The Canadian Press
TORONTO–The firing of a high-ranking provincial police officer waging a legal battle over the controversial appointment of Ontario’s top cop yesterday renewed accusations of political interference the government denied.
Deputy commissioner Brad Blair has asked the courts to force the provincial ombudsman to investigate the hiring of Toronto police Supt. Ron Taverner, a long-time friend of Premier Doug Ford, as the new OPP commissioner.
He also is threatening to sue Ford, alleging the premier damaged his reputation when Ford accused him of breaking the Police Services Act by speaking out against Taverner’s hiring.
Community Safety and Correctional Services minister Sylvia Jones said the decision to fire Blair came from the public service.
“There was zero political influence on this decision,” Jones stressed.
“For me to start questioning my deputy minister would have been absolutely inappropriate.”
Shortly after a press conference in which Jones refused to divulge the reasons for the firing, she stood in the legislature to say Blair had been warned about releasing confidential OPP information late last year.
He then did it again through subsequent filings in his case involving the ombudsman, she noted.
Deputy minister Mario Di Tommaso wrote in a memo on Friday that he had recommended the termination to the Public Service Commission because Blair had contravened “his legal and ethical responsibilities as a deputy commissioner and senior public servant.”
A day earlier, the president of the Ontario Provincial Police Association had written to Di Tommaso expressing concern that Blair’s public court filings, including internal OPP documents, have had adverse impacts on his members, in particular a protection officer for Ford.
Di Tommaso also is a former boss of Taverner’s and was part of the three-person hiring panel that selected him as OPP commissioner.
Taverner, 72, initially did not meet the requirements listed for the commissioner position. The Ford government has admitted it lowered the requirements for the position to attract a wider range of candidates.
His appointment has been delayed until the integrity commissioner completes an investigation into his hiring.
Jones rejected suggestions that Di Tommaso’s involvement in Blair’s firing was inappropriate, saying he is in charge of the ministry’s public safety division.
“It makes imminent sense that he would be involved in OPP hiring, in OPP decisions, in OPP oversight,” she remarked.
Blair’s lawyer did not respond to request for comment.
NDP leader Andrea Horwath said it appears the government is attempting to silence a vocal critic.
“This whole thing is a cesspool of interference by Mr. Ford,” she charged.
“Good people who have dedicated their lives to this province, who have brought integrity to the OPP, are being thrown under the bus.”
Liberal MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers asked the chair of the legislature’s justice committee to call Di Tommaso to testify.
Green Party leader Mike Schreiner, meanwhile, called on Ford to scrap Taverner’s appointment permanently and to hold a probe into the entire affair.
“I think we need an independent investigation to get to the bottom of this,” he said.
“The premier doesn’t have any credibility on this.”