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Canada Ford government fires OPP deputy commissioner challenging Taverner hire

The Ontario government has fired an outspoken OPP commander who launched a lawsuit after being passed over for the police service’s top job in favour of a friend of Premier Doug Ford.

Brad Blair had been the acting commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police force last fall and applied to be the permanent commissioner of Canada’s second-largest police organization. The government, however, announced the hiring of Toronto Police Superintendent Ron Taverner, prompting a legal battle.

On Monday, Mr. Blair was “terminated” from his position as deputy commissioner after 32 years with the force.

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The Ford government was quick to say Mr. Blair’s firing wasn’t politically motivated, but was recommended by a senior bureaucrat who once worked with Supt. Taverner in the Toronto police force. Later, inside the legislature, Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones accused Mr. Blair of breaching both his oath of office and potentially the Police Services Act by communicating with the media without permission and releasing a letter to the province’s Ombudsman that contained confidential information.

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“He has violated his duties and the obligations he is supposed to uphold as a public servant,” Ms. Jones said. “He used his role and uniform for his own desire to be the commissioner of the OPP.”

Mr. Blair did not respond to request for comment on Monday.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath accused Mr. Ford of taking revenge on Mr. Blair.

“It stinks. It’s disgusting, and it’s inappropriate,” Ms. Horwath said. “What Mr. Blair has done is sounded an alarm bell on a Premier who thinks he should be able to manipulate the independence of the Ontario police.”

Ms. Jones’s defence in the legislature of the veteran officer’s termination came less than an hour after she told reporters she couldn’t provide details about why he was fired but that her deputy minister, Mario Di Tommaso, recommended the termination. It was then approved by the public-service commission, a committee of senior public servants that oversees all human-resource matters. Cabinet on Monday approved the termination by an order-in-council.

Before being hired by Mr. Ford’s government last October, Mr. Di Tommaso was a staff superintendent at the Toronto Police Service and was Supt. Taverner’s commanding officer when he left.

Mr. Di Tommaso was also part of the three-person committee that selected Supt. Taverner for the top job.

"I think it’s important that we understand that there was zero political influence on this decision. For me to start questioning my deputy minister would have been absolutely inappropriate,” Ms. Jones told reporters on Monday.

In December, Mr. Blair launched a legal suit, challenging the government’s decision to give the OPP’s top job to Supt. Taverner, and asking the court to order the provincial Ombudsman to review the hiring. Mr. Blair recently filed additional internal OPP e-mails with the court, further detailing what he alleged were improper acts of interference by Mr. Ford.

A memo obtained by The Globe and Mail shows that last Friday, Mr. Di Tommaso told Ms. Jones he recommended firing Mr. Blair because the officer did not heed the written caution that Mr. Di Tommaso sent him on Dec. 28. That correspondence advised the career OPP officer to cease citing sensitive police documents in his court case, “contrary to his legal and ethical responsibilities.”

“… Given the nature of the conduct and Mr. Blair’s senior position, termination was the only acceptable recourse,” Mr. Di Tommaso wrote.

Mr. Blair’s lawyer had responded to the Dec. 28 letter by saying that it was inappropriate, arguing that Mr. Di Tommaso is too enmeshed in the controversy to have direct dealings with his client.

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Last week, the union representing rank-and-file OPP officers also wrote to Mr. Di Tommaso to express concerns about a police-officer bodyguard of Mr. Ford’s being suddenly reassigned as a result of Mr. Blair’s legal action.

On Thursday, the officer “was advised that he was being stood down from his duties,” Rob Jamieson, president of the Ontario Provincial Police Association, wrote in a Feb. 28 letter to the deputy minister.

The police union head said that “we can only assume that this action is the direct result of his name being mentioned in several media reports” flowing from the lawsuit by Mr. Blair.

Supt. Taverner has deferred taking the OPP job pending a continuing investigation by the province’s Integrity Commissioner into the hiring process that led to his appointment. Mr. Ford has said he believes the committee selected the best person for the job, and that he did not interfere in the hiring process.

Mr. Blair, who was also a front-runner for the position, went public with his concerns in December, alleging that “inappropriate political interference or cronyism” could affect OPP operations. In his filings and correspondence, he alleged that the Premier’s Office directed a sole-sourced “off-the-books” request for the OPP to refit an executive van for the Premier’s use.

Mr. Blair’s most recent court filings, made on Feb. 15, include internal e-mails about Mr. Ford’s concerns about his police bodyguards and an estimate for the van overhaul. The Premier’s Office says, however, he should not be accessing those records and making them public.

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