TORONTO — Ron Taverner says he is withdrawing from consideration to be the next commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police, citing the need to protect the integrity of front-line officers.
The 72-year-old Toronto police superintendent said in a statement Wednesday evening that he will not take on the role given the controversy surrounding his appointment late last year.
Taverner is a family friend of Premier Doug Ford, and his appointment set off accusations of political interference in the hiring process for the province's top policing job.
"This decision is not an easy one for me to make,'' Taverner said. "I believe the OPP requires new leadership and a change in culture at its most senior levels. The thousands of men and women who make up the front lines of the OPP deserve leadership that will put their concerns and well-being at the forefront of decision-making.''
Taverner initially did not meet the criteria listed for the commissioner position and the government has admitted it lowered the requirements to attract a wider range of candidates.
Ontario's Integrity Commissioner is probing the circumstances around Taverner's hiring, and a now-former OPP deputy commissioner has launched a legal challenge in a bid to force Ontario's ombudsman to investigate the hiring.
Brad Blair, who was also a candidate for the top job, has asked the courts to force the provincial ombudsman to investigate the hiring.
Ford thanked Taverner for putting his name forward in a statement of his own on Wednesday, saying his "50 years of policing experience and support for the front-lines would have been a tremendous asset to the OPP and to the people of Ontario.''
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Ford also lashed out at opposition parties who have been pressuring him for months to dump Taverner and re-start the hiring process.
"It is very unfortunate that the opposition has chosen to politicize this process rather than focusing on how we can support our front-line officers,'' he said.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said despite Taverner's withdrawal, a full investigation into the matter is still needed.
"Today, Supt. Ron Taverner did what Doug Ford has continuously refused to do, and preserved the OPP's integrity with his withdrawal,'' Horwath said in a statement. "This mysterious and abrupt about-face makes a full public inquiry into Doug Ford's meddling in the OPP all the more critical.''
Today, Supt. Ron Taverner did what Doug Ford has continuously refused to do, and preserved the OPP's integrity with his withdrawal.Andrea Horwath
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said the circumstances surrounding Taverner's appointment meant there was no way public trust could be maintained if he assumed the role. An independent appointment process to select a new commissioner must now move forward, he said.
"This decision is in the best interest of the OPP and the people of Ontario,'' Schreiner said in a statement. "The job as the province's highest ranking police officer is too important to be saddled with even the appearance of political interference.''
Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones said Interim Commissioner Gary Couture will remain in the position for the time being, and the government will "have more to say about the role of the commissioner in the near future.''
Taverner already returned to previous job
In December, Taverner rescinded his resignation from Toronto police and returned to his old job as unit commander of three divisions in the city's northwest end.
At that time, Taverner requested his appointment to the OPP's top job be delayed until an investigation into allegations of political interference in the hiring process was complete.
Ford has repeatedly defended Taverner, saying in December that he believed the officer would be appointed OPP Commissioner after the Integrity Commissioner finished his probe.
"This going to move forward,'' Ford said at the time. "Let the review take place, and I can tell you one thing, once it gets done, he will be the best commissioner the OPP has ever seen.''
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