An Ontario Provincial Police deputy commissioner is headed to court to force the ombudsman to investigate the appointment of a friend of Premier Doug Ford to head the OPP.
Brad Blair, who served as interim commissioner until going public with complaints about the Progressive Conservatives’ controversial hiring of Toronto police Supt. Ron Taverner, will get his first day in court Monday.
Blair’s lawyer, Julian Falconer, filed an application to Divisional Court “to determine and enforce the jurisdiction” of ombudsman Paul Dubé to review the OPP commissioner hiring process on an “expedited” basis.
Dubé has declined to investigate, insisting it is beyond his jurisdiction.
There is “serious concern of the nefarious effect that perceived political interference would have on the perceived impartiality and integrity of the OPP, a matter of great public importance,” Falconer says in a notice of motion.
Integrity commissioner J. David Wake is already conducting a probe into the controversial hiring following a complaint by New Democrat MPP Kevin Yarde (Brampton North).
Wake is examining whether there was any political interference in the appointment of Taverner, 72, whose Toronto police command in the northwest corner of the city includes the Ford family turf of Etobicoke.
But Falconer argues that report will not be “an effective vehicle” in this situation.
“Any recommendations by the integrity commissioner will be put before the MPPs, in assembly, to decide, via a vote,” he writes. “Such a vote is final and conclusive. As the government of the day holds a majority …it would be unlikely that any findings of wrongdoing would be upheld.”
“If the ombudsman does not review the complaint, the independence of the OPP will continue to operate under a cloud of suspicions,” Falconer warns.
“This is a serious matter as the independence of the OPP — a body that can be called on to investigate provincial politicians — must be seen as legitimate in the eyes of the citizenry.”
Indeed, the force was called on to investigate deleted documents related to a previous Liberal government’s closure of gas-fired power plants before the 2011 provincial election. Last April, a top Liberal political aide was sentenced to four months in jail, pending an appeal.
Speaking for Dubé, lawyer Frank Cesario of the firm Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP, said in court documents to there is no need to “jump the Divisional Court’s normal queue for cases.”
“The appointment with which Mr. Blair takes issue has been put on hold …pending the integrity commissioner’s inquiry. That inquiry could take months.”
Ford’s government named Taverner as OPP commissioner on Nov. 29, sparking concerns about the independence of the force, which has investigated provincial governments in the past.
The 51-year police veteran asked his appointment be postponed and has returned to his old job overseeing three police divisions in Etobicoke during the integrity commissioner’s review.
Ford has said he did not push for his long-time chum to be hired, but he has criticized Blair for complaining.
Last month, the premier said it was “sour grapes” because the 32-year OPP veteran was a runner-up to Taverner.
“There is a lot of misinformation going out there,” said Ford, pointing to Blair’s explosive nine-page letter to Dubé on Dec. 11.
“I get it that he’s upset that he didn’t win a fair process. I understand. Did he step over the line on a lot of things? I’m going to let the media decide that — and I wish you would look into that actually,” he told reporters.
In his missive, the OPP deputy commissioner alleged the premier’s chief of staff, Dean French, asked the force “to purchase a large camper-type vehicle …modified to specifications the premier’s office would provide us” and keep the costs “off the books.”
On Dec. 18, Ford called that “a baseless claim without merit.”
“That’s just not accurate whatsoever. I asked if they had a used one,” he said at his most recent news conference.
The premier did not say why he needed the van or why his office allegedly wanted the costs of customizing the van kept hidden. He is currently driven around in a police SUV.
Blair served as interim commissioner after the retirement of commissioner Vince Hawkes last fall.
In the wake of his letter to Dubé he was replaced by Gary Couture.
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1