Premier Doug Ford’s government is facing growing pressure to delay the appointment of his family friend, Ron Taverner, as the next Ontario Provincial Police chief after allegations of political interference made by acting OPP commissioner Brad Blair.
Deputy Commissioner Blair has asked the province’s Ombudsman to investigate the appointment of Toronto Police Superintendent Taverner, which is to take effect next Monday. Oppositions parties echoed his request on Wednesday, arguing Supt. Taverner should hold off on assuming the role until the appointment is reviewed.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath also said she will be referring allegations about interference by the Premier’s office to the RCMP.
"Mr. Taverner’s appointment cannot go ahead under this cloud of suspicion,” Ms. Horwath told reporters. “I’m concerned that it may have been Doug Ford himself that determined who would be the next commissioner of the OPP and that the Premier’s office made it happen.”
Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones said her government “fully and completely” disputes the claims made in a letter from Deputy Commissioner Blair and sent to Ontario’s Ombudsman Paul Dubé this week, in which the Deputy Commissioner cited growing concerns about the hiring process that led to Supt. Taverner’s appointment. Mr. Ford has said he had nothing to do with the appointment and the hiring was recommended by a three-member independent panel, which included Supt. Taverner’s former boss.
“The government stands by the process leading to the appointment of Mr. Taverner as the next commissioner of the OPP,” Ms. Jones said in a statement. “It is unfortunate that this service has been unfairly maligned by unfounded allegations about the appointment process.”
Supt. Taverner, 72, did not respond to a request from The Globe and Mail for comment on Wednesday. Mr. Ford gave a speech in Toronto on Wednesday morning, but bypassed reporters as he left a downtown Toronto hotel. His office said Ms. Jones’s statement stands.
The nine-page letter from Deputy Commissioner Blair calls into question the independence of the hiring process for the OPP commissioner, including the fact that qualifications for the job were changed two days after it was first posted, making it possible for Supt. Taverner, a mid-level Toronto police commander, to apply. Deputy Commissioner Blair also alleges that recent interactions between Mr. Ford’s office and the provincial police force “add to the concern about maintaining the independence and integrity of the OPP, free from undue political influence.”
Ms. Horwath said she will be asking the RCMP to look into allegations made in Deputy Commissioner Blair’s letter that Mr. Ford’s chief of staff, Dean French, requested that the OPP purchase a “large camper type vehicle” and have it modified to specifications from the Premier’s office, and keep the costs “off the books.”
“The idea that a premier is going to tell the Ontario Provincial Police to keep something off the books, to me that’s deserving of an investigation because there may in fact be wrongdoing,” Ms. Horwath said.
A spokesperson for the RCMP said the force cannot confirm or deny that an investigation is taking place.
In his letter, Deputy Commissioner Blair said, “Approaching an individual company as a sole source and asking for the monies spent to be hidden from the public record is at a minimum a violation of the Ontario government’s financial policies.” Ms. Horwath said she would also be asking the Treasury Board to conduct an internal investigation.
Supt. Taverner told the Toronto Sun on Wednesday it was not a camper van but an extended-size van that would provide more room for Mr. Ford and his team to work on the road. He said he wasn’t aware of how it would be purchased or modified, but said details about the Premier’s security arrangements should not be revealed publicly. Supt. Taverner also said he expects to take his post on Monday.
Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter called for Mr. French to be dismissed. “What’s clear is the Premier’s chief of staff is the source of multiple ethical problems. He’s behaved unethically and has no place working for the government of Ontario,” she said in a statement.
Deputy Commissioner Blair, who was also in the running for the OPP job, is also asking that Supt. Taverner’s appointment be delayed until a review is complete and has hired a lawyer, Julian Falconer, to represent him in his complaint.
“OPP officers have shared with me their concerns that the process was unfair and their feeling that the independence of the OPP is now called into question,” Deputy Commissioner Blair wrote in the letter.