The newly named commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police says he has “no relationship whatsoever” with Premier Doug Ford, as the government moved to accelerate the hiring process after months of criticism stemming from the appointment of a friend of Mr. Ford’s to the job.
The Ontario government on Monday announced that York Regional Police Deputy Chief Thomas Carrique, 51, will become OPP commissioner next month. His surprise three-year appointment came only days after Toronto Police Superintendent Ron Taverner, a long-time friend of Mr. Ford and his family, pulled out of leading the OPP “to protect the integrity of rank-and-file police officers given the controversy surrounding my appointment.”
The controversy was spurred by the fact that Supt. Taverner has known Mr. Ford for years, leading to questions of police independence, and following revelations that the qualifications for the OPP job posting were lowered, which made it possible for Supt. Taverner to apply.
Deputy Chief Carrique told reporters on Monday that he has never met Mr. Ford.
“I have no relationship whatsoever with the Premier or the Ford family,” he said.
“It is very important that the police work in partnership with government to ensure that we have the adequate resources and support to do our job. Operationally, there is no question that the police remain independent.”
The process for selecting Deputy Chief Carrique, a respected 29-year veteran of York police who has led the service’s organized crime bureau, was significantly sped up by Mr. Ford’s cabinet – with his appointment officially signed last Friday, only two days after Supt. Taverner vacated the post.
The government did away with the process it had used for choosing Supt. Taverner to lead the country’s second-largest police force, which it had long touted as proof that there was no political interference.
The previous process featured a selection panel comprised of then-cabinet secretary Steve Orsini, search firm Odgers Berndtson and deputy minister of community safety Mario Di Tommaso. The appointment was heavily criticized after it was revealed that the qualifications for the job posting were changed on Oct. 22, making Supt. Taverner eligible to apply. Mr. Di Tommaso was also Supt. Taverner’s boss at the Toronto Police Service before being appointed as deputy minister last fall by the Ford government. Mr. Ford and his government have denied any interference in the hiring, which is currently under review by the province’s integrity commissioner. The appointment had been on hold since December.
Brad Blair, a veteran OPP commander, was fired in-person by Mr. Di Tommaso last week after launching a lawsuit to compel the Ontario Ombudsman to review 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.
Deputy Chief Carrique, who said he was “surprised" by his appointment, did not apply for the position. He said he was approached by Mr. Di Tommaso and the two had “very lengthy, deep and detailed discussions” about the expectations for the job.
He said he’s known Mr. Di Tommaso in a professional capacity since the mid-2000s when they sat on police-management teams together.
“I would not consider us friends. We are professional acquaintances,” Deputy Chief Carrique said.
When asked about the changes to the appointment process, a spokesman for the Premier’s Office said the choosing of the next OPP commissioner is “exclusively a cabinet decision.”
“Cabinet decided it was important to move decisively to bring a new vision and the renewed leadership the OPP front-line officers deserve,” spokesman Simon Jefferies said. Mr. Jefferies said the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, which includes Mr. Di Tommaso, considered some of the most senior experienced police officers in the province, and that Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones brought Deputy Chief Carrique’s name forward to cabinet and cabinet approved the recommendation by signing an order-in-council.
The Official Opposition on Monday welcomed the new appointment, but called on the government to release a public report on the hiring process used for Deputy Chief Carrique. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said there are still questions surrounding Mr. Ford’s conduct in hiring Supt. Taverner and it “does not give the public confidence Doug Ford has learned his lesson about police independence.” She reiterated her call for a public inquiry.
The appointment of the incoming commissioner, who holds a master’s degree in leadership and training, was met with optimism from the police-union leader in charge of the OPP rank and file.
“From what I understand, he has a focus on the front line, and that’s where the focus needs to be,” said Rob Jamieson, president of the Ontario Provincial Police Association.
Deputy Chief Carrique said his priorities in the new role will be guns and gangs, human trafficking, illicit drugs and data-driven decision-making. “My vision is centered around the safety and well-being of officers,” he said.
Ms. Jones hailed the appointment as an “excellent choice.”
"We needed someone who could hit the ground running,” she said.