Ontario Premier Doug Ford has responded to a libel suit against him by saying that he is the real victim of a smear campaign – an alleged “media assault” launched by the provincial-police commander whom his government passed over for a promotion and then fired.
A legal statement of defence from Mr. Ford was relayed on Friday to Brad Blair, the ousted deputy commissioner who is suing the Premier for defamation.
In the 40-page document, Mr. Ford doesn’t dispute he made strong statements calling into question Mr. Blair’s character during media interviews last winter. But the Premier says he could not stay silent during an escalating war of words where his own reputation was on the line.
“Having improperly commenced and initiated the media assault on Premier Ford, it is disingenuous for Mr. Blair to claim in this or any other proceeding that Premier Ford is somehow disentitled to defend himself,” the statement of defence reads.
This is the latest fallout from a controversy that started last November, when the Progressive Conservative government decided to hire a friend of the Premier’s as the next commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police.
Although Toronto police Superintendent Ron Taverner, Mr. Ford’s friend, was picked for the role, he eventually decided against taking the job. Critics had claimed his installation could be tantamount to political interference atop Canada’s second-largest police force.
One of the biggest proponents of this perspective was Mr. Blair. In the immediate aftermath of the announcement of Supt. Taverner’s hire, the career OPP officer was acting as the interim head of the provincial force. He claimed political “cronyism” had caused his own application for the permanent job to be overlooked and hired lawyer Julian Falconer to pursue a multipronged legal battle for redress.
In court documents, Mr. Blair revealed a police officer’s account of a profanity-laced tirade by the Premier about his OPP security detail and a $50,000 request for a van retrofit forwarded from the Premier’s Office to police.
The new statement of defence by Mr. Ford claims this was all an "attempt to gain notoriety and publicity through improper use of office" by Mr. Blair, who was fired from the OPP in March.
In response to his termination, Mr. Blair filed a libel suit last month alleging the Premier was bent on reprisal – and had also libelled him, by publicly branding the career cop a rule-breaker during media interviews.
“It’s unfortunate that one person [Mr. Blair] has sour grapes … and reacting the way he’s reacting and breaking the [Police Services Act] numerous times,” Mr. Ford said in one televised interview last winter. “Someone needs to hold him accountable, I can assure you that.”
In the statement of defence, Mr. Ford apologizes for nothing. He says he never tilted any processes and that he never defamed anyone. “At no time did Premier Ford express in the Impugned Words a definitive conclusion that Mr. Blair had breached the Police Services Act,” the statement of defence says.
The defence document adds Mr. Ford has never been personally found to have done anything wrong with respect to the hiring of Supt. Taverner. “Premier Ford was fully vindicated by Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner after a [three-month] investigation,” the statement of defence says.
Last month, Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake released a report that cleared Mr. Ford of wrongdoing, but found "some troubling aspects of the recruitment process and ultimately made the finding that the process was flawed.”