Interim OPP commissioner asks court to order ombudsman investigation into Taverner appointment

Interim Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Brad Blair wants an Ontario court to order the provincial ombudsman to investigate the appointment of Premier Doug Ford's family friend Ron Taverner as the new OPP commissioner. 

"If the Ombudsman does not review the complaint, the independence of the OPP will continue to operate under a cloud of suspicion," Blair said in his application to the court.

"This is a serious matter as the independence of the OPP — a body that can be called in to investigate provincial politicians — must be seen as legitimate in the eyes of the citizenry."

Blair sought Ontario ombudsman Paul Dubé's review of the hiring process for the position of the OPP commissioner on Tuesday and said Dubé twice refused his request. 

Linda Ward/CBC

Blair now wants Divisional Court to determine if the ombudsman has jurisdiction to investigate the hiring.

"We don't agree on the views the ombudsman takes of his role," said Julian Falconer, Blair's lawyer, adding Dubé's office is the appropriate place to conduct the probe. "If not there, where? How does this issue, which obviously is troubling a great many Ontarians, get resolved?"

Falconer said the ombudsman won't investigate because he believes the matter is out of his jurisdiction since the hiring was ultimately a decision made by cabinet. Falconer said Blair wants the watchdog to probe the hiring process conducted by a three-person committee tasked with selecting the new commissioner.

Linda Williamson, a spokeswoman for Dubé, said the watchdog's office won't comment on the matter at this time.

"Our office will respond to the court application," she said.

Horwath demanded investigations

On Wednesday, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath​ demanded that the government create a new committee to look into what role Ford played in Taverner's appointment.

"The independence of police forces is fundamental to the health of our democracy," she said. "Mr. Taverner's appointment cannot go ahead under this cloud of suspicion."

Horwath said police forces must be free of real or perceived political influences.

Ontario Provincial Police

"That is why I'm calling for the creation of a select committee of the legislature, a committee with equal representation from government and non-government MPPs and the full power to call witnesses and subpoena any relevant documents," she said.

Horwath appealed to Taverner directly, asking him to delay assuming control of the OPP and "do the right thing." He is expected to assume his post on Dec. 17.

She also backed Blair's call for a review of Taverner's appointment by the ombudsman's office and called on the province's integrity commissioner to carry out his own investigation into the circumstances of the appointment in light of allegations of political interference.

She made the comments in a press conference in which she called on the RCMP to investigate an allegation that Ford's office asked the provincial police force to buy him a specialized "camper-type vehicle."

Province admitted to lowering requirements

Taverner, a longtime Ford ally who initially did not meet the requirements listed for the commissioner position, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The 72-year-old is set to take on his new role on Monday.

Days after naming Taverner as the new commissioner in late November, the Ford government admitted it lowered the requirements for the position to attract a wider range of candidates.

Earlier this week, Blair said in a letter to Dubé that the original job posting required candidates to have a rank of deputy police chief or higher, or assistant commissioner or higher, in a major police service — a threshold Taverner did not meet.

Of the 27 candidates, Blair — who was an applicant himself — contended only four did not meet the original threshold requirements.

Falconer said Blair's push for an investigation is aimed at clearing the cloud of suspicion around the hiring process — and in turn the provincial police service itself. The acting commissioner is not doing this for personal gain, he said.

"This is a significant personal sacrifice to him and his career," Falconer said. "This is not a great career boost for him. This is a tremendous amount of pressure, a true feeling of peril for him."

Falconer said he is hopeful the case will be heard in January or February but acknowledged it will not formally stop Taverner from assuming the role next week. But in a letter to Attorney General Caroline Mulroney and Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones, the lawyer calls on the government to postpone Taverner's transition into the role until a full investigation can be conducted.

"Suffice to say that while we cannot at this stage predict what the minister and the attorney general will do, that is certainly what Commissioner Blair is urging," he said.

When asked for comment Friday, Premier Doug Ford's spokesman Simon Jefferies referred The Canadian Press to comments made by Jones earlier in the week defending Taverner and the process that led to his appointment.

She said the government fully disputed the contents of Blair's original letter.

"We are not going to comment on Mr. Blair's motivations for using the office he holds to raise these issues," Jones said Wednesday. "The government stands by the process leading to the appointment of Mr. Taverner."