Ontario government delays controversial OPP commissioner appointment
Published Saturday, December 15, 2018 1:59PM EST Last Updated Saturday, December 15, 2018 4:46PM EST
TORONTO -- The Ontario government is delaying the appointment of the man set to become the province's top cop until an investigation into allegations of political interference in the hiring process is complete.
Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones says the government will respect Ron Taverner's request for a delay in his appointment, which was supposed to take place on Monday.
Instead, acting commissioner Brad Blair will be replaced at the helm of the OPP by Gary Couture, who is currently the force's deputy commissioner.
"I understand the preference for an alternative Interim Commissioner and will co-operate in every respect," Blair said in a statement released on Saturday.
Blair's lawyer, Julian Falconer, said in a conference call with media on Saturday that his client will be "regressed" from his role as interim commissioner on Monday.
On Friday, Blair asked the courts to order Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dube to investigate Taverner's hiring, after the ombudsman declined his request to carry out the probe.
Falconer said Saturday that Blair will continue with the legal proceedings.
Taverner, a longtime family friend of Premier Doug Ford, currently commands three divisions within the Toronto Police Service. The 72-year-old did not initially qualify for the role, but the government has said it lowered the requirements for the job to attract a wider range of candidates. Blair, who was among 27 candidates up for the commissioner position, has contended that only four did not meet the original threshold.
However, the Progressive Conservatives have repeatedly denied that the premier's office had anything to do with Taverner's hiring.
Taverner did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the delay, which he requested in an email to Jones that was obtained by The Canadian Press.
"Out of the greatest of respect for the brave men and women of the Ontario Provincial Police, I am requesting my appointment as commissioner be postponed until as such time the integrity commissioner has completed his review," he wrote in the email.
Falconer said he understands how it could look like Blair's push for an investigation is about his "personal agenda" but he said the commissioner is doing it to maintain the reputation and integrity of the OPP.
The Opposition NDP said on Saturday that in addition to the integrity commissioner's investigation, it is calling for an emergency select committee of the legislature to look into the process.
"We are relieved that Mr. Taverner will not be appointed on Monday," said NDP Deputy Leader Sara Singh. "However, we are still very concerned. I think this step will allow us to have some integrity and trust maintained within the Ontario police service."
Falconer said he believes a committee of MPPs could also be a beneficial avenue to investigate the possibility of political interference.