NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is pushing legislation to protect the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s independence amid concerns over Premier Doug Ford naming a Toronto police officer to the watchdog.
Horwath is tabling a private member’s bill designed to keep the panel free from government interference, but Attorney General Doug Downey immediately shot it down and hailed the appointment of Const. Randall Arsenault.
In a heated exchange Wednesday in the legislature, Downey accused the NDP of “having no use for our front-line police officers — they don’t respect them, they don’t want their input, and they discount everything they have to say.”
An outraged Horwath said she’s “never seen such a shameful response from an attorney general.”
“Shame on a member of this cabinet to behave in such an undignified way when this is an extremely … important principle that we’re trying to ensure is upheld in the province of Ontario,” she thundered.
Horwath’s bill, which has little chance of passing in a majority Tory legislature, affirms that the commission is “independent and free from government interference in keeping with the United Nations Paris principles.”
“We can’t trust Doug Ford to stop meddling with the OHRC or using it as a political football,” the New Democrat said.
“Just like we didn’t trust him not to meddle with the OPP when he tried to have his good buddy, Ron Taverner, appointed as its commissioner,” she said.
That’s a reference to the 73-year-old Toronto police staff superintendent Ford wanted to lead the provincial force. Taverner withdrew his application after a firestorm of criticism.
The Star revealed earlier this year that the Tories had awarded Arsenault the part-time post that pays up to $10,000 a year.
Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane said Arsenault’s name was not on a shortlist she submitted to the attorney general for his perusal nor was he among the 330 applicants for the position.
Arsenault, who did not return messages from the Star, is an avid social media user with 59,000 followers on Instagram and about 33,000 on Twitter.
He has used his personal accounts to posted a photo of himself with the premier at the Ford Fest picnic in 2018 and has praised the Tory leader.
J. David Wake, the province’s integrity commissioner, last week ruled that Arsenault could be in a conflict of interest because the OHRC is investigating allegations of systemic racism at the Toronto police service.
Wake said the constable should not be permitted to “use provincial government resources, including time and email” or “participate in any lobbying activities directed at the provincial government.”
“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 wrote.
Despite Wake’s concerns and those of the opposition, Downey doubled down Wednesday.
“I am confident with the independence of the OHRC,” the attorney general said.
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“Mr. Arsenault’s credentials are unparalleled. He is exactly the kind of person that you would want on this commission,” he said.
In January, Ford praised him as a “top notch” addition to the human rights commission.
“You can’t ask for a better police officer than what the attorney general appointed,” the premier said at the time.