Ontario’s integrity watchdog has warned that Premier Doug Ford’s appointment of an active-duty Toronto police officer to the human rights commission creates conflicts of interest.
J. David Wake said Const. Randall Arsenault’s policing duties “could interfere with his abilities to perform his duties as an appointee” to the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC).
At the same time, the opposition New Democrats are urging Ford to nix the Arsenault appointment.
The integrity commissioner said he had “directed Mr. Arsenault, at a minimum, to recuse (or remove) himself from any OHRC discussions or decision-making related to the TPS (Toronto Police Service) inquiry or other policing services matters.”
As well he “cautioned Mr. Arsenault that he may need to be recused from additional OHRC matters, notably those related to the criminal justice system.”
The officer, who could not be reached for comment Friday, has been ordered to “recuse or remove” himself from all “discussions and decision-making at the TPS related to matters which fall under the jurisdiction of the OHRC.”
Nor is he is permitted to “use provincial government resources, including time and email” or “participate in any lobbying activities directed at the provincial government.”
With a nod to Arsenault’s avid use of Twitter and Instagram, Wake had stern words.
“Do not publicly comment, including through social media, on any subjects related to matters which fall under the jurisdiction of the OHRC,” the integrity commissioner said.
Arsenault has 59,000 followers on Instagram and almost 33,000 on Twitter. He has used his personal accounts to praise Ford in posts.
In January, Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane asked Wake to look at whether Arsenault’s new part-time role could lead to any conflicts given his employment with Toronto police.
Mandhane said Arsenault’s name was not on a shortlist given to the attorney general nor was he among the 330 applicants for the position.
She was worried about conflicts because the human rights commission is looking into issues involving the Toronto police and issues of racial profiling and discrimination.
The human rights commission said in a written statement that it is “aware of concerns raised by community groups about the appointment of an active-duty police officer … (and) assures the public that it will continue to take all necessary steps to protect its real and perceived integrity and independence.”
New Democrat MPP Laura Mae Lindo (Kitchener Centre) said “it’s time for Doug Ford to pull this appointment.”
“The integrity commissioner is clear: it will be almost impossible for Mr. Arsenault to serve on the Ontario Human Rights Commission without being in an untenable conflict,” she said.
Lindo said the rights group “is and must be independent from the premier’s office and Ford’s interference in this appointment raises serious concerns about it staying that way.”
After the Star revealed the controversial posting in January, the premier praised Arsenault as “top notch.”
“You can’t ask for a better police officer than what the attorney general appointed,” Ford said of the 19-year police veteran who is an Aboriginal liaison officer.
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Attorney General Doug Downey concurred, saying “if you look at his record, he is a phenomenal appointment. We went through all the appropriate processes to do the conflict checks, to do the background, to do that sort of thing.”
Commissioners are part-time and receive per diem compensation for their work, and are expected to work roughly two days a month and make no more than $10,000 annually.
In 2018, Ford tried to have a family friend installed as commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police. Toronto police Staff Supt. Ron Taverner withdrew his application last year after months of bad publicity for the Tories.