An Ontario Provincial Police deputy commissioner who expressed concerns about a friend of the premier’s appointment as the province’s top cop was fired Monday, but the corrections minister insisted there was no political interference.
Brad Blair has asked the courts to force the provincial ombudsman to investigate the hiring of Toronto police Supt. Ron Taverner, a long-time friend of Premier Doug Ford, as the new OPP commissioner.
He is also threatening to sue Ford, alleging that the premier damaged his reputation when Ford accused him of breaking the Police Services Act by speaking out against Taverner’s hiring.
Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Sylvia Jones said the decision to fire Blair came from the public service.
“There was zero political influence on this decision,” Jones said. “For me to start questioning my deputy minister would have been absolutely inappropriate.”
Deputy minister Mario Di Tommaso wrote in a memo on Friday that he had recommended the termination to the Public Service Commission because Blair had contravened “his legal and ethical responsibilities as a deputy commissioner and senior public servant.”
A day earlier, the president of the Ontario Provincial Police Association had written to Di Tommaso expressing concern that Blair’s public court filings, including internal OPP documents, have had adverse impacts on his members, in particular a protection officer for Ford.
Di Tommaso is also a former boss of Taverner’s and was part of the three-person hiring panel that selected Taverner as OPP commissioner.
Jones rejected suggestions that Di Tommaso’s involvement in Blair’s firing was inappropriate, saying he is in charge of the ministry’s public safety division.
“It makes imminent sense that he would be involved in OPP hiring, in OPP decisions, in OPP oversight,” she said.
Liberal Nathalie Des Rosiers asked the chair of the legislature’s justice committee to call Di Tommaso to testify.
Taverner’s appointment has been delayed until the integrity commissioner completes an investigation.
Blair initially requested an ombudsman investigation in December, amid what he called “growing concerns of political interference” in the hiring process. He said it had deeply affected the morale of rank and file officers.
The veteran officer, who was also in the running for the commissioner’s job, was acting OPP commissioner at the time he originally started his legal case, but soon after was removed from that position.
Blair’s lawyer Julian Falconer has alleged that Ford’s comments were meant to intimidate his client. Falconer did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Blair’s firing.
A Ford spokesman has denied that the premier’s statements were a reprisal against Blair.
Taverner, 72, initially did not meet the requirements listed for the commissioner position. The Ford government has admitted it lowered the requirements for the position to attract a wider range of candidates.