Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner says the process to recruit the leader of the Ontario Provincial Police was flawed and “troubling,” but found Premier Doug Ford did not break any rules and kept his distance from the decision to hire his friend for the job.
In a long-awaited report released Wednesday, Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake determined that Mr. Ford did not breach conflict-of-interest rules in the Members’ Integrity Act when the Progressive Conservative government appointed Toronto Police Superintendent Ron Taverner as OPP commissioner.
“I found that the Premier stayed at arm’s length from the recruitment process and that he believed it to be independent," Mr. Wake said in his report.
“However, I found that there were some troubling aspects of the recruitment process and ultimately made the finding that the process was flawed.”
The 102-page report reveals new details about the hiring process, including discussions between senior staff in the Premier’s Office and the Ontario government about finding a job for Supt. Taverner. The long-time Toronto Police veteran ultimately abandoned his bid to lead the country’s second-largest police force, citing the controversy surrounding his appointment. Earlier this month, the government named Thomas Carrique, a York Regional Police deputy chief, as the next OPP commissioner.
Mr. Ford called the findings “a complete vindication for our government." But the NDP, which initiated the investigation, renewed its call for a public inquiry, saying the report reveals “shocking and disturbing facts” about the conduct of Mr. Ford’s inner circle.
The appointment of Supt. Taverner led to a public legal battle with one of the front-runners for the job, former OPP deputy commissioner Brad Blair, who was fired after filing internal documents in court.
The Integrity Commissioner’s report quotes internal government communications and interviews with key witnesses about last November’s appointment of Supt. Taverner, 72, a friend of Mr. Ford’s for the past 15 years. In his report, Mr. Wake calls Supt. Taverner “a credible witness ... who cares deeply about his work in policing and his community."
Notably, the report chronicles the actions of Mr. Ford’s chief of staff, Dean French, as well as former cabinet secretary Steve Orsini, a member of the three-person OPP hiring committee who abruptly announced his retirement last December.
The report highlights the ways in which Mr. Ford’s government sought to hire Supt. Taverner for previous government positions. It says that Mr. Ford and his office initially recruited him for a senior role at the Ontario Cannabis Store, but the veteran police officer got cold feet. He was also considered for the position of deputy minister of community safety, a job that went to Mario Di Tommaso, who was once Supt. Taverner’s boss at the Toronto Police and was also part of the OPP hiring committee.
At one point, the report quotes the outgoing deputy minister of community safety, Matt Torigian, saying Mr. Orsini told him he felt pressured to hire “a friend of the Fords." Mr. Orsini later denied to Mr. Wake that he made those remarks.
In an interview with Mr. Wake, Mr. French is quoted as saying both he and Mr. Ford recommended to Mr. Orsini that Supt. Taverner be considered for the position. Later, Mr. French clarified that it was just him making a referral. Both Mr. Orsini and Mr. Ford said they could not remember Mr. French telling them he was recommending Supt. Taverner for the position.
“We both recommended that he be considered,” Mr. French said, according to the report. “Actually, I ... should speak for myself. I recommended to Secretary Orsini that he be considered.”
A key part of the report examines why the qualifications for the OPP job posting were changed, allowing officers of lower rank, such as Supt. Taverner to apply.
Although Mr. Wake says there are “inconsistencies” in the evidence, Mr. Orsini told the integrity commissioner that Mr. French asked him why the initial job posting was “so restrictive" and also asked about the ranking qualifications. Mr. French said he did call about the requirements, but denied later changing them.
The report quotes text conversations between Mr. French and Mr. Orsini, regarding Supt. Taverner’s progress throughout the hiring process. Mr. Wake called the evidence “most disconcerting.”
“There seemed to be a tacit acknowledgment by the Secretary that Mr. French was rooting for Mr. Taverner’s success. Anyone examining these messages would have serious doubts as to the fairness of the process to the other candidates,” he said.
The report also said the head of the executive search firm hired to take on the process, Sal Badali, helped Supt. Taverner with his application by fixing minor grammatical and spelling issues. Mr. Badali was also part of the hiring committee.
On Dec. 3, a few days after Supt. Taverner was named to the role, Mr. Orsini sent a text to Mr. French asking about the language being used by the government to describe the appointment.
“The messaging in today’s legislature on the OPP Commissioner uses the term ‘independent’ selection panel. Independent of who? I’m the Deputy Minister to the Premier and Ron reported to Mario when he was at TPS,” he wrote. “I would drop the word independent and just call it ‘recruitment selection panel’ where no political staff were involved.”
The report also details why Mr. Orsini resigned. On Dec. 14, the hiring committee met to discuss Supt. Taverner’s suggestion that he delay his appointment. They supported the idea and Mr. Orsini took the plan to Mr. French and warned him that it would be “hard for [Mr. Orsini] to work here” if Mr. French didn’t support the delay.
Mr. French told the Integrity Commissioner that he was taken back by Mr. Orsini’s threat to resign, describing him as under a lot of stress. The plan, which required the appointment of an interim OPP leader, was put forward to Mr. Ford for his final sign off. The documents were pulled together quickly on a Friday afternoon before being presented to Mr. Ford, who said he was caught off guard and wanted to consult with his team before agreeing. When Mr. Orsini learned Mr. Ford hadn’t signed off, he immediately resigned. Mr. Ford ultimately signed off on the delay and appointed an interim OPP commissioner the next day.