TORONTO — The firing of a high-ranking provincial police officer waging a legal battle over the controversial appointment of Ontario's top cop renewed accusations of political interference Monday that 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 is also 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 said. "For me to start questioning my deputy minister would have been absolutely inappropriate.''
Shortly after a press conference in which after 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 said.
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 is also a former boss of Taverner's and was part of the three-person hiring panel that selected Taverner 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 said.
Blair's lawyer did not respond to request for comment.
It makes imminent sense that he would be involved in OPP hiring, in OPP decisions, in OPP oversight.Sylvia Jones
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 said. "Good people who have dedicated their lives to this province, who have brought integrity to the OPP, are being thrown under the bus.''
Liberal Nathalie Des Rosiers asked the chair of the legislature's justice committee to call Di Tommaso to testify.
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner 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.''
Other accusations of interference
Ford's government has faced similar criticism in the past.
Washington state regulators said late last year that they would not allow Ontario's largest utility to buy American energy company Avista for fear the provincial government, which owns 47 per cent of Hydro One's shares, might meddle in Avista's operations.
In another case, opposition parties are called on Ford in November to address allegations that his chief of staff sought to interfere in police investigations into illegal cannabis dispensaries. Dean French is alleged to have unsuccessfully ordered senior political aides to instruct police to raid dispensaries the day recreational cannabis became legal.
Blair initially requested an ombudsman investigation into Taverner's appointment in December, amid what he called "growing concerns of political interference'' in the hiring process. He said it had deeply affected the morale of rank and file officers.
Public court filings in Blair's case attempting to force the ombudsman to investigate Taverner's hiring contain an account written by an OPP officer who is part of Ford's detail. The premier allegedly asked to be able to choose the officers who protect him and complained about the response to his request.
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Other messages in the package outline Ford's request of the police service for a custom-built van that was to include a 32-inch television with Blu-Ray player, a mini-fridge, black leather captain's chairs and a reclining leather sofa bench.
Ford, in turn, has accused Blair of breaking the Police Services Act, and Blair is now threatening a defamation lawsuit over those comments. A Ford spokesman has denied that the premier's statements were a reprisal against Blair.
The veteran officer, who was also in the running for the commissioner's job, was acting OPP commissioner at the time he started his legal case but soon after was removed from that position.
Days later, Di Tomasso wrote to Blair to warn him that his oath as public servant required him to maintain confidentiality. The letter should not be construed as "disciplinary in nature,'' Di Tomasso wrote, but Blair was expected to comply in the future.
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