Doug Ford is denying accusations he defamed Brad Blair, the Ontario Provincial Police deputy commissioner who was fired after exposing the Progressive Conservatives’ attempt to get the premier a customized police van.
On Friday, Ford’s lawyers filed a 38-page statement of defence in Blair’s $5-million libel action against the premier, arguing it was Blair who launched a “malicious and unprovoked personal and political attack and assault” against Ford.
“Brad Blair … improperly used his public position as interim commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police, the highest-ranking police officer in Ontario, as a platform for such personal and political attacks designed to harm Premier Ford and advance Mr. Blair’s personal and private interests,” the court filing states.
Blair was sacked from the OPP on March 4 after revealing government efforts to get Ford a police van with $50,000 in customized upgrades, including a reclining leather couch, a 32-inch TV with Blu-ray DVD player, and a mini-fridge.
The premier’s statement of defence disputes Blair’s claim that Dean French, Ford’s chief of staff, wanted the cost of the tricked-out “camper van” kept “off the books.”
Last month, Blair served the premier with a notice alleging libel and defamation, charging Ford was “malicious” and “grossly negligent” for stating incorrectly that the veteran police officer had breached the Police Services Act.
Neither the allegations against Ford nor his claims about Blair have been proven in court.
Blair’s dismissal came after he took legal action to contest the hiring of Ford’s friend Ron Taverner, a 72-year-old Toronto police superintendent, as the OPP commissioner.
His court filings in that case included internal OPP documents and emails about the customized van, which the government claims were improperly used.
The 21-page statement of claim filed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice said Ford’s remarks included the “demonstrably false” comment that Blair had “issued” retirement papers, along with accusations he broke the Police Services Act, when no charges were ever laid under the act governing police conduct.
Blair’s suit alleged Ford “was grossly negligent and failed to take all reasonable steps to ensure the accuracy of his public statements prior to making them, particularly in light of the weight attached to the premier’s office.”
Despite being twice warned the remarks were false, the statement of claim said, the premier “persisted in disseminating the defamatory remarks and took no steps to issue a public, full and final retraction.”
“Mr. Blair has suffered, and will continue to suffer, damage to his character and reputation, personally and professionally, within the policing community and the community at large. As well, Mr. Blair has been subjected to embarrassment, scandal, ridicule and contempt,” it said.
In the statement of defence, Tighe said Ford’s comments “do not mean … that Mr. Blair has been found to have committed misconduct under the Police Services Act” or “that Mr. Blair is an individual who breaks the law.”
The lawyer added that his client uttered the “the impugned words … at two media press conferences at which Premier Ford had no control over the questions asked by journalists.”
When Taverner was appointed as commissioner on Nov. 29, Blair was serving as interim commissioner and was a front-runner for the job.
Amid an ethics investigation that would ultimately clear Ford of wrongdoing, Taverner withdrew his name from consideration on March 6.
York Regional Police deputy Chief Thomas Carrique was appointed OPP commissioner on March 11.
Blair’s lawyer, Julian Falconer, did not return messages seeking comment on Friday.
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie