TORONTO – The interim commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police is asking the province’s ombudsman to investigate the appointment of Premier Doug Ford’s family friend to the force’s top job.
Brad Blair, who has been leading the force since November, filed a formal request on Tuesday “amid growing concerns of political interference” in the hiring process of Toronto police Supt. Ron Taverner.
In a letter to ombudsman Paul Dube, Blair says the hiring process has deeply affected the morale of rank and file officers.
Blair says he wants to repair the apprehension of bias over the process and the potential damage to the reputation of the OPP.
Taverner, who is 72 and currently commands three divisions within the Toronto Police Service, was named as the next OPP commissioner last week and is to start his new job Monday.
Days after his appointment, the Ford government admitted it lowered the requirements for the position to attract a wider range of candidates for the job.
Blair’s letter says the original commissioner 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.
He says of the 27 candidates, only four did not meet the original threshold requirements.
“OPP officers have shared with me their concerns that the process was unfair and their feelings that the independence of the OPP is now called into question,” Blair’s letter reads.
Last week, the Ford government maintained that Taverner was appointed according to his own merits. Ford himself also repeatedly stressed his long relationship with Taverner was not a factor in the decision.
But Blair says the hiring process “remains enveloped in questions of political interference” and should be addressed by impartial review.
“I have a moral and legal obligation to ensure that the OPP remains independent,” he writes.
“To have this new command assumed without addressing this matter will cause dysfunction in the service and undermine the command.”
Blair, who was also in the running for the job, suggests delaying Taverner’s installation as commissioner until a review can be completed.
Opposition leaders have also called for an investigation into the hiring process, as well as advocacy group Democracy Watch.
Blair also notes concerns about the relationship between premier’s office and the OPP. He alleges Ford asked for “a specific security detail, staffed with specific officers,” and told then-commissioner Vince Hawkes that if he couldn’t meet the request, “perhaps a new commissioner would.”
Blair writes the request was later fulfilled.
He also alleges Ford’s chief of staff asked the OPP to purchase a “larger camper type vehicle” and have it modified to the specifications of the premier’s office.
Blair says the chief of staff then provided specifications and costs via a document from a company to an unnamed OPP staff sergeant and asked that the costs associated with the vehicle “be kept off the books.”
The premier’s office was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.
A spokeswoman for the Ontario ombudsman said she could not confirm or comment on whether the office has received a specific complaint.
– By Daniela Germano in EdmontonNews from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2020