Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s cabinet has tapped a veteran Toronto police commander from the Ford family’s power base of Etobicoke in the city’s west end to head the country’s second-largest police force.
The government on Thursday announced that Toronto Police Service Superintendent Ron Taverner will be the new Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner, putting him at the head of a sprawling force whose top job has been vacant since early this month.
Second in Canada only to the RCMP in size, the OPP has more than 8,000 employees spread across more than 150 detachments. Its officers patrol small communities and large highways, and also run specialized units devoted to tackling organized crime and anti-racket enforcement.
The force’s former chief, Vince Hawkes, retired after a four-year term early this month. Supt. Taverner, who will rise several ranks, joined the Toronto Police Service as a high-school graduate in 1967. Supt. Taverner did not respond to requests for comment.
In the early 2000s, he was installed as the unit commander of Toronto’s 23 Division. He still retains this role, although he now also commands most precincts incorporating the former city of Etobicoke.
This is the same amalgamated municipality where Rob and Doug Ford came to prominence as city councillors, gaining popularity with promises that only law-and-order solutions could clean up the city.
The brothers' rise to power in the 2000s and 2010s gave them a common cause with Supt. Taverner, who through this time was locked in a chronic battle with guns and gangs at 23 Division.
Alok Mukherjee, the former long-serving chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, says that despite Supt. Taverner’s past ties to the Fords, he will have to maintain independence in his new role. “Ron [Taverner] has been very close to the Ford family," he said in an interview. “He and the Premier have had a close relationship.”
Mr. Mukherjee pointed out that past OPP political probes have led to criminal charges against figures associated with the former Liberal government – including a premier’s chief of staff who was sentenced to four months in jail earlier this year.
He said keeping an appropriate distance will now amount to a crucial challenge. “Let me put it this way: The OPP Commissioner role is very pivotal in maintaining an independent police force. … The issue Taverner will have to be very careful about is not being subject to any [political] direction.”
Also Thursday, a former OPP commissioner questioned whether a lifelong Toronto officer had sufficient experience to be the commander of such a sprawling provincial force.
Chris Lewis, a career OPP officer who headed the provincial force between 2010 to 2014, told CP24 that the force had detachments larger than the divisions Supt. Taverner commands.
While he said Supt. Taverner was “well experienced,” he thought the appointment was “a real kick to the OPP and the senior officers in there that know this province, know this organization.”
Mr. Ford has promised to make policing a key issue. In the summer, one of his first acts as Premier was to call police union leaders to tell them he would be delaying the implementation of a police-accountability act passed by the previous government. In August, the government announced $25-million in new funding to shore up police efforts to battle guns and gangs.
In a statement late Thursday, the government said Supt. Taverner was picked “based on a unanimous recommendation of a selection committee” involving civil servants and an executive search firm.
“He is a relationship builder,” Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones said in a statement. “And I’m certain he will have a positive impact on policing across Ontario.”
Supt. Taverner assumes the post on Dec. 17.
His appointment is the second high-level appointment from the Toronto Police Service since the Tories took office.
In October, Mario di Tommaso, a former staff superintendent in Toronto’s west, was selected to be a deputy minister presiding over the policing wing of the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, a portfolio that includes helping run the OPP. At the time, Supt. Taverner applauded the move to hire Mr. di Tommaso.
Mr. Mukherjee, the former Toronto police-board chair, credits Supt. Taverner for being a police commander with a lot of energy. But he also said it will be a leap for him to go from a city district to running such a big police force. “Most superintendents move every five years or so. But Ron has always stayed in place,” Mr. Mukherjee said.
Earlier this week, Supt. Taverner was publicly celebrated for a half-century’s worth of “community builder” work by a Toronto charity.
“Currently in his 51st year with the Toronto Police Service, Supt. Ron Taverner has earned the respect and trust of the public and other officials over his five decades of service,” read a statement from Jake’s House, a group that helps children with autism.