that the Crown has no intention of prosecuting this case.”

The Crown asked the court Friday for more time to review new evidence relating to the allegations that Mr. Fantino influenced or attempted to influence municipal officials. It said the extra time was necessary before it can decide whether to go ahead with the charges on Feb. 3 – the original date cited in Mr. Fantino's summons.

Crown attorney Milan Rupic gave no explanation as to why he asked to bring the matter forward to Friday, only to push it back to the initial date.

But to Mr. McHale, the move was meant to quash media attention after Premier Dalton McGuinty came under fire for appearing to play down the allegations of illegal conduct in Caledonia, Ont., the site of a long-running aboriginal occupation.

Mr. McHale has been trying to have Mr. Fantino charged after the commissioner allegedly sent an e-mail in 2007 telling the mayor and councillors in Caledonia not to attend Mr. McHale's rallies. He has 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.

A charge of influencing or attempting to influence municipal officials is a Criminal Code offence that carries up to a five-year prison term.

Mr. McGuinty said this week there was no need for Mr. Fantino to step aside until the charge was dealt with because it's a “private information being put forward by a private citizen.” He later denied suggestions he was trying to trivialize the charges.

On Friday, he warned against drawing any conclusions from the day's events.

“I don't think it is reasonable to read much into an adjournment – court proceedings are adjourned on a fairly regular basis,” Mr. McGuinty said after an unrelated announcement in Toronto.

“I continue to have confidence in the process.”

Mr. Fantino wasn't in the Cayuga, Ont., courthouse when the Crown spoke to the matter, but he has vowed to “vigorously” fight the allegations.

“I have the utmost respect for and confidence in the judicial system and in its ability to treat everyone equally and fairly,” Mr. Fantino said in a statement Friday.

“I respect the court's jurisdiction and will comply with any process or legal requirement made of me.”

The New Democrats say Mr. McGuinty's loyalty to Mr. Fantino is misplaced and argue the province's top cop should step down until the charge is dealt with in court.

They want Mr. McGuinty to appoint a special prosecutor from outside Ontario – a recommendation backed by the Progressive Conservatives and Mr. McHale.

“I don't want to second guess what's happening with the justice of the peace and the judges and the judicial system, but if they determine there is sufficient merit to cause a trial to be held, I don't think there's any option but to bring in an outside prosecutor,” said NDP critic Michael Prue.

“You can't have the OPP and the Crown attorneys prosecuting themselves.”

The Attorney-General's office has said a special prosecutor will be assigned from the Justice Prosecutions Unit, which was set up to handle cases involving police or other justice officials and is made up of senior Crown counsels with extensive experience in criminal cases.