Ron Taverner has rescinded his resignation and returned to the Toronto Police Service after his appointment as head of the Ontario Provincial Police was delayed pending a review.
The decision last month to name the 72-year-old family friend of Premier Doug Ford as the next OPP commissioner has drawn widespread concern about the hiring process that led to his appointment.
It was not immediately clear what latitude the Toronto Police Service has to refuse to approve a rescinded resignation.
OPP Deputy Commissioner Gary Couture on Monday stepped into the role of interim commissioner – a position he said he expects to hold for about three months – as a watchdog investigates allegations of political interference in the appointment.
“I’m proud to be part of this organization,” he said.
“To me to take this on, it’s just about keeping our business and our service going for a period of time until this issue gets resolved.”
He was named to the position on the weekend, the second time in eight weeks that he has been announced for the interim job. An Oct. 24 memo circulated within the OPP and obtained by The Globe and Mail, said Deputy Commissioner Couture would temporarily take the helm. But seven days later, a senior Progressive Conservative government official appointed Deputy Commissioner Brad Blair to the role.
“The experience, knowledge and skills Deputy Commissioner Couture has amassed during his 33-year career will serve him well in his role as Interim Commissioner,” read the Oct. 24 memo from the departing head of the force, Commissioner Vince Hawkes.
But on Oct. 31, another memo was circulated within the OPP by Mario di Tommaso, a former Toronto Police staff superintendent who had been installed a week earlier by the government as the deputy minister of community safety.
“B.W. (Brad) Blair … will serve as interim commissioner,” Mr. di Tommaso’s Oct. 31 memo said.
Cabinet signed an order-in-council formalizing the appointment later that day.
No one in government responded to questions on Monday about why Deputy Commissioner Couture’s October appointment was announced only to be cancelled the same month.
The October memos came several weeks before the selection of Supt. Taverner as a permanent leader spiralled into a messy public battle for control of the force.
Supt. Taverner was appointed to take over the provincial police force on Nov. 29.
A mid-level Toronto Police Service commander who has overseen policing in Toronto’s Etobicoke district, an area the Ford family has represented politically for many years, Supt. Taverner was set to start his OPP job on Monday. But he has delayed his appointment until an investigation of the hiring processes can be completed by the province’s integrity commissioner.
“It is chaos at the top – and that’s never helpful because it distracts from [police] operations,” said Christian Leuprecht, a professor at the Royal Military College of Canada who studies policing in Canada.
The Liberals on Monday wrote to Attorney-General Caroline Mulroney to ask her to appoint an independent investigator to get to the bottom of the case, including any conversations that may have occurred between employees of the Premier’s Office and Supt. Taverner since last June.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath told reporters at Queen’s Park on Monday that it was the “right thing” for Supt. Taverner to delay his swearing-in.
Ms. Horwath added that the events of the past few days raise questions about the relationship between Supt. Taverner and the Premier’s office.
“It’s basically damning the Premier and showing, in fact, that he’s not as hands-off as he claims to have been in this process,” she said.
In an interview on Monday, Deputy Commissioner Couture said he would have to defer to the government any questions about why he did not become acting commissioner earlier this fall.
He did say he had conversations with then-commissioner Hawkes about the matter.
“My boss says, ‘Gary, we need you to cover for a few weeks pending the [hiring] process,’” Deputy Commissioner Couture said.
“… I think it was maybe three or four days later: ‘Gary, there’s been direction. The appointment will go to Brad Blair.’ That was about it.”
Deputy Commissioner Couture, who stressed he is not interested in the permanent job, said he expects to be the acting head of the OPP for several months at most. “I believe the order-in-council designation is until the end of March, so that would be the utmost period I would suspect at this point. But there’s so many unknowns still there.”
He said he was offered the interim position late on Friday by Mr. Di Tommaso.
Once he was installed as acting head of the OPP in November, Deputy Commissioner Blair applied for the permanent job. He was passed over in favour of Supt. Taverner, and last week publicly alleged Mr. Ford and his chief of staff, Dean French, had improperly steered the hiring process from behind the scenes.
Deputy Commissioner Couture would not comment on the concerns raised by Deputy Commissioner Blair, who this week returned to a secondary command role. But Deputy Commissioner Couture did say he would support the next permanent OPP commissioner.
“That’s not something for me to decide,” he said.
“I will support whomever is appointed to this organization.”