Government stands by Fantino in wiretap allegation
TORONTO - There's no need for the commissioner of Ontario's provincial police force to step aside despite allegations that he was involved in spying on a close friend of the head of Toronto's police services board 16 years ago, the government said Wednesday.
The allegations of improper wiretapping levelled at Julian Fantino are nothing new and fall outside the provincial government's authority to investigate, said Community Safety Minister Monte Kwinter.
"It is not something that we as a government have any role to play,'' Kwinter told the legislature.
"It was 16 years ago. It was public knowledge. This is something that was out there. It isn't something that suddenly has come up.''
An internal intelligence report leaked to CBC News says Toronto police spied on a close confidante of Susan Eng, who headed the force's civilian oversight body in the early 1990s.
Police began conducting the covert surveillance in May 1991, just days after Eng was sworn in.
The report says Fantino, who was then a superintendent with Toronto police, was concerned Eng's friend could pose a security risk.
The report shows police believed the confidante to be a shady character who associated with drug dealers and convinced a judge to authorize wiretaps on calls, including those with Eng.
Despite Kwinter's assertions, Eng said in an interview that no one ever told her about the surveillance, which she maintained was clearly targeted at her.
She called it an abuse of police power and an invasion of privacy, made worse given her position at the time as chairwoman of the Toronto police services board.
"The language of the memo indicates that they were specifically looking for ways to discredit me personally. It is clear that this was the clear and direct purpose,'' said Eng, who is now retiring from her law practice.
"It was fundamentally wrong.''
Fantino has not commented.
Eng called it "shocking'' the intelligence report had been leaked now, saying it appeared to be the result of a "blood feud'' between two groups of police officers.
She refused to back calls for Fantino to step down but said she had formally requested Toronto's police board investigate to determine whether any disciplinary or criminal action should be taken.
"We'd like to know whether this was a rogue officer or whether or not he was acting on orders, and how high those orders went,'' Eng said.
New Democrat Peter Kormos called it "highly inappropriate'' and "improper conduct'' that police would spy on the head of the board.
"There should be an investigation,'' Kormos said.
"In the course of that investigation, Fantino has to step aside as commissioner of the Ontario provincial police.''
Kwinter said it would be up to the courts, Toronto police or the agency that looks into complaints against officers to investigate.