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Canada OPP veteran says firing was reprisal for lawsuit over hiring of Ford friend

Former OPP deputy commissioner Brad Blair says his termination this week is reprisal for his legal battle over the hiring of Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s friend as the next provincial police commissioner.

Mr. Blair was fired on Monday after 32 years with the force. He has asked the courts to force Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé to investigate the hiring of Toronto Police Superintendent Ron Taverner and filed multiple internal e-mails that he alleges show political interference in police operations by the Ford government.

“It is patently clear to me that this is reprisal and an attempt to muzzle me,” Mr. Blair writes in an affidavit.

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The government has denied allegations of political interference, and said Mr. Blair breached his oath of office by releasing internal OPP documents. In a letter added to the Ontario Divisional Court file on Monday, the Premier again said he was not involved in the hiring of Supt. Taverner.

In court documents made public on Tuesday, Mr. Blair outlines in detail his termination from the OPP and provides additional documentation including Mr. Ford’s response to Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake, who is probing the matter. The Premier’s Office said Mr. Ford was interviewed by Mr. Wake last week.

Also: Ford government fires OPP deputy commissioner challenging Taverner hire

Mr. Blair was fired in person on Monday by deputy minister of Community Safety Mario Di Tommaso, who Mr. Blair alleges was in a conflict of interest because he was involved in the hiring of Supt. Taverner and is part of the court case. 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.

“It is clear by [Monday’s] actions regarding my termination, that deputy minister Di Tommaso does not appreciate what a conflict of interest is,” Mr. Blair writes in the affidavit.

In his hand-delivered letter explaining Mr. Blair’s termination, Mr. Di Tommaso says Mr. Blair failed to heed his warning about respecting confidentiality when the former OPP commander recently filed internal OPP e-mails with the court.

He accused the veteran officer, who was in the running for the commissioner job, of attempting “to use your professional status to further your private interests.”

“You have acted in a manner that is incompatible with the faithful discharge of your position as public servant,” Mr. Di Tommaso wrote.

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In a statement circulated by his lawyer on Tuesday, Mr. Blair said that he does not regret going public with his concerns.

“I brought the serious issues of real and/or perceived political interference with the independent operations of the OPP to the Provincial Ombudsman, because the cost of a compromised OPP is too great a price to pay,” Mr. Blair wrote.

“The OPP can be called in to investigate provincial politicians, and the citizens of Ontario need to have faith that the OPP is truly independent, above political interference, and free from abuses of power.”

Sylvia Jones, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, repeatedly said on Monday that the government had done nothing wrong in firing Mr. Blair, saying he had violated the rules by releasing confidential police information for personal gain after being passed over for OPP commissioner. The firing was recommended by Mr. Di Tommaso and approved by the Public Service Commission.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the only way to get answers in the affair was a public inquiry, and her party will ask the Integrity Commissioner to launch one.

The documents filed on Monday also include a December letter from Mr. Ford to the province’s Integrity Commissioner. In his nine-page letter to Mr. Wake, Mr. Ford confirms that he has known Supt. Taverner personally for many years, but denied being involved in the hiring. Supt. Taverner’s appointment has been put on hold pending Mr. Wake’s review.

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Mr. Blair has asked the ombudsman to further probe the hiring, arguing the powers of that office are broader.

Mr. Ford’s letter outlines the recruitment process for OPP commissioner and said he is aware the job posting for the position was changed on Oct. 22 after discussions of the selection panel, made up of search firm Odgers Berndtson, then-cabinet secretary Steve Orsini and Mr. Di Tommaso. The changes removed a rank requirement that would have made it impossible for Supt. Taverner to apply. Mr. Orsini resigned after 27 years in the public service on Dec. 14, the same day Mr. Ford sent his letter to the Integrity Commissioner.

“I reject any assertion that this change was made to specifically permit Mr. Taverner's application for the position,” Mr. Ford writes in his letter.

“I would agree that some of the allegations that have arisen could have been avoided had the ranking requirements been removed from the job ad before its original posting. However, I believe the change was made in a good-faith effort to ensure a broad and inclusive recruitment process and provides no evidence of any improper activity by me, my office or any individual working on my behalf.”

Mr. Ford also defends his decision not to recuse himself from cabinet when Supt. Taverner’s appointment was finalized, arguing the selection panel had already chosen his friend for the job.

“While I did not recuse myself from that meeting, I ensured that cabinet members were aware of my personal friendship with Mr. Taverner,” Mr. Ford said.

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With a report from Jeff Gray in Toronto

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