The current head of Ontario’s provincial police force is going to court in a last-ditch attempt to force a review of how the next commissioner – a friend of Premier Doug Ford – was picked for the job.
Deputy Commissioner Brad Blair, the acting commander of the Ontario Provincial Police, filed a legal application in Superior Court on Friday. The document argues that the Ontario Ombudsman has a duty to review any potential “inappropriate political interference or cronyism” that could have factored into the government’s decision to promote Toronto Police Superintendent Ron Taverner into the role of the province’s top cop.
Earlier this week, Deputy Commissioner Blair made a formal request to the watchdog to review or delay Supt. Taverner’s installation as head of the OPP, but the court application reveals that the Ombudsman’s office refused to do so, saying the request was not within its mandate.
Supt. Taverner is due to start the job on Dec. 17.
A lawyer acting for deputy Commissioner Blair said he hopes to bring the matter to court as quickly as possible, meaning that it could be heard in January or February.
"My instructions are, at all costs, to take the steps that Commissioner Blair, in his mind and heart, thinks appropriate to protect and ensure the credibility of the OPP,” Julian Falconer told reporters.
The legal bid is the latest chapter in a remarkable fight that has emerged for control of Canada’s second-largest police force, a sprawling organization that employs more than 8,000 serving officers and civilians across Ontario.
The Conservative government announced its pick of Supt. Taverner as OPP Commissioner on Nov. 29.
Critics immediately questioned the appointment, seizing on the 72-year-old mid-level police commander’s close ties to the Ford family, and his nearly two decades as a unit commander overseeing the policing of the Fords' political powerbase in the west Toronto area of Etobicoke. Yet, Mr. Ford and his cabinet maintain that it was an arms-length, independent panel that recommended Supt. Taverner.
Deputy Commissioner Blair, a 32-year career provincial-police officer, had been the perceived front-runner candidate, and has headed the force on an interim basis for about a month.
In his Dec. 11 letter to the ombudsman, the deputy commissioner alleged Mr. Ford and his chief of staff, Dean French, had politicized the process behind the scenes, and that the Ombudsman needed to investigate matters to maintain public confidence in the OPP.
The court application says that the watchdog wrote deputy Commissioner Blair back to say his request “fell outside the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction.”
The application argues that the Ombudsman’s mandate “is clearly inclusive of any such decision, recommendation, act, or omission, that was made or done as a result of inappropriate political influence or cronyism, including interference by a member of the executive and/or their staff.”
It adds that “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."
Attempts to reach Supt. Taverner, who resigned from the Toronto Police Service on Friday, were unsuccessful.
A spokeswoman for the Ombudsman’s office did not respond to a request for comment. The Premier’s office reiterated an earlier statement in which Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones said the government stands by its hiring process.
Mr. Falconer told reporters his client is seeking to raise questions about the potential for inappropriate proximity between government and the OPP. That includes whether “there’s an effort to convert the OPP into some kind of private police service for a political agenda,” he said.
“These are the concerns raised that it is hoped that a full independent investigation can yield,” he said.
Earlier this week, former RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson told The Globe and Mail there are “reasonable concerns” about the appointment of Supt. Taverner. He echoed calls for an independent inquiry to preserve the integrity of the force.
With a report from Molly Hayes