TORONTO — In a case of rejecting a rejection, the acting commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police is suing the province’s ombudsman for refusing to investigate the appointment of the incoming commissioner.
Ron Taverner, a Toronto Police Service superintendent and a close family friend to Premier Doug Ford, was appointed by the government on Nov. 29 to be the next OPP commissioner.
The announcement set off a chain reaction of criticism and questions, peaking on Tuesday with the unprecedented move by acting commissioner Brad Blair to file a complaint with Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé.
In the letter of complaint, Blair warns that allegations of interference from the premier’s office risk “irreparable damage” to the police force’s independence.
The key concerns raised by Blair are that: Taverner has a personal relationship with Ford; the minimum rank requirements for applying to the job were eliminated, and the job posting was changed two days after it first went up; and one of the people on the hiring committee was Taverner’s former boss in Toronto.
On Friday evening, Blair’s lawyer, Julian Falconer, said Dubé had twice refused to investigate the concerns raised. As a result, Blair filed an application at Ontario’s Divisional Court “to determine and enforce the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman to review the OPP Commissioner hiring process.”
“If the Ombudsman does not review the complaint, the independence of the OPP will continue to operate under a cloud of suspicion,” reads the application. “This is a serious matter, as the independence of the OPP — a body that can be called in to investigate provincial politicians — must be seen as legitimate in the eyes of the citizenry.
“As stated in the Ipperwash Inquiry Report, ‘Even though there may not be actual interference by politicians in police operations, the public’s perception of non-interference by the government is a fundamental principle that the Premier, Ministers, and other politicians must adhere to.’ ”
Dubé’s spokeswoman, Linda Williamson, said the ombudsman had no comment on the court case.
In a second letter sent to Attorney General Caroline Mulroney and Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones, Falconer reiterated his client’s call to delay Taverner’s installation set to take effect on Monday.
Falconer cites “increasing public pressure and growing cloud of concern over the OPP Commissioner hiring process” as the reason why his appointment should be delayed.
Spokespeople for Jones and Mulroney did not reply to requests for comment. The premier’s office directed iPolitics to a statement issued by Jones on Wednesday.
In it, Jones categorically denied the allegations levelled by Blair.
“We fully and completely dispute” the letter, reads a statement from Jones. “It is unfortunate that this service has been unfairly maligned by unfounded allegations about the appointment process,” she said.
In his nine-page letter of complaint to Dubé, Blair also warned of a “concerning history” between the premier’s office and the OPP.
For example, he accused Ford’s chief of staff, Dean French, of asking the force to buy a “large camper-type vehicle and have it modified to specifications” provided by the premier’s office, and to keep the purchase “off the books.”
Taverner told the Toronto Sun on Wednesday it was not a camper van, but an extended-size van that would provide more room for Ford and his team to work on the road.
The Sun later changed the story and removed Taverner’s name. However, the Globe and Mail reported his comments in the story before it was removed.
Taverner told the Sun he didn’t know how it would be purchased or modified, but said details of the premier’s security arrangements should not be revealed publicly.
In a teleconference on Friday evening, Falconer told reporters the issues on the table “raise serious questions as to whether there is now a perceived problem with the independence of the OPP.”
There’s also concern that an effort is underway to turn the OPP into a “private police service for a political agenda,” he added.
Falconer said that in all likelihood, it will take a few months for the application to be heard in court. In the meantime, he said Blair is still planning to work with the OPP and “co-operate” in a transition with Taverner as he takes over, and Blair returns to his permanent post as deputy commissioner and provincial commander of traffic safety and operational support.
Blair, who had also applied for the permanent job, has the minimum rank of deputy chief that was first required of all applicants. Taverner sits two ranks below that, but was able to apply for the job once that requirement was eliminated from the job posting.
The premier called Blair’s complaint to the ombudsman “sour grapes,” the Sun is reporting.
Asked about that comment, Falconer said there’s “no doubt” Blair is “disappointed” and that “he was, by almost all accounts, the frontrunner for this job.”
But Falconer noted there was already a “degree of public anxiety and public concern” about Taverner’s appointment before Blair came forward, and his client’s sole mission is to “resolve it.”
He added that coming forward came at “significant personal sacrifice” for Blair.
“This is not a great career boost for him,” Falconer said.
Throughout all the questions about Taverner’s new job, the Toronto Police Service said their superintendent had not yet submitted his resignation letter. That changed late on Friday with the force confirming he’d submitted his resignation today, effective Saturday. Taverner will start as OPP commissioner on Monday.https://ipolitics.ca/2018/12/14/ombudsm ... missioner/