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Doug Ford defends friend's appointment as OPP commissioner despite probe

Last Updated Dec 18, 2018 at 6:26 pm EDT

Doug Ford defended Tuesday the appointment of a family friend as Ontario’s police commissioner, despite an ongoing investigation into the premier’s role in the hiring process.

Ron Taverner, a 72-year-old superintendent with the Toronto police, did not initially qualify for the job, but the government has said it lowered the requirements to attract a wider range of candidates.

Now, the province’s integrity commissioner is investigating an Opposition complaint that Ford violated the Members’ Integrity Act by participating in the cabinet decision to appoint Taverner, a longtime friend of the premier’s family.

“You know my friends, this is going to move forward,” Ford told reporters after attending the opening of an Amazon office in Toronto.

“Let the review take place, and I can tell you one thing, once it gets done, he will be the best commissioner the OPP has ever seen.”

Taverner was set to start his new job on Monday, but over the weekend he announced that he would wait until the integrity commissioner’s probe was complete. In the meantime, Taverner has returned to his previous job with the city police.

His appointment as Ontario Provincial Police commissioner has come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks after the forces’ acting commissioner, Brad Blair, alleged political interference from the premier’s office.

In a nine-page letter, Blair called on the provincial ombudsman to investigate Taverner’s appointment, alleging the premier’s chief of staff, Dean French, had asked the OPP to purchase a “larger camper type vehicle” and have it modified to the specifications of the premier’s office.

Blair, who is now deputy commissioner, further alleged the chief of staff then provided specifications to an unnamed OPP staff sergeant and asked that the costs associated with the vehicle be “kept off the books.”

Ford, who has acknowledged that he did not recuse himself from the cabinet decision to approve Taverner’s hiring, said Tuesday that some of the allegations made by Blair were false, including the request for a new vehicle.

“That’s just a baseless claim without merits,” he said. “It’s not accurate…I asked for a used one.”

A lawyer for Blair, who wants the courts to order the ombudsman to investigate Taverner’s appointment, said Ford’s comments Tuesday were “personal shots” at his client.

“No amount of intimidation or insult will deter the deputy commissioner from seeking a full airing of these issues,” Falconer said in a statement.

Meanwhile, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called for a public inquiry into Taverner’s appointment, saying the integrity commissioner should expand the probe into a full public inquiry.

Horwath said two rarely used subsections of the Public Inquiries Act allow the integrity commissioner to launch a public inquiry – a power usually reserved for the premier and his cabinet. That power would allow for a wider look at the allegations of political interference surrounding Taverner’s hiring, not just Ford’s participation in the cabinet decision.

“An investigation of this importance…has to be an open, transparent process,” she said. “That’s why I’m urging the integrity commissioner to call a full public inquiry with the power to summon witnesses, request documents, and ensure witnesses are protected from self-incrimination and discipline or retribution from their employer.”

Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said even with Ford’s endorsement, it will be difficult for Taverner to eventually assume the OPP commissioner’s role.

“The premier saying he has confidence doesn’t instill confidence in the people of Ontario,” he said. “This is actually about the perception of conflict. That perception exists and is likely to still exist after there’s an integrity commissioner’s (investigation).”