Ontario Premier Doug Ford is being threatened with a lawsuit from the police commander who is challenging the government’s appointment of the Premier’s friend as the province’s next police chief.
A notice of an intent to sue for defamation was sent to Mr. Ford’s office in late January by lawyers acting for Ontario Provincial Police Deputy Commissioner Brad Blair, according to court documents obtained by The Globe and Mail.
The notice takes issue with televised remarks made by Mr. Ford in December, when he suggested the OPP commander was breaking the Police Services Act by going public with concerns over the hiring of Toronto Police Superintendent Ron Taverner.
Deputy Commissioner Blair alleges the Premier’s comments were made as a “reprisal” – and that they smeared his “distinguished career, and his professional and personal reputation.”
A spokesman for Mr. Ford denied the allegation. “The Premier has taken no act of reprisal against anyone and claims by Blair in this regard are completely false,” Simon Jefferies said.
The province’s Integrity Commissioner is reviewing the hiring of Supt. Taverner amid concerns about potential conflicts of interest and the politicization of the police service. Mr. Ford and Supt. Taverner are long-time friends, but the Premier has said the decision was made by an independent committee that he did not influence.
Deputy Commissioner Blair, who was one of three finalists considered for the job, has asked an Ontario court to force the provincial ombudsman to also review the case. An interim OPP leader is in place until at least next month.
Deputy Commissioner Blair remains with the OPP while he continues his court bid to force the ombudsman to review the hiring process, filing internal documents to support his contention that the Premier and officials in his office have inappropriately intervened in police operations. In one of his sworn statements he has also suggested that “inappropriate political interference or cronyism” could have factored into the decision to hire Supt. Taverner.
After Deputy Commissioner Blair’s complaints were made public, Mr. Ford appeared on television in December to respond to the allegations of interference.
“I’m thoroughly disappointed with Brad Blair, the way he’s been going on, breaking the Police Act numerous times,” the Premier told a Toronto TV station. These, and similar remarks, were picked up on by other media.
The Police Services Act is a disciplinary law governing police standards. If found guilty before a tribunal, officers can be punished with docked pay or dismissal. But no such charges have been filed against Deputy Commissioner Blair, according to his court filings.
The notice of a potential lawsuit alleges Mr. Ford is “attempting to intimidate Deputy Commissioner Blair from pursuing a legitimate complaint,” according to a letter that lawyer Julian Falconer sent to the Premier on Jan. 23.
Contacted on the weekend, Mr. Falconer would not say if his client intends to follow up with a formal lawsuit if Mr. Ford doesn’t retract his comments or apologize. “I don’t have a comment on that,” he said.
The spokesman for the Premier’s Office said Mr. Ford would contest any suit. Deputy Commissioner Blair “still appears clearly upset that he did not get the job,” Mr. Jefferies said. “The Premier will respond to any legal proceedings through his counsel, if and when necessary.”
Other filings show that Deputy Commissioner Blair and his legal team have been cautioned against disclosing any further OPP documents.
On Dec. 28, deputy minister of community safety Mario Di Tommaso wrote to Deputy Commissioner Blair to suggest he was waging an inappropriate personal “public communications” campaign on OPP letterhead.
He stated that all public servants swear oaths that establish “loyalty to the employer” and that the Police Services Act “expressly prohibits a police officer from communicating to the media” any sensitive information held by a police force.
In his letter, Mr. Di Tommaso stated he was not disciplining Deputy Blair but, rather, speaking to him in his capacity as the government’s designated ethics adviser for the OPP police brass.
Deputy Commissioner Blair’s lawyer responded by saying that the deputy minister’s letter was inappropriate, arguing that Mr. Di Tommaso is too enmeshed in the controversy to have direct dealings with his client.
Before being hired by the Progressive Conservative government last October, Mr. Di Tommaso was a staff superintendent at the Toronto Police Service. He served for nearly 40 years and was Supt. Taverner’s commanding officer when he left.