An ousted Ontario Provincial Police commander has responded to Wednesday’s sudden withdrawal of Ford family friend Ron Taverner as the OPP’s incoming chief by saying he will be legally challenging the circumstances of his firing.
In a statement circulated Thursday morning, a lawyer acting for former OPP deputy commissioner Brad Blair said his client considers the withdrawal by the Toronto Police Superintendent as a vindication, adding that the Progressive Conservative government must now pick a new police chief in an untainted process.
“Mr. Blair’s efforts to protect the OPP from political interference have not come without significant personal costs,” Julian Falconer wrote.
The statement, circulated overnight, said his client “contests the legal validity of the termination of his employment … and he will seek full accountability and compensation for the actions leading to his termination.”
The statement did not say whether any kind of reinstatement into the OPP would be sought by Mr. Blair, who went on record weeks ago saying he is resigned to realizing he will never run the police force within which he spent his 32-year policing career.
But “looking forward, the hiring process for the next OPP Commissioner must be conducted appropriately and not mired by the political interference and cronyism that sadly characterized the November 2018 hiring process,” Mr. Falconer’s statement said.
On Nov. 29, the Progressive Conservative government announced it had picked Supt. Taverner over then-acting OPP commissioner Blair for the provincial force’s top job.
Because Premier Doug Ford is friends with Supt. Taverner, the hiring decision prompted a public outcry, and has been delayed pending an ongoing ethics review by the province’s Integrity Commissioner.
Mr. Blair responded by independently waging his own legal battle alleging inappropriate interference in the OPP by the Ford government corrupted the hiring process. He still served as a deputy commissioner until he was abruptly fired Monday and escorted out of OPP headquarters as the government accused him of violating his oaths as a public servant for releasing sensitive OPP e-mails into his court filings.
Supt. Taverner, who has known the Ford family for years, said he has decided to pull out of leading the OPP “to protect the integrity of rank and file police officers given the controversy surrounding my appointment.”
“This decision is not an easy one for me to make,” Supt. Taverner said in a letter to Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Sylvia Jones, which was released by the government late Wednesday.
In a statement, Mr. Ford said that “since the beginning of this process, our objective has been to bring new leadership in order to address many long-standing and systemic issues that have existed for some time within the OPP.”
He thanked Supt. Taverner, 72, for putting his name forward and said his leadership after 50 years in policing would have been an asset for the service.
“It is very unfortunate that the opposition has chosen to politicize this process rather than focusing on how we can support our front-line officers,” Mr. Ford said.
The province’s Integrity Commissioner is investigating allegations of conflict of interest after the opposition raised concerns Mr. Ford interfered in the hiring. The Premier has denied guiding the decision, saying Supt. Taverner was selected by an independent committee. The job qualifications were changed shortly after they were first posted to allow officers with lower ranks, such as Supt. Taverner, to apply.
Supt. Taverner had delayed taking over the OPP position until the Integrity Commissioner investigation was complete.
Rob Jamieson, president of the union representing more than 6,000 officers with the provincial police, said he respects Supt. Taverner’s decision.
“I would agree with the comments of Ron Taverner that it’s about the front line,” he said.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Wednesday that Supt. Taverner “did what Doug Ford has continuously refused to do, and preserved the OPP’s integrity with his withdrawal.” She reiterated her call for a public inquiry.
The government has denied any political interference in the hiring process, which began last fall. Mr. Blair, however, has alleged in court documents that there is a pattern of interference by the Premier’s Office in police operations. Submitting internal e-mails, Mr. Blair alleged that Mr. Ford’s staff directed a sole-sourced “off-the-books” request for the OPP to refit an executive van for the Premier’s use.
In court filings made Feb. 15, Mr. Blair also included an internal e-mail suggesting that Mr. Ford was upset about his rotating security detail and vowed to speak with the commissioner if his concerns were not addressed.
Community Safety deputy minister Mario Di Tommaso, who was formerly Supt. Taverner’s boss with Toronto Police Service and part of the provincial hiring committee, fired Mr. Blair in person on Monday after warning him about releasing confidential police communications.
Mr. Blair has said that his firing was a reprisal for the lawsuit and an attempt to “muzzle” him.
The Ford government said the decision wasn’t politically motivated, but Ms. Jones defended the firing, which she said was recommended by Mr. Di Tommaso and approved by the public service commission.
In the legislature this week, she accused Mr. Blair of breaching both his oath of office and potentially the Police Services Act by communicating with the media without permission and releasing a letter to the province’s Ombudsman that contained confidential information.
In a statement Wednesday night, Ms. Jones said she accepted Supt. Taverner’s request to withdraw.
“We thank him for his continued service as a decorated police officer,” she said. “Interim commissioner Gary Couture remains in his post. We will have more to say about the role of the commissioner in the near future.”