Nobody pushed Police Chief Julian Fantino out of his job. Instead, he took matters into his own hands: He jumped. And, unlike the handful of goons on council who thought they could rescue him by smearing their own excrement on the walls of City Hall, he did it with style.
The chief could have wrapped himself in a cloak of martyrdom, lit the torch of wounded self-righteousness and dived headlong from a high platform into the arms of the lamenting crowd below, with a stake in his heart. He could have emulated his predecessor, William McCormack, by brushing off the authority of the police services board and appealing for a new contract directly to "the people," thereby igniting an all-consuming, months-long political firestorm.
But he did none of that. Instead, he acknowledged the board's decision with dignity and accepted it without complaint. Saying only that he was "disappointed" not to have his contract extended, the chief refused to indulge in the orgy of recrimination the news inspired among the goons.
"A contract is a contract and boards make decisions," he said. "I have to respect that and I do." There will be a new leader to carry the force forward, he added. "And I respect that. You never heard me complain about the past, and you're certainly not going to hear me complain about the future. I feel very blessed."
Nothing became him in his career so much as the leaving of it -- although, as Mr. Fantino pointed out, there's no funeral yet. "I'm still the chief here," he said, "and I will be continuing to do what I have to do in order to serve. . . . I'm not going to worry about anything else."
Although there will be plenty of others to revile what one talk-show caller called "these yellow-bellied leftists" who declined to extend the chief's contract, his failure to encourage them overtly is a huge relief. However hot the controversy over the contract may become, the prospect of another McCormack imbroglio seems remote.
In fact, Chief Fantino took the exact opposite tack as his predecessor did in similar circumstances. Realizing that the board was unlikely to offer him a second contract, Mr. McCormack arrogantly refused to seek the extension and encouraged a rowdy grassroots campaign designed to keep him on. He clung to the job until after his contract expired and then issued an ultimatum saying that he would leave at his own pleasure. "I have never considered myself to be an employee of any given board . . . but rather a servant of the people," he said at the time.
Although he eventually backed down, allowing Chief David Boothby to succeed him without incident, Mr. McCormack struck a heavy blow against the principle of civilian oversight of police.
To this day, it is unclear whether or not a police board does have the right to replace a chief who doesn't want to go.
But Chief Fantino played the same role by the book, applying for an extension as stipulated in his current contract, knowing the police board was divided and unlikely to grant it. Significantly, neither he nor his supporters took advantage of the compromise that Mayor Miller has promoted -- keeping the chief on until a renewed board, with a full complement of members, could consider the issue in the fall. Behind closed doors at the board, the Fantino faction rejected that offer. Instead, they boldly put the question, demanding a vote on whether or not to extend the chief's contract. As they expected, the motion failed on a tie vote.
The fact that they are now positioning themselves as victims of some plot orchestrated by Mayor Miller is a bit rich. If there is any legitimate criticism of the mayor's role in the affair, it's that he didn't interfere enough, preferring to stay at arm's length from a damaged board with such an explosive issue in its lap. The mayor is lucky that the chief, using his delegates on the board, orchestrated his own exit with such dispatch. Mr. Fantino knew he was going and he went on his terms.
Now that the deed is done, Mr. Miller continues to keep his distance, blandly commending the chief while welcoming the change. "The last couple of times, the chief's contract has gone for five or six years and a new person with a new direction has come in," he said. "I think that is a healthy thing in this city."
What he won't say is that Chief Fantino had to go. Installed in his job by the Harris Tories who denied Mr. Boothby a second term in exactly similar circumstances, Chief Fantino never hid his team colours. Indeed, he played partisan politics with a vengeance, especially when he endorsed John Tory in last fall's mayoral election. His hysterical reaction to credible evidence of racial profiling on the force put him further offside, effectively persuading critics he would never embrace basic reforms.
Chief Fantino began to sing a different tune following the election, especially as another police force, the RCMP, began investigating and charging a growing number of Toronto police officers for various forms of misconduct. Suddenly he became a reformer. But by then it was too late.
Some people blame Norm Gardner for Mr. Fantino's fate, saying the disgraced former board chair should have resigned to allow another person to take his place in time for a vote on the chief's contract. But the real culprit is retired judge George Ferguson, the chief's handpicked reformer, who proved so hostile to the board that he destroyed any confidence it might have had in the program that he and the chief had devised. Mr. Ferguson's latest intervention ---a searing denunciation of the board and, in particular, Chairman Alan Heisey -- sealed the deal by swinging Mr. Heisey's undecided vote against the chief.
Chief Fantino still has a year to make good on his promise to implement basic reforms to the police service, something he now puts at the top of his agenda. That is good news, and a thoroughly professional response to this week's bombshell. His successor will thank him for that, but the job will never be over.