An Ontario Divisional court judge has ruled there’s no need for an expedited hearing that could force the ombudsman to investigate the appointment of a close friend of Premier Doug Ford to head the OPP.
Justice Herman Wilton-Siegel ruled Monday that there is no reason to jump the queue, though he wants the matter dealt with “in a timely manner.”
Deputy Commissioner Brad Blair, who served as interim OPP commissioner until going public with complaints about the Progressive Conservatives’ controversial hiring of Toronto police Supt. Ron Taverner, wants ombudsman Paul Dubé to review the matter.
“Public confidence is … essential in policing,” Blair’s lawyer, Julian Falconer, told the court, noting “political interference in the running of the OPP” should worry all Ontarians.
“This is not a personal attack on Mr. Taverner,” Falconer said of the long-time Ford friend.
“In the end, the stakes are very high,” he said, noting “Deputy Blair is concerned about reprisals” within the force for speaking out.
Outside court, Falconer declined to discuss what those reprisals were.
Wilton-Siegel stressed that no evidence of that was before the court.
Blair filed an application to Divisional Court “to determine and enforce the jurisdiction” of hiring process on an “expedited” basis.
But Dubé has declined to investigate, insisting it is beyond his jurisdiction.
“The ombudsman has no standing whatsoever to keep someone from being appointed,” said Frank Cesario, the ombudsman’s lawyer.
“The ombudsman simply has the power to make a report,” said Cesario.
Falconer countered that “there is some irony that I am debating with counsel for the ombudsman whether the ombudsman can be effective — it’s weird.”
Integrity commissioner J. David Wake is conducting a probe into the hiring after a complaint by New Democrat MPP Kevin Yarde (Brampton North).
Wake is examining whether the premier breached the Member’s Integrity Act in the appointment of Taverner, 72, whose Toronto police command in the northwest corner of the city includes the Ford home base of Etobicoke.
Falconer argued that report would be ineffective because the legislature can ignore it.
Ford’s government appointed Taverner OPP commissioner on Nov. 29, triggering concerns about the independence of the force, which has investigated provincial governments in the past.
The 51-year police veteran asked his appointment be postponed during the integrity commissioner’s review. Taverner has returned to his previous Toronto police duties in the meantime.
Ford has insisted he did not push for his friend to be hired, but he has blasted Blair for complaining.
In December, the premier said it was “sour grapes” because the 32-year OPP veteran was a runner-up to Taverner.
“There is a lot of misinformation going out there,” said Ford, pointing to Blair’s nine-page letter to Dubé on Dec. 11.
“I get it that he’s upset that he didn’t win a fair process. I understand. Did he step over the line on a lot of things? I’m going to let the media decide that — and I wish you would look into that actually,” he said
In his letter, the OPP deputy commissioner alleged the premier’s chief of staff, Dean French, asked the force “to purchase a large camper-type vehicle … modified to specifications the premier’s office would provide us” and keep the $50,000 customization costs “off the books.”
On Dec. 18, Ford called that “a baseless claim without merit.”
“That’s just not accurate whatsoever. I asked if they had a used one,” he said.
The premier did not say why he needed the van or why his office allegedly wanted the costs of customizing the van kept hidden. He is currently driven around in a police SUV.
Blair served as interim commissioner after the retirement of commissioner Vince Hawkes last fall.
In the wake of his letter to Dubé he was replaced by Gary Couture.
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1