Ontario's Commissioner of Emergency Management

Mar 15, 2006

Almost one year after his appointment as Commissioner of Emergency Manage­ment for the Province of Ontario, Clive AddyFrontLine Security’s Executive Editor, interviewed Julian Fantino about his thoughts on Security and Emergency Management.

Julian Fantino, the second Commissioner of Emergency Management in Ontario, formerly held posts as Police Chief of London, York Region, and also Toronto. His present mandate makes him "responsible for providing leadership to all facets of the government's emergency management programs, including the provision of expert advice and guidance to the Premier and Cabinet on policy, procedures and legislation for provincial emergencies and other crises."

Approaching one year in this post, how do you view this mandate and what do you see as your recent achievements and next challenges?

After 36 years in law enforcement in Ontario, I must say that I found the transition relatively easy. The position requires that one do the right and not necessarily the most popular thing, and that the serious task of Emergency Manage­ment be approached in a disciplined way. Both of these traits were paramount in my previous career experience. I was very pleased to recognize the fine work of those who came before me and to seek out the challenges of today and tomorrow in emergency preparedness.

Like most informed citizens, I was struck by the globalization of security hazards, be they pandemic, climate or terrorist generated. I recognized that this global involvement would demand greater and broader partnerships and a more rapid and more capable Emergency Management Organization to respond to the growing size and variety of these challenges. For instance, as we watched what was happening with Hurricane Katrina, the Premier and I felt that we should be helping. We did so by partnering with the Canadian Red Cross and sending some 67 needed specialists in support of the local Red Cross and other agencies. We need more depth in our capacity that we can attain through more sophisticated partnerships. I feel that we are well oriented to doing this. We conducted a 60-day review shortly after my arrival, focusing on lessons learned in other operations, and evaluating our methods of operation.

Ontario is ready but, as I tell everyone, “Emergency Preparedness is never finished… it is always a work in progress” and we must rise to this challenge.

How do you view the role of municipal leaders and first responders in an emergency, having come from there?

As we discussed, I see an increasing requirement for the protection of all ­citizens in Canada from the increasing threats. Having been grounded in the reality of the SARS crisis, and the 2003 power outage, and seen the effects of the London bombing and Hurricane Katrina, I am more aware than ever that we are also responsible citizens of the world. In Ontario, with 40% of the Canadian population and the greater part of Canada’s economic engine located here, I know there is a tremendous responsibility to ensure that we are ready for the unpredictable. Having said this, I am fully aware that most, if not all, emergencies begin at the local level, and it is that level that must be supported first, because it is that level of leadership to whom citizens will turn first for help. Consequently, all partners should focus on supporting these leaders and first responders.

The federal government introduced in November for first reading Bill C78 called the Emergency Management Act, which has “died on the books.” Your own government passed its Emergency Management Statute Law Amendment Act on 15 December that allows, for instance, such measures as: restricting travel or order evacuations; establishing facilities for the care, welfare, safety and shelter of people; closing any place, public or private; establishing distribution centres; and fixing prices for necessary goods. Do you consider this detailed guidance necessary, sufficient and why? And, to your knowledge, do other jurisdictions have similar legislation?

In fact, Ontario is just catching up. This legislation, called Bill C56, which outlines the Premier’s, the Minister’s and, of course, my powers and responsibilities, is a very balanced piece of legislation. With these powers go very stringent accountability and Human Rights concerns. There are serious checks and balances that allow, on the one hand, the Premier to act at a time when there is no time to meet and consult or call a committee to deliberate, and it also obliges us to account early before Cabinet and Parliament for the measures imposed. For instance, I am obliged to account for such measures that I take within 2 days. You must recognize also that this legislation protects our employees working in good faith under trying emergency conditions.

In past emergencies, much was done without such legislation and, generally, the civic-mindedness of most was such as to get the job done. We realized, however, that when legislative authority was sought, even for the Premier in past instances let alone the local fire or police responders, no such authority existed.

Other Canadian jurisdictions have similar legislation and I am well aware that the state of New York, for instance, has a Director of Public Safety who reports to Governor Pataki and performs similar functions to mine under similar conditions. At times of crisis, the greater good will often trump individual concerns as indicated in some of the potential powers, but, I reiterate… it is very balanced legislation giving necessary powers with ­formal and pressing public accountability. It is well that we have it.

Many can recall images of the leadership of Mayor Giuliani of New York during the 9/11 disaster. On 14 December 2005, the Premier announced new legislation to strengthen the City of Toronto by providing the autonomy to make more of its own decisions. How do you see your role in Emergency Planning and Response for the City of Toronto?

There is absolutely no doubt that the elected mayor is the leader of his municipality at all times. We have 444 municipalities in Ontario, and all must comply with our Emergency legislation as well as other acts, such as the Nuclear Act, as applicable. It is my job to monitor that they do, and that they get the support needed to do so, be it federal or provincial. This way, we stand a better chance of being ready at all levels, from Toronto to the smaller rural municipalities. In the event of an emergency, we are obviously engaged but this is the sole purview and responsibility of the municipal leader, as long as the emergency remains local.

Mr. Fantino watches during an exercise.

My coordinating function, and that of the Emergency Management Organiza­tion, in support of the municipalities, involves several aspects. For instance applications for and allocations of Joint Emergency Planning Program (JEPP) and other federal funds from key programs are sought and coordinated by the EMO. We now also benefit from top-line CBRN equipment through federal funding – at least in Toronto, Ottawa and Windsor. These are, of course, available to others and can be coordinated through the partnerships we discussed earlier. An example is the recent major fire in Cobourg, where the local Fire Chief called upon and received support from 13 other fire departments including the resources of the Fire Marshall and a foam truck from the military out of Trenton. We are not here to finance all local municipalities’ perceived needs to comply with our provincial legislation. This is a municipal responsibility and leadership at that level must rely primarily on its tax base for funds, as it must for other responsibilities such as fire and policing.

When, however, an emergency is declared under the new legislation to be a “Provincial Emergency” the dynamics change and the Premier and Cabinet take overall leadership responsibility. Under such circumstances I view my position and my EMO as overall coordinators for the Premier of Ontario.

What of Exercises? How do you view your role and that of EMO in this matter?

I meet regularly with colleagues at the federal department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada (PSEPC), and our views are similar on this matter. We realize that exercising is a vital function of preparedness and is a shared responsibility. I believe that all levels recognize that initial response to an emergency is always “local.” These local authorities must have plans, as do we, and that these must be exercised. If they are not exercised and updated, they rapidly become useless. This is what I mean by a “work in progress.” Plans must be constantly amended and practiced.

The need for exercise has a very human and critical dimension. It is too late to exchange calling cards at the 11th hour on the site of a disaster. These relations and partnerships should be established and maintained before an emergency to eliminate, as best one can, any inter-jurisdictional or personality friction and deal most effectively with saving Canadians.

Working together breeds an understanding for one another, and the example that I use is what occurred during the London Subway Bombing aftermath. Though it was the desire of authorities to get the subway running as soon as possible, through exercises they had determined that it was the police who would make the decision when to resume service on these lines after such a bombing. They did so because they knew the importance of treating the location as a crime scene and allowing the forensic examination that was needed. By doing so, the speed of arrest of the culprits was greatly accelerated and the chances of conviction greatly increased.

There has been much criticism from municipal levels that federal funding that has been announced does not seem cohesively related to any known “plan” or strategy, and that municipalities have seen very little money. What are your thoughts on priority of the investment of federal funds for the security of Canadians?

I will start by repeating that every emergency begins at the local level. For this reason, the priority should be to have the resources in place locally and the personnel well-trained and equipped, safe and confident, that they can handle what they must, and that they will be supported. I believe that this reality is often missed at the higher levels when it comes to resources.

There is a need for an awakening in Ottawa on this matter. Federal responsibilities are often neglected and get picked up at the municipal and provincial levels. A case in point… out on Lake Ontario is an international border. As I mentioned to Senator Kenny Chair of the Senate Committee on National Security several months ago, this border is not patrolled by federal agencies but by the Toronto, Peel, Durham and Niagara police boats, and therefore the municipal taxpayers carry the financial burden. I believe now there is one Fisheries vessel with an RCMP member aboard now and then.

Essentially, the municipal level is the front line of defense against terror in these regions and our presence reduces fear or panic among our citizens, which is the real goal of terror. Fear on either side can cost our economy greatly once the word gets out globally, as it did with SARS and the more recent Seven Oaks’ Legionnaires Disease outbreak. From a national perspective, this local impact could prove devastating nationally. I do believe federal resources could be more effectively focused.

You mentioned training and thinking strategically in emergencies, Can you expand your thoughts on this?

I can indeed. Let me start with thinking strategically. I want to relate that during the blackout in 2003, we had two problems. One was to assist the citizens and various city agencies circulate in an orderly manner on the main thoroughfares of Toronto by day. On the other hand, we knew that, come darkness, the bad guys would be out to capitalize on this emergency. We abandoned the major thoroughfares to our other partners by night and controlled the lanes and alleyways. As a result of thinking strategically, and with our partners’ understanding and cooperation, we were very successful. Similarly, we can learn from others’ experiences, good and bad. We must plug in to other partners – local, inter-provincial, national and even international – in order to do so. We must not limit our learning.  

This brings me to the training part of the question. I think that the realm of Emergency Management will become a profession of its own in the coming years. Already, York University and Centennial College are offering courses and limited specialties in this domain. I believe this is a good direction to be moving in. This field will both offer very satisfying careers and greatly improve the quality of our national preparedness. I consider this a necessary evolution beyond the various skill courses now offered to first responders and to government employees at the Emergency Preparedness College. The latter remain important, but, strategically, so is the broadening of an Emergency Management profession.

Any closing thoughts, Commissioner?

Yes indeed. This Emergency Preparedness is a great challenge. We should never stop preparing. It represents a critical investment in public safety, no less or more important than other government investments. The hazards, however, are becoming more threatening. Individual citizens must take on their share of preparedness by making themselves less vulnerable, relying less on bank machines in case of emergencies and think of having access to spare resources of, heat, water, medicines and food to survive. I continue to communicate widely at home and abroad with schools and counterparts in all domains on these issues. It broadens the horizon in the “Big Picture” window that I see for a safer country to which all Canadians are entitled. As I said, it is a “work in progress.”

Clive Addy is Chair of the National Security Group and FrontLine Security’s Executive Editor.
© FrontLine Security 2006