The Ford government fired deputy OPP commissioner Brad Blair in an “abuse of power” and without due process after he raised alarm bells over the hiring of the premier’s friend Ron Taverner as head of the police service, Blair’s lawyer said Wednesday.
Julian Falconer said it’s “bizarre” Blair was dismissed without any official warnings or proceedings under the Police Services Act despite protestations from Premier Doug Ford that he violated the act by releasing information about the hiring process and efforts to get Ford a customized travel van.
“God help you if you cross the premier. That’s the message,” Falconer added in a 42-minute conference call with reporters. “This is what abuse of power looks like in 2019.”
Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones has denied any political involvement in the firing, saying it was a decision by her deputy minister Mario Di Tommaso and approved by the nine-member public service commission.
The ouster of Blair on Monday has fuelled controversy over the growing Ford-Taverner-Di Tommaso affair with the premier skipping the last three days of the legislature’s question period, leaving Jones to field a barrage of queries from opposition parties on political machinations behind the scenes.
Falconer accused Di Tommaso of a conflict of interest because he was on the hiring panel, is a former supervisor of Taverner’s at Toronto police, has appeared in social media pictures with Ford and Taverner at golf tournaments, and is named in Blair’s court action aimed at forcing Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dube to investigate political interference in Taverner’s appointment.
“He’s in a blatant conflict of interest and should have nothing to do with Brad Blair,” the lawyer said, refusing to discuss next steps for his client until decisions have been made.
The firing of Blair followed “secret deliberations” of the public service commission without the 33-year veteran of the force being allowed any opportunity to speak, Falconer noted.
“This stinks to high heaven,” he added, calling the measures “mercurial.”
“They’re making it up as they go along.”
The appointment of Taverner, 72, is on hold at his own request while provincial integrity commissioner J. David Wake conducts a probe into NDP allegations of political interference in the hiring — which Ford has denied.
More to come
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1