County approves roundabout tender

The first traffic roundabout in Grey County will be built in The Blue Mountains in the coming months. Grey County council at its regular meeting last Tuesday morning approved its Transportation and Public Safety committee’s (TAPS) recommendation to award the roundabout project to E.C. King Contracting for a total of $1,287,268.10. The Blue Mountains council approved the tender at its regular meeting on March 2. The roundabout is being installed in an effort to alleviate traffic concerns in and around the Blue Mountain skiing/village area. It will be installed beginning this spring at the corner of Scenic Caves Road and County Road 19. Grey County and The Blue Mountains are partnering on the installation of the project. Construction is expected to begin in early April. A groundbreaking ceremony will be held to mark the beginning of the construction. "We’re looking forward to this and we look forward to working with our partner on the project," said TAPS committee Chair and Chatsworth Mayor Howard Greig at the meeting. Grey County Warden Kevin Eccles said the roundabout would be a big help in controlling traffic in a busy area. "It will be great for moving traffic in and out of the eastern quadrant of the county," he said. This will be the first roundabout in Grey County. The traffic control system is common in other areas and replaces traffic lights.


Riding with the boss

The red compact car sweeps past at a breezy 130 km/h its driver a young woman with a cell phone clasped to her right ear. She is deep in conversation and oblivious to the unmarked cruiser, its high-profile passenger none too pleased by the scene unfolding in the passing lane. “One hand – no hands on the wheel now,” OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino observes. “She took her other hand off the wheel for a minute.” Fantino’s driver, Sgt. Jeff Dziepak maneuvers their black Ford Edge behind the speeding car, which is now ripping along Highway 400 southbound at 140 km/h. He follows at a safe distance for a few minutes before calling in the license plate. Fantino dons his wool-lined cap and activates the cruiser’s flashing lights with a hand-held keypad. Within moments, the driver pulls to the shoulder. Dziepak and his boss have done this many times before, and there is a sense of routine as they approach the vehicle – Dziepak writing the ticket and the commissioner observing from the passenger’s side. The fine is $295 and four demerit points. “That’s painful,” Fantino says, back in the car. ••• He has nabbed more than a few speeders since his appointment as commissioner in 2006, but downplays the non-traditional image of a senior administrator working in the trenches. “I wouldn’t expect our people to be doing anything that I won’t do, or am not prepared to do myself,” he says. “And you know, you lead from the front. Besides, it’s gratifying to know you may have prevented a fatality, a serious crash, and taught someone a lesson.” Fantino readily acknowledges the flash of recognition he receives from many drivers familiar with his famous mug, but would rather not dwell on it.   “Business is business,” he adds. The week before, Fantino and his driver pursued and pulled over a driver travelling at 176 km/h on Highway 407. While standing roadside, they were approached by another driver who had parked nearby. “I really didn’t know what the citizen wanted – maybe directions or some other thing,” he adds. “He just stopped to thank us for the work we were doing, which was gratifying.” In an interview prior to the afternoon drive, Dziepak recounts numerous instances where motorists nabbed by Ontario’s top cop reacted in surprising ways. “It happens all the time,” he says. “Some people are apologetic, and some people are excited to see him. “He is like any officer with their partner,” he adds. “He gets out of the car and he is right there.” The ticket given to the woman with the cell phone will dent her pocketbook, but it won’t garner the screaming headlines that followed the arrest of a driver clocked at a blurry 250 km/h in the southbound lanes of Highway 400. In a tone devoid of sarcasm, Fantino suggests a visit with a psychiatrist is in order for that particular motorist. “I think that that person should be admitted somewhere for assessment,” he says. “Nobody can think that is a normal speed, a normal thing to do. It is very reckless, very dangerous, not only for himself, but for the other people involved.” ••• Fantino, who turns 67 in August, recently celebrated 40 years of public service with a career that began at the Metropolitan Toronto Police in 1969. He would eventually serve as Toronto’s police chief for five years, starting in 2000. Today, his work schedule is typical only in that the hours are long, the travel extensive. “This is very early for us to be going home,” he says en route to his Toronto-area home in the late afternoon, adding “We’re only doing it because we don’t want to tire you out.” In about two years, Fantino and his driver have added more than 140,000 kilometres to the odometer, travelling to meetings, visiting OPP detachments and generally conducting the business of overseeing the roughly 6,000 uniformed members and 2,600 civilian staff. Plane and train travel are often required for visits to remote communities, and little of his time is spent at General Headquarters in Orillia. “It is difficult to get around, so if you are doing things here, there and everywhere, you spend half your time running around and you are not getting you work done,” he said. “Managing your schedule is really important.” ••• He was 23 when he first dipped his toe into the waters of law enforcement, working security for the Simpsons department store in what was then the newly-opened Yorkdale Shopping Centre. The experience was an important one, though not without its hard-learned lessons. As he recounts in his book, ‘Duty: The Life of a Cop’, the fledgling investigator was memorably scolded rather than rewarded for ejecting a pair of would-be shoplifters from the store. The teens’ affluent parents were regular customers, and didn’t take kindly to their sons’ treatment. Fantino was reprimanded but did not lose his job. “I happened to exert my authority in a way that I thought was not only appropriate, but was the right thing to do,” he says of the incident. “It was not apparently the politically nice thing to do.” And yet prevention continues to be a guiding principle in his approach to law enforcement. “That’s why most of our people are not hiding behind billboards, you know, the old fashioned Smokey,” he says. “Our people are quite open, we encourage them to be quite visible. The mere fact that our people are stopping vehicles out in the open as they do … people going by will recognize and understand and appreciate the fact that if they don’t abide by the law, they too might end up in the same fate.” ••• Fantino’s imprint on the provincial force is perhaps most evident, at least to the public, in the return of the classic black-and-white colour scheme that once adorned the force’s fleet. This rebranding, as he calls it, had a two-fold purpose – one of which was to bring “a sense of pride and identity” to the OPP. The new vehicles are also hard to miss. “We don’t have any more cars, but we have much more visible cars, so our visible presence has increased dramatically,” he adds. Beyond the effort to increase public awareness of police on Ontario’s roads is a move to targeted traffic enforcement of impaired and erratic driving and seatbelt infractions.   “We are not out there fishing,” he says. “We are very focused and very strategic in our enforcement approach. We do a lot of analysis as to where we should be, what we should be doing. We need to stay focused on what in fact is causing so much of the carnage and the crashes.” Aerial surveillance is another recent tool in the OPP’s arsenal, allowing pilots to track and report lawbreakers undetected from the wild blue yonder. Fantino says the numbers speak for themselves. Highway deaths on roads patrolled by the OPP dropped by nearly 30 per cent in 2008 over the previous year, with 131 fewer people dying in traffic-related accidents. Add to that the more than 10,000 people whose vehicles were seized in a year under legislation targeting ‘racers’ who exceed the speed limit by 50 km/h or more. “There’s a lot to be said about making the effort out here,” Fantino adds. ••• “There is an expectation that you don’t stand up and speak to issues, that you don’t make waves, just not engage in debate or dialogue or controversy,” he says. “But everything we do has a controversial component to it.” Unlike the career politician who tip toes around touchy issues ¬– testing the winds before offering an opinion that may prove unpopular and ultimately career-breaking – Fantino is both revered and reviled for his blunt style and disarming candor. His face betrays little and he speaks evenly in a voice that borders on monotone – firm but rarely rising in volume no matter the gravity of the subject. It appears his critics – and there are more than a few on the political left – have not cost him any sleep. “When I picked up my badge to become a police officer, I didn’t check my rights as a Canadian citizen to speak up and stand up and be counted on issues,” he says. “If others can be critical of me and my profession and my colleagues in law enforcement, why should I just sit back and be a passenger?” That unwillingness to self-censor is rooted in what Fantino describes as his “apprenticeship of being a Canadian.” An Italian immigrant who arrived in Toronto with his family at age 10, he faced discrimination, bullying and other abuses that commonly awaited new arrivals already challenged by the language barrier. Struggling to learn English, he was roundly rejected by others his age, and was often picked on. “You overcome all of that,” he says. “How do you do it? You do it based on family values and encouragement and wanting to make a contribution.” A decision to drop out of school in Grade 8 to help support his family would find him challenged academically years later. He was rejected three times before gaining entry to the police force. “That was a rude awakening for me because, all of a sudden, I had to meet certain standards and I just wasn’t there,” he adds.  At age 27, after gaining his high school equivalency through correspondence courses, Fantino was admitted to police college. “The rest is history, as they say.”   ••• “Today, it is harder to be a cop and easier to be a crook.” (From Fantino’s ‘Duty: The Life of a Cop’) Running like a thread through his book is the challenge police face in tackling crime while working within the boundaries of a legal system that has “bent over backwards to ensure the rights and entitlements of the criminal are preserved, upheld and championed,” Fantino says. “But we don’t have the same equal regard for their victims.” Criminals often receive “bargain-basement justice” with watered-down sentences that award three days’ credit for every day spent in detention, he adds. “Very often, it is really not about justice,” he says. “It is just a process people go through.” The reality of the system’s shortcomings hit close to home when Fantino’s son was hit by a drunk driver, only to have the charge tossed out due to delays in having the case heard. “I tried to prepare him for that. To this day, he is still shaking his head.” Fantino’s vocal dissatisfaction with the justice system is not limited to the courtroom. “The jails do not rehabilitate people. They warehouse people. And they are full of the same badass offenders who keep going in and out over and over again.” (Duty: The Life of a Cop) Convicts are too often granted unearned parole, re-entering society without ever having been compelled to better themselves during their time in prison, he says. “The jails are full,” he adds. “If the jails are full, I guess we can say that whatever programs have been instituted and whatever things are in place, we can honestly say they are not working very well, because all of us collectively working in the system … and the amount of resources dedicated to all of this, we should have been able to turn this thing around.” During his years on Toronto’s homicide squad, Fantino would work a case that left a lasting impact on his view of the justice system, and affirm him as a proponent of capital punishment. Michael Sweet, a 30-year-old police officer and a father of three died March 14, 1980 after being shot twice while attempting to stop a robbery. The shooter, Craig Munro, was convicted of first-degree murder, and his brother, James, was found guilty of second-degree murder. Craig Munro deserved to die, Fantino says. “For me, the only thing missing was the order to have this guy executed,” he writes in his memoir. In late February of this year, Munro was granted a parole hearing. “He didn’t get out, and now we have to go through this virtually every six months because he is entitled to apply every six months,” Fantino adds. The consequences of the actions “of two hardened career criminals are still being felt today,” he says. While the death penalty appears an unlikely prospect, Fantino remains convinced of its value in select circumstances. “There are circumstances, albeit unique, when all is said and done, all the appeals are exhausted, all of the tests of the system have been applied, the severity and the gravity of their crime would merit execution,” he said. ••• Fantino’s initial two-year appointment to his current position was extended by another year, which concludes this October. Whether the term will again be extended remains to be seen, and his thoughts on the matter remain his alone. A query about how he views his legacy goes unanswered. “My only immediate focus and concern is to be solely committed and dedicated to my present mandate, regardless of any potential end date,” he says. “All my life I’ve never been unemployed.”


Proposed break for businesses rebuffed

MIDHURST – Simcoe County councillors opted not to give employers a tax break this year for fear of the impact on homeowners. Instead, county councillors will contemplate how to reduce the tax burden for business and industry at a strategic planning session Tuesday. And they’ll have a year to consider how to implement any ideas that may emerge as the county sets tax ratios – how to allocate the tax levy among the various property classes, such as residential, commercial, farm, pipeline and industrial. Collingwood Mayor Chris Carrier had urged the mayors and deputy mayors of the county’s 16 member municipalities to give business extra care this year, as the recession stresses companies. He said the county has room to move to make its tax ratios more fair, as businesses bear not only a large share of the municipal tax, but also six to 10 times more than a residential taxpayer in education taxes. “We have significant employers looking toward all levels of government to offer stimulus and be more fair,” he said Tuesday. “We’re a long, long way from the (provincially recommended) range of fairness. What I’m asking is the moving forward of the bylaw (setting taxes) be held off until we collectively discuss this.” His motion, however, failed, and county councillors set the new taxes effective March 24. “I’m not opposed to what Coun. Carrier is suggesting, (but) we really need to see the actual effect on a number of municipalities. My community is 95 per cent residential,” said Tiny Township Mayor Peggy Breckenridge. “It’s probably not too bad, but without the numbers, how can we move forward?” Switching the ratio slightly would cost residents a few dollars more, while sparing companies with higher assessments much more. It would impact municipalities differently, depending on their makeup. Collingwood, with its diverse employment and industrial base, would benefit, while Tiny, which is largely residential, would see its support to the county rise. Two weeks ago, Essa Township Mayor David Guergis highlighted a Barrie company that was poised to build two plants in Essa, but went to the United States instead, where taxes were lower and municipal regulations fewer. [email protected]


Seatbelt campaign Saturday

Ontario’s Transportation Ministry is teaming up with the Orillia and District Road Safety Committee for a Saturday event aimed at increasing seat belt use. Georgian College students stationed at four intersections over a two-hour period will count the number of drivers and passengers wearing seatbelts. Banners will encourage motorists to “Buckle Up,” while organizers have set a campaign goal that would see at least 95 per cent of motorists belted in. Police say a seatbelt is the most effective form of protection in a collision, with five lives saved annually in Ontario for every one per cent increase in seatbelt use. Students will be stationed at the intersections of Coldwater Road and Westmount Drive, Fittons Road and West Street, Mississaga and Front streets, and Colborne and Andrew streets.


Over $100,000 in drugs seized in Alliston Raid

A drug raid by police in Alliston last night (Thurs., April 16) netted more than $100,000 in illegal drugs and two arrests. Nottawasaga OPP’s Street Crime Unit teamed up with the OPP’s Central Drug Unit and executed a search warrant on the apartment located on Church Street North in Alliston at 8:45 p.m. last night. Police seized just over two hundred marijuana plants in various stages of growth with a potential street value of $500 dollars per plant; 16 grams of cocaine with a street value of $1,600 along with a small amount of cash and growing equipment. Arrested and charged are two Alliston men, a 24-year-old and a 23-year-old. Charges include production of marijuana, possession for the purpose of trafficking and possession of cocaine. Both accused were released on promise to appear’s for court in June in Bradford. Police ask anyone with information relating to any crime to contact the OPP at 1-888-310-1122 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).


College faces $3M shortfall

Georgian College is counting on a share of newly-announced provincial funding to erase an operating deficit of nearly $3 million. College president Brian Tamblyn this week confirmed the multi-campus school was closing out the year with a projected shortfall of $2.8 million. Government funding has failed to keep pace with rising enrolment in the college’s diploma and degree programs – the latter offered through university partnerships, he said. “We have been growing very quickly for the last four years,” Tamblyn said. “It kind of catches up to you operationally.” The province, in its latest budget, announced $150 million in immediate, one-time support for Ontario’s colleges and universities. Georgian College will learn in the next couple of weeks whether its share of the fund will cover the sizable deficit, Tamblyn said.  “It is quite possible our share could cover our projected deficit this year, which ends (March 31),” he added. Tamblyn stressed that Georgian is not alone as it works to overcome financial challenges. “Pretty well all the colleges and universities are looking at serious financial situations,” he added. Ontario’s colleges receive the lowest funding of any in the country, with operating grants based on enrolment audits conducted three times annually, Tamblyn said. However, the grants are spread over three years, and only begin to flow a year after the audit is completed, he said. “It takes four years to get the funding for the first year,” he said. Overall enrolment in its college and university-level programs rose 9.5 per cent in March over the same period last year, while applications for the fall semester are already up by almost seven per cent, Tamblyn said. “It’s possible we will have a similar increase in the fall as we did in the winter,” he added. Tamblyn said the province is dedicating another $200 million to colleges and universities next year through its “Reaching Higher” plan. “The concern is whether the enrolment growth will outstrip the money provided,” he added. In the meantime, the college will draw from a $6-million reserve. “At the point where you are out of reserves, you have to work with the ministry and come up with a plan on how you get out of (deficit),” he said. “But we are not there yet.” Tamblyn said colleges have been encouraged to maintain growth or risk losing funding. Georgian College is experiencing growth in its college and degree programs in Barrie and Orillia, and apprenticeship programs at its Midland campus.