Doug Ford’s friend was named Ontario’s new OPP chief. Why that’s now causing political uproar


Did Ontario Premier Doug Ford interfere in the naming of the new head of the Ontario Provincial Police?

That is the question currently consuming provincial politics and that prompted the interim head of the force, Brad Blair, to issue a letter on Tuesday night calling on the Ontario ombudsman to review the appointment of longtime Ford family friend Ron Taverner to the top police job.

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READ MORE: Interim OPP commissioner calls for review of Ron Taverner appointment

That appointment came after the job criteria, which Taverner did not initially meet, were changed.

Ford has denied any involvement in the hiring process and on Wednesday, Sylvia Jones, the provincial community safety minister, said her office will co-operate with any review if the ombudsman decides to pursue one.

But Jones also questioned Blair’s motivation for raising the issue in her statement, arguing the allegations are “unfounded” and have “unfairly maligned” the Ontario Provincial Police.

WATCH BELOW: Horwath accuses Ford of playing direct role in Ron Taverner’s hiring

Ford did not address the matter or take questions from reporters following a speech on Wednesday morning.

However, the matter is expected to dominate the political conversation until Taverner is sworn in on Dec. 17.

Here is everything you need to know about the uproar.

Who is the new commissioner?

Rob Taverner, 72, is a divisional superintendent from northwestern Toronto and serves with the municipal police force.

His career spans more than 50 years and includes work spent working on organized crime and intelligence cases.

READ MORE: Veteran Toronto Police Supt. Ron Taverner appointed OPP commissioner

Mark Saunders, current chief of the Toronto Police Service, praised his appointment, as did Althea Martin Risden, director of health promotion at Rexdale Community Health Centre.

He has been awarded the Order of Merit of the Police Forces, which recognizes exceptional service by Canadian police force members.

But he is also a longtime friend of both Ford and his family and has spent years policing in and around Etobicoke — the Fords’ home turf.

Why does that have some concerned?

Blair and opposition critics argue potential bias stemming from that friendship could be a problem if the Ontario Provincial Police ever has to investigate activities by either Ford, his associates or his government as the force did when it took over Project Brazen 2 from Toronto police in 2014.

That investigation saw the provincial police target both the late Rob Ford and his friend, Alessandro Lisi.

READ MORE: Veteran Toronto Police Supt. Ron Taverner appointed OPP commissioner

Lisi was charged with extortion and drug-related offences in connection with the Rob Ford crack-smoking incident of 2013.

He was acquitted of the drug charges in 2015 and in 2016, the extortion charge was withdrawn.

Blair also raised questions in his letter about potentially problematic relations already existing between Ford’s team and the provincial police force.

In his letter to the ombudsman, Blair pointed to two specific cases he argued raised red flags.

WATCH BELOW: Doug Ford says he had no role in appointment of new OPP commissioner

“A concerning history already exists between Premier Ford’s office and the OPP,” he wrote.

Blair said he was referring to “requests from Premier Ford for a specific security detail, staffed with specific officers that Premier Ford would feel comfortable with,” and alleged that Ford suggested, “If [former OPP] Commissioner [Vince] Hawkes would not address the issue, perhaps a new commissioner would.”

He said Ford’s requests were subsequently approved.

However, it is not clear why Ford may have had concerns about how comfortable he was with existing security details or why he wanted specific officers assigned to his detail.

As well, Blair also alleged Dean French, chief of staff to Ford, asked the provincial police to buy a “large camper-type vehicle” for the premier, then have it customized and the costs “kept off the books.”

How did Taverner get the top cop job?

Ask Blair, and the suggestion is “political interference.”

But ask the premier or his government, and the answer is because he was the best-qualified candidate.

READ MORE: Ford says he wasn’t involved in hiring of family friend Ron Taverner as OPP commissioner

The issue at the heart of the matter is that Taverner got the job after the criteria initially set out for the posting were lowered.

Why they were lowered remains unclear.

WATCH BELOW: Ford explains independent panel selected new OPP commissioner, not him

In his letter to the ombudsman, Blair wrote that the original job posting that went online on Oct. 22 listed two core requirements for applicants.

First, a successful candidate would need to be an “experienced executive with a background in police.”

Second, they needed a “track record and demonstrated ability to provide executive leadership in a complex policing organization at the rank of deputy police chief or higher, or assistant commissioner or higher in a major police service.”

WATCH BELOW: Incoming OPP commissioner’s qualifications are being questioned

Both have been requirements in place for OPP commissioners since 2006, Blair wrote.

Yet on Oct. 24, the second criteria, setting out specific rank experience, was removed from the posting.

Jones says that change was made by the hiring firm in charge of the process in order to “make sure that the best person to head our OPP was going to apply” and to “broaden the potential pool of applicants,” of which there were 27.

Only four, Blair wrote, did not meet the original rank criteria.

What happens next?

Barring any changes, Taverner will be sworn in as commissioner on Dec. 17.

His term will last three years.

No decision has yet been announced from the ombudsman as to whether the office will launch the investigation requested by Blair.

But Global News has learned the Office of the Integrity Commissioner of Ontario has opened up an investigation into Taverner’s appointment.

That investigation comes after both NDP MPP Kevin Yarde and Liberal interim leader John Fraser filed formal complaints.

The results are yet to be determined.

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