Toronto police Superintendent Ron Taverner, the Ontario government’s choice as the next commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police, met with Premier Doug Ford multiple times in the months leading up to his appointment, including a dinner with the hiring official who vetted Supt. Taverner for the high-profile position.
Supt. Taverner also accompanied Mr. Ford to an event at the Premier’s lakeside cottage just days before it was announced publicly that the top job at the OPP was available, a Globe and Mail review of photographs and related records shows.
Neither man has made a secret of the fact they are friends, and Supt. Taverner’s ties to the Ford family go back even further. He has publicly praised the late Rob Ford, the former mayor of Toronto who died in 2016 and was himself embroiled in a major police investigation after gang members filmed him smoking crack cocaine in 2013.
Their interactions just prior to his appointment, though, will be of interest to the politicians, judges and watchdogs now examining the government’s appointment of the 72-year-old, mid-level commander.
Following a public outcry over the hire, Supt. Taverner last month deferred accepting the job pending a review by the province’s Integrity Commissioner – a probe into, among other matters, whether Mr. Ford should have recused himself when cabinet approved the appointment.
In the meantime, OPP Deputy Commissioner Brad Blair will be in divisional court Monday, arguing that another watchdog, the Ontario Ombudsman, should investigate the broader issue of whether the Ford government crossed a line and tried to exert control over the police – specifically a police force that has jurisdiction over investigations of government officials.
Mr. Ford has said he had “zero influence” over the hiring. He has repeatedly pointed to the panel of interviewers, saying they recommended Supt. Taverner for the job, not him. “No matter who it was, I would have accepted.”
But a review of the recent encounters between the Premier and the police commander – many of which have been captured in photos and video posted online – shows that one of those interview panelists dined with the two men months before the appointment. On June 18, 2018, Mario Di Tommaso – who would go on to interview applicants in both rounds of the job competition – was seated next to Mr. Ford and Supt. Taverner during the dinner portion of a golf tournament.
At the time, Mr. Ford had been Premier for 11 days, Mr. Di Tommaso was a Toronto police staff superintendent and one of the officers under his charge was Supt. Taverner. The officers have worked for the Toronto Police Service for a combined nine decades.
On Oct. 1, less than four months after the three men dined together, Mr. Di Tommaso was named the new deputy minister of Community Safety – the highest-ranking bureaucrat in Ontario law enforcement. (The other panelist who recommended Supt. Taverner, according to Mr. Ford, was Steve Orsini, the secretary of the cabinet, the province’s top civil servant. On Dec. 14, as criticism of the appointment grew, Mr. Orsini announced he will retire at the end of this month.)
Mr. Ford and Supt. Taverner declined to respond to detailed questions about their multiple meetings in advance of the appointment. Mr. Di Tommaso did not respond to a list of questions.
There is little information on the public record about what the men discussed at any of their meetings, including whether the commissioner’s job came up.
But The Globe has compiled a chronology of events and government moves that raise questions about whether a path was cleared for Supt. Taverner’s appointment – an appointment that Deputy Commissioner Blair says has tarnished the “perceived independence and integrity of the OPP.”
June 18, 2018: Dinner, Toronto Police Chief Invitational golf tournament
Fresh off his victory in Ontario’s 43rd general election, Mr. Ford arrived at the Markland Wood Golf Club for the tail end of the annual Toronto Police Chief Invitational golf tournament. When he arrived, he gravitated toward a familiar face.
A photograph from the event shows Mr. Ford seated for dinner between two police officers: Supt. Taverner to his left and then Staff Superintendent Di Tommaso to his right. At the time, Supt. Taverner was the superintendent for three west-end Toronto police divisions and Mr. Di Tommaso was his boss.
Wanita Kelava, the tournament director, said she didn’t know who invited the Premier to the event. “It was a last-minute thing,” she said. Seats were not assigned, and participants were welcome to sit wherever they wanted.
One day after The Globe made a number of inquiries with Supt. Taverner and others about the dinner, all photos of Supt. Taverner were removed from the golf tournament’s website.
July 30, 2018: Dinner, Posticino
Mr. Ford dined with Supt. Taverner and Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders at Posticino, an Italian restaurant in Toronto’s west end.
This meeting was first disclosed by the Official Opposition, the NDP, which obtained a portion of the Premier’s calendar through the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and released it to the public. The only person who has spoken publicly about this meeting is Chief Saunders, who said the dinner was arranged to discuss gun violence. Asked at a news conference if the OPP commissioner’s job came up, he said, “Absolutely no.” He added: “I wish I had time to discuss the OPP, but I am the chief here in Toronto and I have gun violence and young black boys killing other young black boys.”
Chief Saunders said Supt. Taverner was invited to the dinner because his police divisions in North Etobicoke account for “40 per cent of the city’s violence.”
According to Mr. Ford’s calendar, the dinner was scheduled to last 90 minutes.
Aug. 16, 2018: Wally’s Grill
Wally’s Grill is a diner about a 20-minute walk from Deco Labels & Tags, the printing business owned by Mr. Ford’s family. On this day, the Premier joined Supt. Taverner there for a meal, a meeting captured in a photograph by a customer, who supplied the image to The Globe.
The photographer, whom The Globe is not identifying, positioned a copy of the Aug. 16 edition of the Toronto Star within the frame of the photo to show when it was taken. The metadata contained in the image indicates it was taken at 2:39 p.m. that day.
Aug. 28, 2018: Premier Ford’s cottage
For the past few years, Mr. Ford and Supt. Taverner have made an annual trek to Mr. Ford’s cottage, north of the city, to host a group of teenagers from the Toronto community known as Rexdale. This August, they brought along the Premier’s personal news crew – Ontario News Now, the taxpayer-funded service that streams video on behalf of the Progressive Conservative government.
Ontario News Now interviewed Mr. Ford and Supt. Taverner while their guests – young adults from a youth organization called Trust 15 – played in the background on Mr. Ford’s beach.
“These are the greatest kids around. They’re incredible. I love ’em,” Mr. Ford, wearing a “For The People” T-shirt, told the news service. Although the video was posted on YouTube on Aug. 30, Trust 15 posted photos of the event on its Instagram page on Aug. 28.
When Supt. Taverner’s appointment was announced in a news release at the end of November, it included several endorsements, including one from the founder of Trust 15, Marcia Brown.
Reached by phone, Ms. Brown declined to answer questions about the trip. As for who asked her to write an endorsement of Supt. Taverner, Ms. Brown encouraged a Globe reporter to “talk to Ron or Doug.”
Autumn 2018: A path is cleared
It’s not clear when it became known within Queen’s Park that OPP commissioner Vince Hawkes was set to retire. But on Sept. 5, he made it official in a memo to the OPP’s 5,800 uniformed officers and 2,800 civilian employees.
What those thousands of staff members didn’t know was that Mr. Hawkes had developed a fractious relationship with Ontario’s new Premier, according to Deputy Commissioner Blair.
Mr. Ford “expressed displeasure” that the OPP had not given him a security detail he “would feel comfortable with,” Mr. Blair later alleged in a complaint to the Ontario Ombudsman about Supt. Taverner’s appointment.
Mr. Ford asked for a face-to-face meeting with Commissioner Hawkes, where he “stated that if former commissioner Hawkes would not address the issue, perhaps a new commissioner would,” Deputy Commissioner Blair alleged.
In the weeks that followed Mr. Hawkes’ announcement, the government made a number of moves that – intentionally or not – created a path for Supt. Taverner to assume control of the OPP.
On Sept. 24, the government announced that a key bureaucrat was leaving, a long-standing public servant who would have been a key voice at the table when it came to picking the next commissioner. Matt Torigian, the deputy minister of Community Safety and a former Waterloo Regional Police Service chief, was joining the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, the government said in a news release.
That news was only a week old when the government named Mr. Torigian’s permanent replacement: Mr. Di Tommaso, Supt. Taverner’s boss at the Toronto Police Service, would serve as the new deputy minister of Community Safety.
Right away, Mr. Di Tommaso was required to dive into one of the most pressing issues confronting his ministry: Who would lead the provincial police force responsible for patrolling 323 Ontario towns and villages and 127,000 kilometres of highways?
On his first day of work – Oct. 22, a Monday – the competition officially opened to find the next OPP commissioner.
Two days after the position was posted, an alteration was made to the job requirements. Originally, applicants needed to have the “rank of Deputy Chief or higher,” which would have precluded Supt. Taverner from applying. But on Oct. 24, that restriction was modified to allow for any “experienced executive with a background in policing.”
No one in the public service has taken credit for this alteration.
In his fourth week on the job, Mr. Di Tommaso and another deputy minister started the first round of interviews. Thirteen candidates were interviewed, Deputy Commissioner Blair said.
By Mr. Di Tommaso’s fifth week on the job, the government had narrowed it down to three candidates. On Nov. 20, Mr. Di Tommaso and the head of the public service, Mr. Orsini, interviewed those applicants: Deputy Commissioner Blair, OPP Provincial Commander Mary Silverthorn and Supt. Taverner.
On Nov. 29, the government announced Supt. Taverner would be the next OPP commissioner.
The news shook the senior leadership of the OPP, which coincidentally gathered two days later at Blue Mountain resort to celebrate the retirement of Mr. Hawkes.
Mr. Di Tommaso was there.
The emcee for the event was retired OPP investigator Chris Nicholas, best known as the officer who oversaw the force’s successful 2010 investigation of former air-force colonel Russell Williams, a serial sexual predator and murderer.
Mr. Nicholas shared an anecdote. His grandchildren were admiring the badges he had been awarded as he ascended through the ranks of the OPP. They noticed a ceremonial, honorary commissioner badge he had been given, even though he had retired as a superintendent – three ranks below commissioner. His granddaughter asked: Were you the commissioner?
“That would be silly,” his six-year-old grandson replied. “You can’t be the commissioner of the OPP from the superintendent rank. You need at least two badges before that.”
The room erupted with laughter.