Toronto cop named to human rights watchdog by Premier Doug Ford defends controversial appointment

The Toronto police officer named to the Ontario Human Rights Commission by Premier Doug Ford is defending the controversial appointment revealed by the Star.

Const. Randall Arsenault took to Twitter, where he has 32,000 followers on his verified account, to underscore his qualifications to serve on the independent rights watchdog.

“This is taken from the OHRC website. Very important differences, different duties. I encourage people who are interested to look into it further or ask. Off to bed for me, nightshift 2 of 6 completed,” Arsenault wrote Wednesday after working an overnight shift in his Scarborough detachment.

“It’s truly an honour to Serve and Protect. Be safe.”

Beneath that tweet, he posted the following:

“The Ontario Human Rights System is made up of three separate agencies:

1. The Ontario Human Rights Commission (that’s us) works to promote, protect and advance human rights through research, education, targeted legal action and policy development.

2. The Human Rights Legal Support Centre gives legal help to people who have experienced discrimination under the Code.

3. The Human Rights Tribunal is where human rights applications are filed and decided.”

Arsenault, who has not responded to queries from the Star, also thanked a supporter who said the 19-year police veteran “embodies the best in human decency” and is “a true public servant who consistently educates the community (sometimes through social media) on issues of discrimination.”

But others are concerned Ford quietly named an active police officer to the commission amidst an ongoing inquiry into allegations of racial profiling and discrimination against the Toronto Police Service.

On Twitter, Farrah Khan, a member of the commission’s community advisory group, said she was “very concerned by the choice of Premier Doug Ford to bypass the OHRC application process to self-appoint two people.”

“We need merit based appointments through a rigorous process to ensure independence of the commission,” said Khan, manager of Ryerson University’s Consent Comes First in the office of sexual violence support and education.

The Star disclosed Tuesday that Ford appointed Arsenault and Violetta Igneski, a McMaster University associate professor in philosophy with links to the Progressive Conservatives, to fill two commissioner positions on Jan. 14.

Renu Mandhane, Ontario’s chief commissioner of human rights, said she was “somewhat surprised” by the appointments because neither was among 330 applicants vying for the part-time posts that pay up to $10,000 a year.

Igneski, who has not responded to inquiries from the Star, is related to Jasmine Igneski, who served in senior roles in the governments of former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper and former Progressive Conservative premier Mike Harris.

Mandhane said late last year she delivered a short list of about 30 candidates — vetted from the 330 who applied — to Attorney General Doug Downey.

“Obviously, we were in the middle of a process that I thought we had agreed upon, so I was somewhat surprised to hear about the appointment of the two new commissioners,” she said Tuesday.

The chief commissioner said she was particularly “concerned” a Toronto police officer on active duty was named while the commission is conducting its inquiry into the force.

Downey’s office said Arsenault and Igneski were appointed “to support and advance the commission’s mandate to provide leadership for the promotion, protection and advancement of human rights, and builds partnerships across the human rights system.”

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The attorney general said it would be up to Mandhane “to manage potential conflicts between commissioners and their duties” as members of the commission.

Arsenault, an Aboriginal liaison officer with Toronto police, has 53,000 followers on Instagram, where he frequently posts selfies, messages and videos.

In Sept. 2018, he posted a picture on Instagram of himself and his partner with Ford at the premier’s Ford Fest picnic in Vaughan.

He wrote in the caption that officers “have been taking photos with politicians in all levels of government and all political parties for quite some time now. I was proud to stand beside our Premier Doug Ford.”

Toronto police spokesperson Meaghan Gray praised Arsenault’s “experience as a community-builder, youth mentor and Aboriginal liaison officer in his division” and said that would “make him a valuable asset to the OHRC and his experiences with the commission can only translate positively for the TPS.”

The patronage appointments come in the wake of a cronyism scandal last summer that rocked Ford’s office and forced him to part ways with his chief of staff, Dean French.

French resigned suddenly in June after it emerged his family and friends received plum jobs, including two, six-figure foreign postings.

Ford revoked those and five other people stepped down in the wake of the controversy.

Prior to that, the premier’s bid to have his family friend Ron Taverner, a 73-year-old Toronto police superintendent, installed as commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police was aborted.

Taverner withdrew his name from consideration after months of negative publicity for the Tories.

Since Ford’s election, the number of human rights commissioners went from nine to none, as all of the positions were allowed to lapse. The commissioners work with the chief commissioner, whose three-year term expires in October.

Commissioners receive per diems for their work, which includes mapping out the strategies and initiatives of the watchdog, which has powers to call inquiries like the one into the Toronto police. They also vet and approve reports and litigation.

Robert Benzie

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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