The final stages of a tribunal examining allegations of sexual harassment within the Toronto Police Service have been delayed after a key witness, Superintendent Ron Taverner, suffered a concussion.
Supt. Taverner was set to testify in the five-year-old human-rights case Tuesday, however the Toronto hearing was told the senior officer had suffered a fall earlier this month and would be unable to appear because of a head injury.
The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has been probing allegations aired by Toronto police Constable Heather McWilliam since 2014. She alleges she suffered sexual harassment and a toxic work environment at Toronto Police Service’s 23 Division, a precinct in the city’s northwest that Supt. Taverner, 73, has run for nearly two decades.
Constable McWilliam alleges that Supt. Taverner discouraged her from going public with her complaints.
A long-serving police commander and friend of Premier Doug Ford, Supt. Taverner was a pivotal figure in an unrelated controversy that erupted last winter.
In November, he was appointed commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police by the Progressive Conservative government before allegations of cronyism ultimately forced him to withdraw his name.
Supt. Taverner returned to the Toronto Police Service where he has worked since 1967. He continued to preside over the city’s northwest precincts until he went on a medical leave last week.
A sudden accident left Supt. Taverner with concussion symptoms that are "consistent with somebody who is not capable of answering questions, necessarily, or recalling things,” David Greenberg, the police commander’s doctor, told the rights tribunal on Tuesday.
Testifying by speakerphone, he said that no one can say when his patient might be able to safely appear before the tribunal.
The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has powers to order systemic changes to the workplaces it reviews in the course of complaints it considers.
In 2014, Constable McWilliam formally filed her allegations about a toxic work environment and relentless sexual harassment. She alleges Supt. Taverner responded to her complaints about other officers’ behaviours at 23 Division by telling her she needed to “have a tough skin.”
Supt. Taverner was scheduled to be one of the last witnesses in the case. It’s unclear whether the adjudicator can reach a conclusion without hearing his evidence.
Dr. Greenberg said the road to recovery after a concussion can be long and that a patient’s well-being can be derailed by undue stresses.
This includes being subjected to cross-examination, which could “first of all exacerbate the symptoms, which isn’t fair to him," Dr. Greenberg said. "And second of all, [it] may cause him not to be able to answer the questions to the degree he should be able to, which wouldn’t do you any good.”
Sept. 13 has been scheduled as a potential date for Supt. Taverner to testify.
After the hearing, Constable McWilliam said she is disappointed by continuing delays. “The effects have been devastating on me and my family,” she said, adding that “I’m not surprised or shocked by anything, the way that this has lingered for five years.”
The Toronto Police Service has previously denied Constable McWilliam’s allegations, arguing the case was properly investigated and dealt with by management, including Supt. Taverner, the professional standards unit and the province’s Special Investigations Unit.
The hearing continues Wednesday.