The acting head of the Ontario Provincial Police, Canada’s second-largest police force, is calling on the province’s Ombudsman to review the appointment of Ron Taverner, a long-time family friend of Premier Doug Ford, as the OPP’s next commissioner, but the Ontario government is standing by the appointment.
Deputy Commissioner Brad Blair wrote in a letter to Ontario ombudsman Paul Dubé on Tuesday that there are “growing concerns” about the way Toronto Police Superintendent Taverner, who has never headed a police force nor held a high-ranking position within the OPP, was appointed to the role.
Taverner, a close personal friend of Ford’s, has been a regular fixture at family gatherings and often had informal meetings with the premier and his late brother and former Toronto mayor Rob Ford.
“If the hiring process remains enveloped in questions of political interference, the result will be irreparable damage to police independence,” Blair, who was also in the running for the job, wrote in the letter.
“We are not going to comment on Mr. Blair’s motivations for using the Office he holds to raise these issues,” said Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones in a statement. “We will explore the appropriate venue to review the content of a letter that we fully and completely dispute.”
Jones said the government stands by the process by which Taverner was appointed.
“If the hiring process remains enveloped in questions of political interference, the result will be irreparable damage to police independence.”
“It is unfortunate that this service has been unfairly maligned by unfounded allegations about the appointment process,” the minister continued.
Blair wrote in his letter that OPP officers have shared with him concerns that the process was unfair and that the force’s independence would be called into question.
This is not the first formal complaint about Taverner’s hiring — MPP Kevin Yard has also filed a formal request with Ontario Integrity Commissioner David Wake to look into it.
Julian Falconer, a lawyer representing Blair in his complaint, told reporters on Tuesday that perceptions of “inappropriate proximity” between the OPP and the provincial government “erode the rule of law."
Ford, who has been criticized for not declaring a conflict or recusing himself from the cabinet meeting during which Taverner's appointment was finalized, has said he had zero influence on the hiring process, which was decided by a three-member independent panel, including Taverner’s former boss.
Taverner has been a Toronto police officer since 1967, but his rank of superintendent is three levels below that of chief.
Two days after the initial job posting for OPP commissioner went up, the qualifications for the position were amended so that the requirement that the applicant have been a deputy police chief or an assistant commissioner — ranks that Taverner did not hold — was removed.
Blair writes in his letter that he was viewed as a frontrunner for the position, based on his qualifications, and argues the job posting was amended without convincing justification.
“The rationale that has been provided publicly for the elimination of the minimum rank requirement was ‘to broaden the potential pool of applicants.’ Of the 27 applicants, only four, that I am aware of, did not meet the original threshold requirements,” Blair wrote, adding that Taverner was one of the four.
Blair also wrote that the panel for the second round of interviews changed at the last minute.
Mario Di Tommaso, who was Taverner’s direct supervisor with the Toronto Police for several years, however, was part of both the first and second interview panels.
Blair also raised concerns about recent interactions between Ford’s office and the OPP, saying they “add to the concern about maintaining the independence and integrity of the OPP, free from undue political interference.”
Blair said prior to his appointment as interim commissioner, he had been aware of requests from Ford’s office for a security detail made up of specific officers the premier would be comfortable with. Premier Ford “expressed displeasure” that nothing was being done about his request and asked for a meeting with former Commissioner Vince Hawkes, stating that if Hawkes didn’t address the issue, perhaps a new commissioner would. The OPP ultimately granted the premier’s request.
According to Blair, the premier’s chief of staff, Dean French, also asked the OPP to buy a “large camper type vehicle” and have it modified according to specifications provided by the premier’s office. He then provided the documents and specifications from a company to the OPP and asked that the costs be kept off the books, according to Blair.
“Approaching an individual company as a sole source and asking for the monies spent to be hidden from the public record is at minimum a violation of the Ontario Government’s financial policies," wrote Blair.
“These incidents add to my concerns about maintaining the integrity and independence of the OPP from undue political interference.”
“It is unfortunate that this service has been unfairly maligned by unfounded allegations about the appointment process.”
Taverner’s appointment has received backlash from former city hall observers
“The story has only begun to unfold,” tweeted former chair of the Toronto Police Services Board Alok Mukherjee. “It has all the makings of a TV serial called Doug & Ron - All for Friendship.”
“Anyone with a modicum of ethical clarity would have at a minimum stayed out of the selection process,” he wrote. “Actually, they would have advised a close personal friend to not even put their name forward. Foolish, careless, corrupt.”
Cover image: Toronto Police Superintendent Ron Taverner spoke to the media at 23 Division in Toronto on Nov.6, 2012 to explain the circumstances that lead to a TTC shelter bus being called following a high school football game last week. Photo by Peter Power/The Globe and Mail.