Process to hire next OPP commissioner must be independent: Horwath
TORONTO -- The process to appoint the next provincial police commissioner should be independent and free of Premier Doug Ford's "fingerprints," Ontario's Opposition leader said Thursday, after the winning candidate -- a friend of the Ford family -- pulled out of the running.
Ron Taverner, a longtime Toronto police superintendent, announced late Wednesday that he would no longer take the top job given the controversy surrounding his appointment, which included lowering requirements for the job after it was posted.
A deputy commissioner was among those who challenged Taverner's appointment and was fired earlier this week. Brad Blair asked the courts to force the provincial ombudsman to investigate Taverner's appointment. The government has denied political involvement in Blair's dismissal.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the selection process for the job of top cop needs to be beyond reproach.
"It needs to be a completely independent process," she said. "It can't have Doug Ford's fingerprints all over it. It can't be a friend of the family. It can't be somebody who has to have the qualifications reduced just so that they can qualify."
Interim Liberal leader John Fraser praised Taverner for withdrawing and said the Progressive Conservative government should acknowledge that his hiring "eroded trust" in the premier's office and the OPP.
"We must have a separation between police and the premier's office and our politicians," he said.
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner echoed that call.
"The premier needs to commit that nobody who's part of his personal circle is going to even consider applying for the job as OPP commissioner," he said.
Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones defended the process by which Taverner was selected and said the government did nothing wrong. She would not comment on the process to select the next commissioner or what that person's qualifications would have to be.
"I'm not going to presuppose who the next commissioner is," she said.
Ford, for his part, thanked Taverner for putting his name forward for role of the OPP commissioner, and chided the Opposition for what he said were personal attacks on the veteran officer since his appointment was announced in November.
"Our objective has been new leadership up at the OPP to fix the systemic problems that we're hearing non-stop from the front-line OPP officers," Ford said, without detailing what those issues were.
"We need a new vision for the OPP. One that puts the front-line officers and the safety of the people of Ontario above everything else. Bringing about this change at OPP will require new leadership."
Ford's spokesman Simon Jefferies said later that the premier has spoken with OPP officers who have expressed concerns about low morale among front-line cops and said their voices are not being heard.
Meanwhile, Blair's lawyer said his client felt vindicated in light of Taverner's withdrawal.
Blair, who was also a candidate for the top job, has alleged his termination was an attempt to muzzle him. His lawyer, Julian Falconer, says the firing was "legally suspect."
"Mr. Blair contests the legal validity of the termination of his employment as a sworn police officer of the OPP and he will seek full accountability and compensation for the actions leading to this termination," Falconer said in a statement Thursday.
"Last night's news vindicates Brad Blair's unwavering resolve to protect the OPP from political interference."
Blair has also threatened to sue Ford, alleging the premier damaged his reputation when he said Blair violated the Police Services Act by speaking out against Taverner's hiring. A Ford spokesman has denied that the premier's statements were a reprisal against Blair.