Toronto police Supt. Ron Taverner fell and suffered a “moderate to severe” concussion last week, according to his family doctor — seven days before he was scheduled to take the stand Tuesday in a high-profile but much-delayed workplace sexual harassment case.
Instead of hearing from Taverner, a close friend of Premier Doug Ford and one of the final witnesses in the long-running case, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal heard from his family physician. In an unusual and hasty arrangement, Dr. David Greenberg gave evidence by phone with his own lawyer also on the line.
After suffering a fall that sent him to the hospital in July 9, Greenberg said Taverner, 72, should be off work for at least four to six weeks — but added that it’s “completely impossible” to know when he would regain the cognitive function necessary to testify.
“It’s pretty clear that he’s disabled, based on my assessment,” said Greenberg, who said he was a Canadian expert on concussions and is the general practitioner for the Toronto Argonauts football team.
The incident is only the latest delay in the case of Const. Heather McWilliam, whose 2014 application alleges she was subjected to a years-long campaign of gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment and solicitation within the Toronto police detachment overseen by Taverner.
As the case nears its conclusion, the delay in Taverner’s testimony has “thrown the proceeding a bit upside down, unfortunately,” said former Ontario Human Rights Tribunal vice-chair Jo-Anne Pickel.
Pickel, who has overseen the hearing since its start, has moved on to another job in Quebec, but took a leave of absence to finish the case after her departure first delayed the proceedings and then threatened to quash the case, which would have tossed 34 days of testimony from 32 witnesses.
Pickel ruled Tuesday that the hearing will await updates on Taverner’s health in the coming weeks with the hope that he can testify at rescheduled dates in mid-September. Greenberg stressed, however, that it is difficult to know when anyone with a concussion is ready to resume work, and said he will be checking in on Taverner every two weeks.
Speaking to reporters after the proceeding, McWilliam, who is off work on a medical leave, said the case and its delays have had “devastating effects” on her and her family. Asked how she felt hearing the news that Taverner, who was first supposed to testify in March, would not be taking the stand, she said she’d become numb.
“I’m really not surprised or shocked by anything, the way that this has lingered for five years,” she said. “I just prepare myself for anything.”
Taverner became embroiled in controversy last year after he was chosen to lead the Ontario Provincial Police before withdrawing his nomination over his ties to Ford. He remains the superintendent in charge of Toronto’s 23 Division, the north Etobicoke detachment where McWilliam worked. Although he is not named in McWilliam’s complaint, the tribunal has heard allegations he attempted to dissuade McWilliam from officially complaining about a supervisor who made sexually suggestive comments.
It’s not clear how Taverner was injured when he fell on July 9 and went to Humber River Hospital, where he underwent a CT scan of his brain and was later released.
After evaluating Taverner using a series of cognitive and physical tests called the “sport concussion assessment tool,” Greenberg diagnosed him with a “moderate to severe” concussion two days later. The incident wasn’t sports-related, the doctor said.
Greenberg wrote Taverner a note on Friday that excused him from work for four to six weeks.
Asked by Amandi Esonwanne, a lawyer for Toronto Police Services Board, if Greenberg had any doubts about whether Taverner fell and hit his head, the doctor stated he did not.
Greenberg did not go into the specifics of Taverner’s condition, but said concussions generally result in symptoms that can include headaches, fatigue, sensitivity to light and noise, and memory challenges.
He was called by the tribunal to determine whether any accommodations could be made to allow Taverner to testify sooner, such as dimming the lights or taking frequent breaks. Greenberg said it was difficult to predict when a concussion sufferer can resume everyday activities, noting that setbacks can occur when someone is pushed too far too soon.
McWilliam’s lawyer, Kate Hughes, has previously said her client was a “a bright, promising officer” who has had to put her life on hold since filing her complaint in 2014.
Since she came forward alleging a systemic problem with the way women are treated within the service, two other female Toronto police officers — Sgt. Jessica McInnis and Const. Firouzeh (Effy) Zarabi-Majd — have filed human rights claims making similar allegations about workplace sexual harassment.
McWilliam said Tuesday that she is aware that other officers are watching her case to see how it will play out, and right now are seeing a “waiting game.”
The hearing continues Wednesday.
Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis