The price of freedom: Interview with Julian Fantino

Click here to listen to interview with Julian Fantino

Duration: 10.20 minutes. Size of file: 4.13 MB. Type of file: mp3

Welcome to another edition of Voices. I’m Joaquim Menezes, editor of – and with me today is Julian Fantino, Ontario’s Commissioner of Emergency Management, and former police commissioner of Toronto. During his term as police chief of Toronto, Mr. Fantino spearheaded several initiatives to increase public safety through enhanced training and resources – and one of those key resources was information technology. He brings the same priorities to his current job.

Mr. Fantino what are some of your main responsibilities as Emergency Management Commissioner of Ontario?

My role as Commissioner of Emergency Management has multiple, different aspects – and it has a touch of schizophrenia to it as well. In normal times I do spend a lot of my time making sure that we’re all moving forward together right across this province; that the various municipalities are all putting in place the requirements of our Emergency Management Act – that is a piece of legislation that requires communities and municipalities – there are 444 in this province – put together emergency plans and so forth. But also trying to, if you will, make a big [breakthrough] with so many entities, even in the private sector…in the event of an emergency, where we don’t know who we’re going to have to rely upon and who we’re going to have to call upon to help us out. So I’m also very busy brokering deals, if you will, and arrangements: mutual aid agreements, and planning together – not only locally, but nationally, and also internationally.

So your job requires you to work with multiple stakeholders: the government, fire department, transit and so on. Can you talk about the role information technology plays in assisting a co-ordinated response in times of emergency?

The traditional responders: fire, police, ambulance. In today’s reality we have many other emergency responders converge on a scene (during) an event, an emergency. Those people need to be all talking and listening and being communicated to in the same context. So trying to create a united, truly integrated response is most critical during an emergency, which is what we all plan for. I think interoperability is not only a way to go, but it’s a responsible way to go. Wireless radio communication interoperability means the ability for first responders and other public safety resources to be able to exchange both voice and data communications effectively and transparently in a timely and critical fashion – of course when required and is authorized. Current interoperability challenges include, for all entities, I believe: aging communications equipment, always the ever-present issue of limited funding, I think there’s also an element of lack of planning, vision and foresight in developing interoperability into the things that we do. And of course, there is also too often a case of lack of equipment standards.

Regarding the challenges you’ve just alluded to, I understand that Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada has a program to put new wireless technology in place that would respond to these very issues?

Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada is developing a national strategy with a goal of having a fully interoperable wireless radio communications system within 10 years…too long, too far down the track, because we may need this tomorrow. The strategy, of course, is expected by next year, so we’re now at least going to be able to see what our vision will translate into.

But wouldn’t a 10-year wait defeat the very purpose of putting such a technology in place? In other words, isn’t that an unreasonably long time to get such a system up and running?

It is. But that’s at a national level. That’s not to say that at the local level – provincial, regional level – people can’t develop their own interoperability and their own integrated response. We’re talking of a much more global, overarching program here. But I’m saying that at the local level, the place where people come together, to work together…that I think can be done and it can be done anytime, especially when people are going out tendering for new equipment, new technology. One of the critical considerations from my point of view should be the ability for that new technology to integrate with others. So there are many considerations that can be taken into account at the local level. But yes, ten years is a long way out. Too long, and we don’t know what is going to happen between now and 10 years down the road.

It’s odd, because I was reading one of your speeches made in the year 2000, and at that point you had listed quite of the few challenges you’ve talked about today – aging communications equipment, lack of funding, lack of communications standards. So from five years ago until now what progress have we actually made?

Well we have made progress. And the progress has been made because of the development of technology in itself. So we’re still buying state-of-the-art technology. And we’re still using the resources, I think, efficiently. But the reality is that this is all expensive stuff. These resources don’t come cheap. But it’s all value add. It’s all intended to maximize the use of human resources, create more efficiencies. So to me it is an investment. It’s not really an expenditure. It’s an investment whereby we achieve great returns, because of our ability to do things more efficiently, more effectively, more economically as well. And yes there is an initial outlay. And I think that’s what scares everyone. It’s that big ticket item. But when you space it out over many years, and you then quantify the value…the return for money, it’s rather substantial.

Recently (Ontario) Premier Dalton McGuinty and yourself met with Michael Chertoff, the new U.S. secretary of homeland security. What were some of the things discussed at this meeting…and did you’ll identify any areas of consensus and cooperation?

The overarching agreement is that we are all concerned about the same thing. And so there is a sense of comfort that we are all on the same page. But the big concern, of course, is the threat that we are facing…you know, terrorism and all of that. But the consequences of how a terrorist act would impact on the economy…for instance of our province, in Ontario, because there’s so much flow of trade and commerce between our two countries through Ontario…which also is trade that originates in Quebec and elsewhere in the country. So there is a lot of concern about that. There’s also concern about facilitating a much more speedy movement of truck traffic and commerce through these border points especially the Detroit-Windsor. Now those kinds of issues are very, very significant on everyone’s agenda.

A few years ago, you had noted that high-tech crime, ranging from Internet child pornography to online fraud is on the rise in Canada, and that law enforcement agencies in this country are having a hard time keeping up and the bad guys are always a couple of steps ahead. Is the situation the same today or has it improved?

I regret to say that I was prophetic and this upswing in the use of technology by the criminal element is growing exponentially in many areas: committing frauds, the make and distribution of child pornography material, those kinds of things and many others are creating great challenges for the law enforcement community especially. And so yeah, what I said then has held true, and is true and will cont

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