Premier Doug Ford is not backing down from remarks that prompted a $5-million defamation lawsuit against him by a former Ontario Provincial Police deputy commissioner
Brad Blair, who was fired from the OPP after revealing Progressive Conservative efforts to get the premier a police van with $50,000 in customized upgrades including a reclining leather couch, sued Ford last week for stating on several occasions that Blair had broached the Police Services Act.
Blair has not been charged with or convicted of anything under the legislation that governs police conduct.
Ford faced questions on the lawsuit Monday following an announcement at an Etobicoke car dealership.
“When I say something, I usually stick by it,” the premier told reporters after first saying, “I have no comment on that because it would be in front of the courts and the courts will decide.”
Blair’s lawsuit has not been tested in court. It says Ford’s statements were “grossly negligent,” “malicious” and “demonstrably false” when he said Blair violated the Police Services Act.
Blair launched a separate lawsuit in December aimed at forcing Ontario’s ombudsman to investigate the hiring of Ford’s friend Ron Taverner as OPP commissioner, which Blair argued put the independence of the country’s second-largest police force at risk.
Court filings in that case included OPP documents and emails about the van in correspondence with the premier’s office. Details included the desire for a 32-inch TV, Blu-ray DVD player and mini-fridge.
Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones has accused Blair of improperly using “confidential private information for his own personal gain.”
The government fired Blair on March 4.
Blair applied and was interviewed for the commissioner’s job but did not get it. Ford has dubbed Blair’s call for an investigation into Taverner’s selection as a case of “sour grapes.”
Ford’s office has said the Progressive Conservative Party will pay the premier’s legal fees in the defamation case. Ford’s lawyer has not yet filed a statement of defence.
“The premier’s concern is and always has been protecting and supporting the front-line OPP officers who put their lives on the line every day to protect our communities,” spokesman Simon Jefferies said last week.
“As the matter is before the courts, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
Taverner withdrew his name from consideration for the OPP’s top job on March 6 after months of controversy about his close relationship with the premier. An ethics investigation cleared Ford of any political interference in the appointment, but found “troubling aspects” and “flaws” in the hiring process.
The government later appointed York Regional Police deputy chief Thomas Carrique, who did not know Ford, as commissioner of the provincial police force.
With files from Robert Benzie
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1