TORONTO – The acting Ontario Provincial Police commissioner is asking the courts to order the provincial ombudsman to investigate the appointment of his successor, which has been plagued by allegations of political interference.
Brad Blair, the province’s current top cop, has applied to Ontario’s Divisional Court to force an investigation into the hiring of Toronto police Supt. Ron Taverner as the new OPP commissioner, Blair’s lawyer said. Earlier this week, Blair asked Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dube to probe the controversial hiring process that saw Taverner get the job, but he said Friday the watchdog had turned down his request.
“We don’t agree on the views the ombudsman takes of his role,” said Julian Falconer, Blair’s lawyer, adding Dube’s office is the appropriate place to conduct the probe. “If not there, where? How does this issue, which obviously is troubling a great many Ontarians, get resolved?”
Falconer said the ombudsman won’t investigate because he believes the matter is out of his jurisdiction since the hiring was ultimately a decision made by cabinet. Falconer said Blair wants the watchdog to probe the hiring process conducted by a three-person committee tasked with selecting the new commissioner, who is a family friend of Premier Doug Ford.
Linda Williamson, a spokeswoman for Dube, said the watchdog’s office won’t comment on the matter at this time.
“Our office will respond to the court application,” she said.
Taverner, a longtime Ford ally who initially did not meet the requirements listed for the commissioner position, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The 72-year-old is set to take on his new role on Monday.
Days after naming Taverner as the new commissioner in late November, the Ford government admitted it lowered the requirements for the position to attract a wider range of candidates.
Earlier this week, Blair said in a letter to Dube that the original job posting required candidates to have a rank of deputy police chief or higher, or assistant commissioner or higher, in a major police service – a threshold Taverner did not meet.
Of the 27 candidates, Blair – who was an applicant himself – contended only four did not meet the original threshold requirements.
Falconer said Blair’s push for an investigation is aimed at clearing the cloud of suspicion around the hiring process – and in turn the provincial police service itself. The acting commissioner is not doing this for personal gain, he said.
“This is a significant personal sacrifice to him and his career,” Falconer said.
“This is not a great career boost for him. This is a tremendous amount of pressure, a true feeling of peril for him.”
Falconer said he is hopeful the case will be heard in January or February but acknowledged it will not formally stop Taverner from assuming the role next week. But in a letter to Attorney General Caroline Mulroney and Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones, the lawyer calls on the government to postpone Taverner’s transition into the role until a full investigation can be conducted.
“Suffice to say that while we cannot at this stage predict what the minister and the attorney general will do, that is certainly what Commissioner Blair is urging,” he said.
When asked for comment Friday, Premier Doug Ford’s spokesman Simon Jefferies referred The Canadian Press to comments made by Jones earlier in the week defending Taverner and the process that led to his appointment.
She said the government fully disputed the contents of Blair’s original letter.
“We are not going to comment on Mr. Blair’s motivations for using the office he holds to raise these issues,” Jones said Wednesday. “The government stands by the process leading to the appointment of Mr. Taverner.”