A veteran Crown attorney will take over Ontario's Special Investigations Unit, stepping into one of the province's toughest jobs at a time of heightened tension between the police watchdog and Toronto's force. Tony Loparco, who currently runs the Crown office in Scarborough, will begin his five-year term as SIU director Oct. 16.
The post is a difficult one: on top of overseeing a team of investigators, the director decides whether to lay criminal charges against police officers. As a result, the person who holds it is often unpopular with both police and alleged victims of their violence. But Mr. Loparco, 52, told The Globe and Mail the work fits his background.
"I've worked with police – at various times we've agreed, at various times we've disagreed," he said Friday. "People aren't going to always be happy with your decisions, but I think if you're honest and you have integrity, at the end of the day, although they might not like it, I think they respect it."
Born in Milan, Italy, Mr. Loparco immigrated to Canada as a child and grew up in Toronto. He graduated from law school at Dalhousie University in 1987 and, after stints at a civil firm and as a clerk in the Federal Court, he became an assistant Crown attorney in Scarborough in 1990.
In 2003, he was promoted to oversee the office. He has prosecuted numerous homicide and gang cases over the years, including the slaying of teenager Christie Christie and fake passport and money order fraud rings. He also oversaw the legal team involved in Project Pathfinder, which targeted the infamous Galloway Boys street gang.
Under his watch, the Scarborough office created youth justice committees, organizations of community members who deal with young offenders accused of minor crimes as a way of keeping them out of the court system.
Mr. Loparco will have a tough act to follow. Current SIU director Ian Scott is widely credited with reinvigorating the provincial oversight body and raising its profile as he steered it through the 2010 G20 summit protests and, most recently, laid a rare second-degree murder charge on the officer accused of gunning down teenager Sammy Yatim on a streetcar in July.
Mr. Scott has also exerted public pressure on police forces he accuses of not co-operating with the agency. This led to wars of words with Toronto Chief Bill Blair and Mike McCormack, head of the police union.
Attorney-General John Gerretsen, who personally interviewed Mr. Loparco, said he expects the new director to cultivate relationships with police forces so that, in cases where the SIU does not lay charges, Mr. Loparco would still be able to give police forces recommendations on improving their practices.
"He has an understanding that it's important to have a good relationship with the chiefs of police and the police associations," Mr. Gerretsen said in an interview.
"Ian Scott has done a tremendous job over the last five years, but we can always improve out relationships and the way we deal with other people."