Government was wrong in firing Brad Blair, did not follow proper process: lawyer

TORONTO -- Premier Doug Ford's government engaged in an "abuse of power" when it fired a former high-ranking provincial police officer without giving him a chance to defend himself, the man's lawyer alleged Wednesday.

Julian Falconer claimed his client, former OPP deputy commissioner Brad Blair, was dismissed because he spoke out against the hiring of a long-time friend of Ford's as head of the force.

Falconer said Blair's firing on Monday is "legally suspect" and did not follow the disciplinary process set out by the province's Police Services Act, the law that governs the conduct of every officer.

"This is what abuse of power looks like in 2019," the lawyer said.

Falconer's claims are the latest development in the ongoing controversy surrounding the Ford government's hiring of Ron Taverner as OPP commissioner late last year.

Taverner, 72, 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. His appointment has been put on hold while the province's integrity commissioner probes the hiring process.

Blair, who was also a candidate for that job, voiced concerns about Taverner's hiring and launched a legal challenge to force Ontario's ombudsman to investigate it. Blair alleged this week that his dismissal was an attempt to muzzle him.

The government has denied any political interference in Blair's firing as deputy commissioner, and said the decision came from the public service because Blair released confidential OPP information through his court filings.

It did not respond Wednesday to Falconer's claims.

Falconer said the province had the power to demote Blair from his role of deputy commissioner but did not have the authority to fire him the way it did. By avoiding use of the Police Services Act, the government has dodged any potential tribunal hearing that would have given Blair an opportunity to defend himself, the lawyer said.

"Imagine firing somebody without them even having an opportunity to respond to the allegations," Falconer said. "This stinks to high heaven."

Falconer could not say what steps his client will take next, but added that Blair is "undeterred" by his termination and won't be silenced.

"Brad Blair ... was summarily fired in an outrageous fashion and he and his family are devastated," he said. "He understands and knew that when you are trying to speak truth to power, when you are trying to shed light on abuse of power, you will become a target."

NDP legislator Taras Natyshak said Falconer's comments lend further credence to the New Democrats' call for a public inquiry into the affair. He also chided Ford, who has not been at the legislature since Blair's firing, for not addressing the issue publicly.

"Show some guts, show some integrity, show your face in this house and answer some questions," he said.

Earlier in the day, Government House Leader Todd Smith defended Ford's absence by saying the premier has a busy schedule and many demands on his time.

"The premier makes himself available when he sees fit," he said.

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said Falconer's statement raises concerns about that a breach of public trust has occurred and also called for a public inquiry.

"The separation of political interference from the police is a fundamental tenet of our democracy," Schreiner said in a statement. "It separates us from countries where corrupt leaders use the police to do their dirty work."