Taverner is a longtime friend of the Ford family.
“Police forces need to be free from political influence, real or perceived,” said NDP MPP Kevin Yarde in a statement released Friday.
“With this appointment, Doug Ford is promoting a close friend and ally by several ranks, leapfrogging the OPP’s senior leadership team without an explanation.”
The statement noted the OPP is the police force most likely to investigate the actions of the government, political parties and elected officials. It was the force that investigated and laid charges in the deleted documents gas plants scandal that resulted in the conviction of the chief of staff to former Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty.
Taverner, 72, joined the Toronto police in 1967 and is currently superintendent to three suburban divisions in the city’s west end, an area the Ford family has called home for decades.
As unit commander of 23 Division, Taverner forged a relationship with Ford’s late brother, Rob Ford, while Rob was a city councillor. He has attended Ford family barbecues and informal breakfast meetings with the brothers. In 2016, he accompanied Doug Ford and Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders on a private plane to Chicago to take in a Blackhawks game, part of a prize package purchased at a charity auction.
Taverner spoke about Rob Ford’s support of police after the former mayor’s death in 2016. “Even in hospital, he was taking constituents’ calls. Anything related to a policing issue, he’d leave me a message late at night,” Taverner told the Etobicoke Guardian.
Criticism of Taverner’s appointment hasn’t just come from political opponents.
Chris Lewis, who served as OPP commissioner from 2010-14 and is now a TV commentator, said “the fix” was in because of Taverner’s ties to Ford.
“The decision was the premier’s. There’s old relationships there, we all know it, and I think it is a travesty this occurred,” Lewis told CP24.
Lewis also questioned the province’s decision to choose someone who has spent his entire policing career with the Toronto force.
“I think it’s a real kick to the OPP, and the senior officers in that organization that know this province and know their organization, and they pick somebody from the outside with very limited experience.”
Taverner wrote in an email to the Star that he spoke to Lewis on Friday, and that Lewis “stated clearly” that his criticism was not intended as a personal attack.
“That said, his remarks are his opinion which he is entitled to have about my T.O. experience and if it is relevant to the OPP, my opinion is I do have over 50 years of policing experience in many aspects of the profession,” Taverner wrote. He did not respond to a question about Lewis suggesting the “fix” was in because of his Ford family ties.
Rob Jamieson, president of the Ontario Provincial Police Association, distanced himself from Lewis’s “disparaging” comments.
“I would think that in many ways, if he (Taverner) … has a relationship with the premier I think that can be very beneficial,” Jamieson, whose union represents 6,200 uniform and approximately 3,600 civilian members, said Friday.
“Many of the things that we need to get done are about relationships, and so if he has relationships with the premier or other people, I think that can be used as a positive.”
Jamieson said he is not concerned that Taverner’s policing experience has been exclusively in Toronto. Of the last four OPP commissioners, three were internal hires; the fourth, former Toronto police chief Julian Fantino, had also led the police forces in London and York Region.
“We all do the same job. Yes there’s different nuances, there’s different communities but we’re out there to serve and protect and it’s about public safety,” Jamieson said.
Betsy Powell is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and courts. Follow her on Twitter: @powellbetsy
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