Premier Doug Ford’s family friend, Toronto Police veteran Ron Taverner, has requested the postponement of his swearing-in as the next head of the Ontario Provincial Police, but a high-ranking member of the force is vowing to continue his legal battle to fully investigate the appointment.
The decision last month to name Mr. Taverner, 72, as the next OPP commissioner has drawn widespread concern about his relationship to Mr. Ford and the hiring process that led to his appointment, prompting a legal challenge from interim OPP commissioner Brad Blair, who is being removed from the role on Monday.
Deputy Commissioner Blair, who said he is staying on with the OPP in a different capacity, will continue his legal fight to force the province’s ombudsman to investigate Mr. Taverner’s appointment, his lawyer said.
The request for the delay comes as the Ontario government recalls the legislature on Monday to pass back-to-work legislation to prevent a power workers' union strike. Mr. Ford, who avoided questions about Mr. Taverner last week, will face increasing pressure to answer queries about the matter.
The NDP has requested an investigation by the province’s Integrity Commissioner to determine whether Mr. Ford was in conflict of interest when his government named Mr. Taverner to the role. A spokeswoman for the office told The Globe and Mail over the weekend that the request is under review.
But in a court filing last week, Deputy Commissioner Blair said a more fulsome investigation into the hiring process must be pursued by the Ontario Ombudsman, whom he argues has greater powers and independence from the government – although he said the ombudsman’s office refused to do so, saying the request was not within its mandate.
Mr. Taverner, a 51-year Toronto Police veteran and former superintendent who resigned from the city force on Saturday, announced that he has asked the government to delay his swearing-in until a review by the integrity commissioner takes place.
“Out of the greatest of respect for the brave men and women of the Ontario Provincial Police, I am requesting my appointment as commissioner be postponed until as such time the Integrity Commissioner has completed his review,” he said in a statement.
Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones said the government will respect Mr. Taverner’s wishes. “While the government has full confidence in Mr. Taverner, we will respect his request for a delay in his appointment, until such time as the Integrity Commissioner has conducted a review of the selection process,” she said. The government has also said it will co-operate with any review of the matter.
Gary Couture, who is also an OPP deputy commissioner, has been appointed interim commissioner, effective Monday, while the review is conducted.
The move comes after Deputy Commissioner Blair filed a motion in court on Friday to try to delay Mr. Taverner’s official start to the job, which comes with a $275,000 a year salary, until a review by Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé is complete.
Deputy Commissioner Blair’s lawyer, Julian Falconer, told reporters on a conference call on Saturday the legal challenge will go ahead regardless of Mr. Taverner requesting the delay.
“This review that [Deputy Commissioner] Blair is seeking, that is a full review of the Ombudsman, represents the only robust route to get at very serious allegations in terms of the conduct of this hiring process,” Mr. Falconer said. He added that his client has been “blown away” by the support he’s received.
In a statement, Deputy Commissioner Blair said he does "not regret a single step I have had to take.” He said he’ll remain with the force as deputy commissioner of traffic safety and operational support command, with no mention of how long he intends to stay in the position.
“I remain devoted to ensuring that the well-earned reputation of the Ontario Provincial Police remains untarnished,” he said in a memo to staff.
In his court motion, Deputy Commissioner Blair argues that the Ontario Ombudsman has a duty to review any potential “inappropriate political interference or cronyism” that could have factored into the government’s decision to promote Mr. Taverner into the role of the province’s top cop.
The NDP is also calling for an emergency select committee to probe the matter, including calling witnesses to testify. “We are still very concerned. Where there is smoke, there is fire, and there are a lot of unanswered questions here,” NDP deputy leader Sara Singh said.
The legal bid is the latest chapter in a remarkable fight that has emerged for control of Canada’s second-largest police force, a sprawling organization that employs more than 8,000 serving officers and civilians across Ontario.
The Conservative government announced its pick of Mr. Taverner as OPP commissioner on Nov. 29.
Critics immediately questioned the appointment, seizing on the 72-year-old mid-level police commander’s close ties to the Ford family, and his nearly two decades as a unit commander overseeing the policing of the Fords' political power base in the west Toronto area of Etobicoke. Yet, Mr. Ford and his cabinet maintain that it was an arms-length, independent panel that recommended Mr. Taverner for the job.
The three-member panel included deputy minister Mario Di Tommaso, who was Mr. Taverner’s former boss. Mr. Falconer said it was Mr. Di Tommaso who informed Deputy Commissioner Blair he would no longer be acting commissioner of the OPP as of Monday.