Alok Mukherjee was the chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, 2005-2015. He is a distinguished visiting professor at Ryerson University, and co-author of Excessive Force: Toronto’s Fight to Reform City Policing
The manner of Brad Blair’s firing as deputy commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) brings to mind the reaction of Marcellus in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” It’s difficult to recall a single precedent in which a top-ranking OPP officer has been turfed out in the manner that Mr. Blair has been.
Sylvia Jones, the minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, has denied any political interference by her or Premier Doug Ford, insisting the decision to terminate Mr. Blair was made by the Ontario Public Service (OPS) based on an investigation by deputy minister of Community Safety Mario Di Tommaso.
In court documents released Tuesday, Mr. Blair did not mince words about why he believes he was terminated after 32 years: “It is patently clear to me that this is reprisal and an attempt to muzzle me.”
Many questions remain about the process followed and the roles played by acting OPP commissioner Gary Couture, Mr. Di Tommaso, interim cabinet secretary and head of the OPS Steven Davidson, president of the OPP police association Rob Jamieson and – not least of all – Mr. Ford himself.
This unprecedented action also raises important concerns about the integrity of the public service, the freedom of the OPP from political interference and the willingness of experienced senior members of the OPP to seek leadership positions within the force.
Ms. Jones has said Mr. Blair’s appointment was terminated because he “contravened his legal and ethical responsibilities as a deputy commissioner and senior public servant.” This statement relates to the disclosure of a confidential e-mail – which casts Mr. Ford in a negative light – in his continuing legal battle over his failed bid for the OPP commissioner job. The Ontario Ombudsman has refused to investigate the hiring process, and Mr. Blair is seeking a court order to force the Ombudsman’s hand.
Mr. Jamieson, a close friend of Mr. Ford, apparently took issue with this use of an e-mail from one of his members. Did the relationship between the association president and the Premier play any role in this complaint?
Other legal and procedural questions arise from the handling of this complaint. Even before it was made, Mr. Ford had already accused Mr. Blair of violating the Police Service Act (PSA).
Curiously, Mr. Blair was dealt with not under the PSA, but under the Ontario Public Service Act (OPSA). While it is now known that Mr. Di Tommaso conducted the investigation, it is not clear who turned the association’s complaint into a misconduct charge, who initiated the formal complaint and who decided to treat Mr. Blair under the OPSA.
What part did acting OPP Commissioner Couture play in this? Or did Mr. Di Tommaso act on his own?
There is already an ongoing questioning of Mr. Di Tommaso’s relationship with Mr. Ford and his involvement in the choice of his former colleague, Toronto Police Superintendent Ron Taverner, as the new OPP commissioner. At the time, I asked publicly whether Mr. Di Tommaso should have recused himself. That question is bound to arise again. Should he have involved himself in Mr. Blair’s firing?
There is also a legal issue that needs addressing. Mr. Blair was, first of all, a police officer and thus held an appointment under the PSA from the day he became a constable.That appointment never ended, even after he became a deputy commissioner under the OPSA. A strong case could potentially be made that the revocation of his Order-in-Council appointment as deputy commissioner under the OPSA did not affect his appointment under the PSA, even if it was the easier and less cumbersome route for getting rid of him.
If he had been charged under the PSA, a complaint would have had to be initiated by either Mr. Couture or Ms. Jones. After a full investigation, there would have had to be a hearing in which the merits of the charges would have been tested. The process would have been open and transparent.
None of this happened with Mr. Di Tommaso’s investigation. He was the investigator, the judge and the jury. Mr. Davidson, the acting cabinet secretary, appears to have simply gone along with Mr. Di Tommaso’s recommendation, just as his predecessor Steve Orsini did in the selection of Mr. Taverner.
Unless satisfactory answers to these questions are provided,we have a situation that threatens to compromise the integrity of the public service as well as the independence of the provincial police force.
Civilian governance and oversight of policing are important for a democratic society. In the case of the OPP, the provincial government performs these functions. However, that does not justify partisan interference. A strong inference has to be drawn that this may well have happened.