Hearing into whether ombudsman should examine Taverner appointment won’t be fast tracked, judge says

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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.

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

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Acting OPP chief asks court to examine ombudsman’s decision not to review Ron Taverner appointment

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The acting head of the Ontario Provincial Police has asked a court to rule whether the provincial ombudsman can review the hiring process that saw Toronto police Supt. Ron Taverner named as the next OPP commissioner.

The move came Friday, after Ontario ombudsman Paul Dubé turned down a request earlier in the week from Interim Commissioner Brad Blair to probe “potential political interference” in the appointment.

Taverner, a close friend of Premier Doug Ford, is expected to be sworn in as commissioner on Monday. In his original request to the ombudsman on Tuesday, Blair asked that Taverner’s installation to be delayed pending his requested review of the appointment.

According to a statement from Blair’s lawyer late Friday afternoon, Dubé “refused to exercise his jurisdiction to review Commissioner Blair’s request.”

In response, and in one of his final acts as interim commissioner, Blair filed an application to a divisional court “to determine and enforce the jurisdiction” of the ombudsman to review the OPP commissioner hiring process.

“If the Ombudsman does not review the complaint, the independence of the OPP will continue to operate under a cloud of suspicion,” reads the application.

“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.”

The application is relying on a section of Ontario’s Ombudsman Act, which states that when there is a question about whether the ombudsman has the jurisdiction to investigate any case, a directly affected person — in this case Blair — “may apply to the divisional court for a declaration.”

A spokesperson for the ombudsman’s office could not be immediately reached for comment Friday afternoon.

Earlier Friday, the NDP made a personal appeal to Taverner, urging him to delay the appointment until an investigation has wrapped up — and, in a separate letter, called on the province’s attorney general to “stop his swearing in” if he doesn’t.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath says Taverner’s appointment is too fraught with controversy, given his close connection to Ford, and said “officers and leadership of the OPP, as well as the people of Ontario must have absolute confidence there has been no political interference … and that there will be no political interference in policing matters going forward.”

In a letter to Taverner, she said he should “do the right thing.

“That is why I am asking you to delay your installation and assuming command of the OPP until a full investigation … has been completed,” Horwath wrote.

She also accused Ford of demonstrating “poor judgment and a lack of transparency.”

In a second letter sent to Attorney General Caroline Mulroney, Deputy NDP Leader Sara Singh said “this appointment cannot go ahead under this growing cloud of suspicion … as Ontario’s attorney general and the chief prosecutor your first duty is to uphold the law … it is incumbent upon you to use your influence and authority as attorney general to intervene in this process and stop the swearing in of Supt. Taverner” for now.

Taverner’s appointment, announced Nov. 29, has dogged by speculation that Ford interfered in the hiring process.

The Star’s Kevin Donovan has revealed that Taverner was previously offered to lead the Ontario Cannabis Store, as well as a deputy minister position in the ministry of community safety with a source saying: “Doug wanted to do something for Taverner. That is what we are hearing.”

Both Ford and Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones have accused critics of slinging mud at the 72-year-old Toronto police superintendent, who has headed divisions in Etobicoke.

Taverner officially resigned from the Toronto police Friday and is set to begin his new job Monday.

Ford recently told reporters he did not recuse himself and signed off on the appointment.

Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones has said she supports Taverner, and that the appointment to the $275,000 position was made by an independent panel.

The NDP is personally appealing to Ron Taverner, urging him to delay taking the top OPP job until an investigation into his appointment has wrapped up — and if he doesn’t, Ontario’s attorney general is being asked to step in to stop his swearing in.

In two letters released Friday afternoon by the NDP, Leader Andrea Horwath says Taverner’s appointment as commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police is too fraught with controversy given his close connection to Premier Doug Ford, and said “officers and leadership of the OPP, as well as the people of Ontario must have absolute confidence there has been no political interference … and that there will be no political interference in policing matters going forward.”

She says Taverner should “do the right thing. That is why I am asking you to delay your installation and assuming command of the OPP until a full investigation … has been completed.”

In a second letter sent to Mulroney, Deputy NDP Leader Sara Singh says “this appointment cannot go ahead under this growing cloud of suspicion … as Ontario’s attorney general and the chief prosecutor your first duty is to uphold the law … it is incumbent upon you to use your influence and authority as attorney general to intervene in this process and stop the swearing in of Supt. Taverner” for now.

Taverner’s appointment, announced Nov. 29, has been lauded by some but heavily criticized by others who alleged Ford interfered in the hiring process.

Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at wgillis@thestar.ca or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis

Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy

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