Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he has the unilateral power to pick whoever he wants as the province’s next police commissioner because it is a “political appointment.”
The statement is a pivot by the Premier as he faces an outcry over the decision to put in place a family friend as the head of Canada’s second-largest police force.
On Nov. 29, Toronto Police Superintendent Ron Taverner, 72, was named as the new head of the Ontario Provincial Police. Critics immediately seized on hiring of the mid-level commander, a man close to the Premier who has, for nearly two decades, overseen the policing of the Ford family’s political powerbase in northwest Toronto.
Until now, the Progressive Conservative government has defended the hire by insisting that an independent arms-length panel – and not the Premier – chose Supt. Taverner.
Last month, the NDP filed a complaint with the province’s Integrity Commissioner alleging that Mr. Ford had improperly interfered behind the scenes. Supt. Taverner has deferred taking the OPP job until the probe is finished. There is no set date for that investigation to be completed.
Speaking to CP24 news from the Detroit auto show on Monday, Mr. Ford said premiers have the right to exercise power. “As far as I’m concerned, this has been blown out of proportion,” he told a reporter, adding that “if I wanted to, I could appoint you OPP commissioner. It’s a political appointment.”
Mr. Ford did not say he had a hand in choosing Supt. Taverner. But he stressed all prior premiers in Ontario have chosen OPP commissioners as "a political appointment.”
Legislation states that cabinet, which Mr. Ford leads, picks all OPP commissioners and deputy commissioners.
Mr. Ford’s comments come after The Globe and Mail chronicled a series of meetings showing how Mr. Ford and Supt. Taverner dined together several times this summer in the run-up to the OPP appointment. Photos and documents further showed that a June meeting was also attended by Mario Di Tommaso, a Toronto Police commander who served with Supt. Taverner for nearly 40 years.
In October, Mr. Di Tommaso was made a deputy minister by the Ford government. His first job was to play a key role in the panel tasked with picking the next OPP commissioner. While several high-profile candidates were interviewed, the panel went with Supt. Taverner, whom Mr. Di Tommaso had very recently been supervising at the Toronto Police Service.
The Official Opposition NDP seized on Mr. Ford’s comments on his power to choose the OPP commissioner, characterizing them in a statement as “shocking and disturbing."
"Until Monday, Ford has claimed he had nothing to do with the process of appointing his long-time friend and ally Ron Taverner.”
In an interview, NDP MPP and community safety critic Kevin Yarde said the party “will continue to seek more revelations.”
Calling The Globe’s story an “eye-opener,” he said the public needs more answers about how the process unfolded. “What instructions did Doug Ford give Mario Di Tommaso? And should he have been the one conducting the interviews?” Mr. Yarde said.
Separately on Monday, lawyers appeared in court to try to force another watchdog, the Ontario Ombudsman, to immediately investigate Supt. Taverner’s appointment. However, Justice Herman Wilton-Siegel ruled against the motion, saying it didn’t need to be considered until the spring.
“I find the applicant has failed to establish there is an urgency,” the judge said.
The motion had been brought by OPP Deputy Commissioner Brad Blair. Considered a front-runner for the top job until he was passed over in favour of Supt. Taverner, he was arguing that the courts urgently needed to intervene before Supt. Taverner could take his seat at the OPP headquarters in Orillia.
Lawyer Julian Falconer told the court Deputy Commissioner Blair is facing reprisals at the OPP for pursuing his legal fight.
He gave no further details.
“The reason for the galvanizing of public opinion is that it looks like, and there is a real fear, that Premier Ford has crossed the line,” Mr. Falconer said outside of court. “That is no good for democracy. The rule of law is all about us not being a police state.”
Commenting on Deputy Commissioner Blair’s legal motion, Mr. Ford told CP24: “It is very unfortunate one person has sour grapes. ... Someone needs to hold him accountable, I can assure you that.”
With a report from Greg McArthur