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Mario Di Tommaso (left), Doug Ford (centre) and Toronto Police Inspector Ron Taverner (white shirt, second right) at the Markland Woods Golf Club on June 18, 2018.Jessica Storkey/Flickr

Toronto Police Superintendent Ron Taverner helped organize a banquet to honour the police commander-turned-civil servant who, weeks later, would hire him as the head of the Ontario Provincial Police.

Workplace e-mails exchanged last year between Supt. Taverner and Ontario Community Safety deputy minister Mario Di Tommaso, released to the The Globe and Mail through a freedom of information request, provide new details about the relationship between the former colleagues.

Last November, the provincial government chose Supt. Taverner to head the OPP – Canada’s second-largest police force. Months later, however, he abandoned his pursuit of the job after a public outcry over his long-standing friendship with Premier Doug Ford.

But another relationship – Supt. Taverner’s ties to Mr. Di Tommaso, his former commanding officer at the Toronto Police Service, was relevant to the hiring process. The Progressive Conservative government hired Mr. Di Tommaso first, in October, 2018, and as a newly minted deputy minister he presided over the OPP commissioner selection process.

Since then, in lawsuits and the legislature, critics have asked whether the two police colleagues of almost 40 years were in a conflict of interest.

The records released to The Globe show that, prior to the hiring process playing out, the two men had praised each other’s careers in several e-mails they exchanged with fellow officers.

“Folks, as you are aware, our [colleague] and friend Mario [Di Tommaso] is moving on to a new chapter,” Supt. Taverner said in one message circulated last October, spreading the word about a $25-a-head luncheon for his departing boss. The function, he said, would “celebrate Mario and the outstanding contributions to [the] Toronto Police Service and the Community."

Four days after that Oct. 18, 2018, event, Mr. Di Tommaso started his new job. That same day, the deputy minister’s department posted a notice saying it was accepting applications for the vacant position of OPP commissioner.

Six weeks later, after Mr. Di Tommaso had helped interview and screen several high-ranking police commanders from different forces, he relayed a job offer. “Supt. Taverner … I require confirmation by email that you accept,” his Nov. 29 e-mail read. “Deputy Minister Di Tomasso … with great excitement, I accept,” was the reply.

The released e-mail records also show that earlier that fall Mr. Di Tommaso had backed Supt. Taverner’s bid for a 50-year service medal when both were still at the Toronto Police Service. “I can personally attest to his leadership and his exemplary service,” he wrote.

The same September, the then-staff superintendent copied Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders and several deputy chiefs on a separate e-mail praising Supt. Taverner for marking his 51st anniversary with the service. "Your leadership, your dedication to duty and your commitment to public service is an inspiration to us all.”

The Globe addressed questions about these e-mails to Supt. Taverner and Mr. Di Tommaso through their respective workplaces, where they continue to serve as a police unit commander and a deputy minister.

“Supt. Taverner is on an approved medical leave. We have refrained from asking him to reply to media inquiries at this time,” said Allison Sparkes of the Toronto Police Service. Supt. Taverner suffered a concussion earlier this year.

“As there are ongoing legal matters, it would be inappropriate to comment,” said Greg Flood, a spokesman for the Ministry of Community Safety.

Several lawsuits have been filed by former acting OPP commissioner Brad Blair, who alleges that he is a victim of “cronyism” because he was overlooked for the job. In one suit, he accuses the Premier and Mr. Di Tommaso of “improperly using their public authority to rig the OPP hiring process” for the benefit of a mutual “friend.”

In a report last spring, Ontario Integrity Commissioner David Wake said the men do not characterize themselves as friends.

“Mr. Taverner and Mr. Di Tommaso each indicated that their relationship is a professional one; they do not socialize (other than at community events) and are not personal friends. I accept this evidence,” he wrote.

Released in March, Mr. Wake’s 100-page report ruled that the Premier did not try to shape the outcome in Supt. Taverner’s favour. But the Integrity Commissioner also found that, unbeknownst to Mr. Ford, some of the Premier’s top aides made interventions for Supt. Taverner that rendered the process unfair.

The Globe provided Mr. Wake with a summary of some released e-mail exchanges and asked if such messages might cause him to revisit any aspects of his ruling. A spokesperson said they would not.

“Even if there was some evidence to suggest that the relationship between Mr. Taverner and Mr. Di Tommaso was closer than what they described in their testimony, given separately and under oath before the Commissioner, it would not be a relevant factor to the issues on which the opinion was sought,” wrote Michelle Renaud, an adviser for the office.

“The information you have outlined might, even if accepted and taken at their highest, detract from the validity of the recruitment process,” she added. “The Commissioner, however, has already addressed that process and ultimately found that he had a reasonable apprehension that the recruitment process was flawed.”

The Integrity Commissioner’s report was instigated by formal complaints from the NDP’s Kevin Yarde.

The MPP says he plans to press the issue in the coming legislative session. “Our concern right now obviously is the concerns about the conflicts of interest,” Mr. Yarde said in an interview last week.

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