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Fantino enters politics under Tory banner

VAUGHAN, Ont. - A former Ontario top cop who broke ranks with police leaders nationwide by opposing the long gun registry said Tuesday he wants to enter federal politics under the Conservative banner.

VAUGHAN, Ont. - A former Ontario top cop who broke ranks with police leaders nationwide by opposing the long gun registry said Tuesday he wants to enter federal politics under the Conservative banner.

Julian Fantino — whose tenure as Ontario Provincial Police commissioner had its fair share of controversy — told a crowd of supporters that he will seek the Tory nomination for Vaughan. The longtime Liberal riding north of Toronto will be up for grabs in an upcoming byelection.

A Conservative bid to kill the gun registry saw police brass across the country band together to defend the program, but not Fantino.

During his time as commissioner Fantino said the registry was "long on philosophy and short on practical results."

On Tuesday he called it an "obscene waste of taxpayer money."

"I believe that the focus on the long gun registry has never ever delivered what was promised," Fantino said.

At least one expert said Fantino could be a powerful political ally for Prime Minister Stephen Harper in his battle to scrap the registry.

"I think this is the way the government can counter all the criticism they've been having from the police community," said Henry Jacek, a political science professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, who called it a "bright move."

"(The Conservatives) want to highlight some high-profile policeman who agrees with them, and don't want people to see all the police that are opposed to their position."

While Fantino was reluctant to discuss his specific role in the party if elected — saying he never looks at the "what ifs" — he is widely seen as cabinet material.

"I don't think he wants to sit on the back benches," said Jacek. "I think he wants to sit in the cabinet."

Fantino was quick to dispel rumours that he had been persuaded by Harper to seek the nomination.

"The prime minister doesn't have to pressure me," he said. "I'm here because I want to be here."

A date for the Vaughan byelection has not yet been set.

The riding was held by Liberal MP Maurizio Bevilacqua, who is now running for Vaughan mayor in the Oct. 25 municipal elections.

Fantino headed the provincial force from 2006 to July of this year, when he retired. The usual appointment time is three years.

During his time as commissioner he was often the centre of controversy.

Fantino was accused of trying to influence municipal officials in connection with an ongoing aboriginal occupation in Caledonia, Ont., but the private charge was withdrawn.

Last December charges at the heart of a disciplinary matter involving Fantino were dropped, the same day the cross-examination of Ontario's top police officer was to resume after being delayed by legal motions.

The hearing into misconduct charges against two senior provincial police officers adjourned when Fantino accused the adjudicator of bias during his cross-examination.

Fantino said he won't shy away from controversy if he wins the nomination.

"In order to be honourable, ethical, professional and trustworthy, you have to be controversial," he said.

"The things about which I have been labelled controversial...they're all the result of misinformation, miscommunication and a total disregard of the facts."

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, who attended the announcement, said Fantino's history was of no concern to the party.

"When you work in a high-profile job, as he did for so many years, it's going to attract controversy," said Raitt.

"But here's the thing, he actually made decisions, and he made change."

In 1969, a 27-year-old Fantino became a cadet with the Toronto Police Service.

In the years that followed, he rose through the ranks and went on to helm the police forces in London, Ont., York Region and Toronto before taking on the role of Ontario commissioner.

 
 
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