More below • A timeline of events
Over the past four months, Premier Doug Ford’s government has left the leadership of the Ontario Provincial Police in a state of flux: appointing a new OPP commissioner who was forced to withdraw amid allegations of cronyism; firing a deputy commissioner who publicly challenged that appointment; hiring another new commissioner who didn’t apply for the job the first time around.
Behind every one of those personnel decisions stands a powerful bureaucrat: Mario Di Tommaso, Ontario’s deputy Minister of Community Safety.
Although they do not often make headlines, deputy ministers are influential public servants – non-partisan bureaucrats expected to speak truth to their partisan ministers while doing their best to execute the government’s agenda. A Globe and Mail examination of records posted online, filed in court and released through the Freedom of Information Act, raises questions about Mr. Di Tommaso’s distance from the Ford government and his role in the events that led to the failed appointment of Premier Ford’s friend, Toronto Police Superintendent Ron Taverner, as the next OPP commissioner. That hiring is now the subject of an ethics probe by Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner.
Mr. Di Tommaso, who was named a deputy minister in October after more than 30 years with the Toronto Police Service, declined to answer detailed questions for this story. His ministry issued, instead, a brief statement through spokesperson Greg Flood: “Deputy Di Tommaso had a long and distinguished career protecting the public as a Toronto Police officer. He is now continuing that service as a public servant.”
Mr. Di Tommaso has been described by Mr. Ford as one of two “independent” public servants who first unanimously selected Supt. Taverner in November, 2018, over more than two dozen applicants.
“I accept the professionals’ advice,” Mr. Ford said on Dec. 4. “Again, it was an independent panel – not Doug Ford.”
The Premier had no discussions with Mr. Di Tommaso about the deputy minister position prior to his appointment to that job, Mr. Ford’s spokesman, Simon Jefferies, said in an e-mail to The Globe.
Before Mr. Di Tommaso joined the public service, he served as Supt. Taverner’s Toronto police boss. Social-media posts also show Mr. Di Tommaso socialized multiple times with Supt. Taverner, Mr. Ford and the first minister he was hired to serve, Michael Tibollo, in the months leading up to Supt. Taverner’s appointment. Additionally, an internal e-mail shows that the day before the OPP’s previous commissioner, Vince Hawkes, announced his retirement in September, the head of the public service, Steve Orsini, arranged a "one-on-one confidential” meeting with Mr. Di Tommaso before he was hired by the government.
The chronology of events and relationships between Mr. Di Tommaso, Supt. Taverner and Mr. Ford must be examined, says lawyer Julian Falconer, who has launched a lawsuit on behalf of former deputy commissioner Brad Blair.
"In my opinion, when you look at all the information concerning the various senior bureaucrats it is impossible to have confidence in what happened,” Mr. Falconer said last week.
Mr. Blair, who was in the running against Supt. Taverner for the job, alleges political interference in the selection and has asked the provincial ombudsman to investigate, including a probe of Mr. Di Tommaso’s “personal and professional conduct in his role in the hiring” of Supt. Taverner.
For his part, Mr. Ford has denied that Mr. Di Tommaso was in any sort of conflict of interest when the panel he was part of selected Supt. Taverner for the job. At a December news conference, Mr. Ford was asked directly whether he appointed Mr. Di Tommaso as a deputy minister in an effort to secure the commissioner’s position for his friend. “No, I didn’t,” Premier Ford replied.
Mr. Blair was fired by Mr. Di Tommaso last week after being warned about releasing confidential information. Supt. Taverner withdrew his candidacy for the commissioner’s job two days later, and on Monday the government announced it had appointed York Regional Police Deputy Chief Thomas Carrique, a process that was led, again, by Mr. Di Tommaso.
At one of the social engagements that preceded Mr. Di Tommaso’s ascension into the bureaucracy, a gala dinner in June that honoured Italian-Canadian police officers, Mr. Di Tommaso made a speech that included a joke about the advanced age of Supt. Taverner, 72, who was in attendance. Mr. Ford was also present.
“Policing today is more difficult than it has ever been. And it’s certainly more difficult than the pre-Charter era when I started, or the Sir Robert Peel era when Ron Taverner started,” Mr. Di Tommaso said. (Sir Robert Peel founded London’s Metropolitan Police Service in 1829.)
Another guest at the gala was Mr. Tibollo – the first Minister of Community Safety that Mr. Di Tommaso was hired to serve, and who has since been made Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport.
Mr. Di Tommaso has been photographed with Mr. Tibollo over the years at events held by the National Congress of Italian-Canadians, where Mr. Tibollo has served as president. Mr. Di Tommaso’s daughter worked, for six months in 2016 as an administrative assistant, at Mr. Tibollo’s four-lawyer firm, Tibollo and Associates, according to her LinkedIn page.
In separate statements to The Globe, both Mr. Tibollo and Mr. Di Tommaso – through Mr. Flood, the Ministry of Community Safety spokesperson – said they “are not close acquaintances” but acknowledged knowing each other as “active members of the community.”
Mr. Tibollo played no role in the appointment of Mr. Di Tommaso as a deputy minister, according to Mr. Jefferies, the Premier’s spokesman.
Although it is not common for deputy ministers to have ties to an elected government, it is not unheard of, said Patrice Dutil, a professor of public administration at Ryerson University.
“I’d say at any given time maybe 10 to 20 per cent of deputy ministers … will be selected because they are friendly, they are known to be partial to the ideas and sensitivities of government, ” he said, adding that what matters most when evaluating a deputy minister is how they perform in their role.
During his 38 years at Toronto police, Mr. Di Tommaso worked in a variety of capacities, investigating everything from robberies to homicides. In 2012, he was named an Officer of the Order of Merit of the Police Forces.
Mr. Di Tommaso was the subject of disciplinary proceedings during his time as the second-in-command of the force’s intelligence unit from 2005 to 2007, court records show.
The person in charge of the unit at the time was Staff Inspector Steve Izzett, who resigned in disgrace after he was charged with nine offences under the Police Services Act. The charges alleged an array of offences, which included the use of “profane, abusive and insulting” language, unwanted kissing of a subordinate officer and lying to his superiors.
The internal investigation into Mr. Izzett sparked a wider review of the officers around him, including Mr. Di Tommaso.
In an Ontario Divisional Court application, which Mr. Izzett launched in an unsuccessful attempt to have the case against him overturned, he argued his backers were disciplined to deter them from supporting him. “Di Tommaso was disciplined in May, 2009, for failing to report my alleged tyrannical and oppressive behaviour,” Mr. Izzett said in a 2009 sworn statement.
Precisely what Mr. Di Tommaso was disciplined for is not outlined in the court filings. The Toronto Police Service says it cannot confirm any internal discipline. In his statement to The Globe, Mr. Di Tommaso did not address any questions about his role in the Izzett affair.
As part of the probe, professional-standards officers questioned Mr. Di Tommaso, who was then serving as an inspector. According to a transcript, they told Mr. Di Tommaso how his subordinates had described him and why they hadn’t turned to him: “Mario did not want to cause any waves. … I did not trust that if I talked to Mario that it would make a difference,” one officer said. Another officer said that there was “no percentage” in complaining to Mr. Di Tommaso.
In response , Mr. Di Tommaso said: “I disagree … that I’m a yes man.” He said no one ever complained to him formally or informally.
With a report from Laura Stone
A timeline of events
April 27, 2018 Then-Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford, PC candidate Michael Tibollo and Toronto Police Staff Superintendent Mario Di Tommaso photographed together at a private-school fundraiser.
June 18, 2018 Mr. Ford, now Premier, Mr. Tibollo, Staff Supt. Di Tommaso and Toronto Police Superintendent Ron Taverner attend Toronto Police Chief Invitational golf tournament.
June 27, 2018 Staff Supt. Di Tommaso gives a speech at an event honouring Italian-Canadian police officers, where he jokes about Supt. Taverner’s age. Mr. Ford and Mr. Tibollo also attend.
July 18, 2018 Mr. Ford tells an OPP sergeant with his security detail that he is unhappy with the rotating cast of officers looking after his security and that he needs officers he can “trust,” according to the sergeant’s notes. Mr. Ford allegedly told an assistant that he wanted a meeting with then-OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes: “If he can’t sort this out, then maybe a new commissioner can make it happen.”
July 30, 2018 Mr. Ford dines with Supt. Taverner and Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders at a west-end Toronto restaurant.
Aug. 16, 2018 Mr. Ford and Supt. Taverner meet at Wally’s Grill in Rexdale.
Aug. 28, 2018 Mr. Ford and Supt. Tavener travel to the Premier’s cottage for a charity event with a group of at-risk teens.
Sept. 4, 2018 Steve Orsini, the head of the public service, e-mails his assistants and provides Staff Supt. Di Tommaso’s contact information: “Could you please set up a one-on-one confidential meeting.”
Sept. 5, 2018 Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Hawkes announces his retirement.
Sept. 7, 2018 Mr. Orsini has a 4:30 p.m. scheduled meeting with Staff Supt. Di Tommaso in Mr. Orsini’s office.
Sept. 17, 2018 Mr. Orsini and Matt Torigian, the deputy minister of community safety at the time, meet in Mr. Orsini’s office concerning “OPP commissioner recruitment.”
Sept. 24, 2018 Mr. Orsini announces that Mr. Torigian is stepping down and joining the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.
Oct. 1, 2018 Mr. Orsini announces the appointment of Mr. Di Tommaso as the new deputy minister of community safety.
Oct. 9, 2018 Mr. Ford and Supt. Taverner dine at Wally’s Grill, according to the Premier’s calendar.
Oct. 22, 2018 It is Mr. Di Tommaso’s first day as deputy minister. The same day, the advertisement for a new OPP commissioner is posted.
Oct. 24, 2018 The OPP commissioner job posting is altered, lowering the standards to allow for candidates who aren’t chiefs, deputy chiefs or assistant commissioners to apply.
Nov. 12, 2018 First round of interviews held for the OPP commissioner’s job. The two public-servant panelists are Mr. Di Tommaso and deputy Attorney-General Paul Boniferro.
Nov. 20, 2018 Second round of interviews held. Public-servant panelists are Mr. Di Tommaso and Mr. Orsini. Mr. Ford’s chief of staff Dean French was slated to take part, but did not, according to then-OPP deputy Commissioner Brad Blair. Mr. French walked out of the building shortly before Mr. Blair’s interview commenced, Mr. Blair has alleged.
Nov. 25, 2018 Supt. Taverner and Mr. Ford appear together at an event for Jake’s House, an autism charity.
Nov. 29, 2018 Mr. Di Tommaso calls deputy Commissioner Blair and tells him that Supt. Taverner is the new OPP Commissioner.
Dec. 11, 2018 Deputy Commissioner Blair writes to Ontario’s Ombudsman, urging him to investigate the alleged politicization of the appointment process.
Dec. 14, 2018 Mr. Orsini announces he is stepping down as the head of the public service.
March 4, 2019 Mr. Di Tommaso terminates the employment of Mr. Blair, the deputy Commissioner of the OPP.
March 6, 2019 Supt. Taverner withdraws his name from consideration for the OPP Commissioner posting.
March 11, 2019 Ontario government announces that York Regional Police Deputy Chief Thomas Carrique will be the new OPP Commissioner, an appointment process that was led by Mr. Di Tommaso.