The interim commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police has formally asked the province’s ombudsman to review the hiring of Toronto police Supt. Ron Taverner as the OPP’s next commissioner, and delay his start date.

In a letter to the ombudsman, Brad Blair, the interim leader of the provincial police force, cites “growing concerns” among those in the legislature and the general public “about the hiring process of the new OPP commissioner.”

Taverner’s appointment was announced by the Ford government late last month, in a news release issued by Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Sylvia Jones.

“With over 50 years’ experience, Ron brings the support of front-line officers, community leaders and our respected law enforcement professionals,” the statement read.

Taverner has been in policing since 1967. Most recently, he was the unit commander of Toronto’s 12, 23 and 31 Divisions, which encompass large parts of Etobicoke.

His appointment raised concerns due to his friendship with Premier Doug Ford and revelations that the government lowered the qualifications for the job partway through the hiring process.

“If the hiring process remains enveloped in questions of political interference, the result will be irreparable damage to police independence in the third largest deployed police service in North America,” Blair states in his request to ombudsman Paul Dubé.

The interim commissioner says the lingering questions have “affected the morale of the rank and file.”

Blair does note that his request is based on his professional obligations as well as his “personal capacity” as a candidate for the top job.

He lays out the following concerns about the hiring process:

  • An initial job posting, dated Oct. 22, asked for experience “at the rank of Deputy Police Chief of higher, or Assistant Commissioner or higher in a major police service,” Blair notes. The posting, he says, was changed two days later to remove the minimum rank requirement
  • One of the three people conducting interviews in the first round was Deputy Minister of Community Safety Mario Di Tommaso, who “served as Superintendent Taverner’s direct supervisor” with the Toronto Police Service, the letter states.
  • Dean French, the premier’s chief of staff was supposed to be among the panel conducting the second round of interviews, Blair states. He notes that 10 minutes before his interview started, he saw French walk out of the building and was told French would no longer be on the panel.
  • OPP corporate communications received an email on Nov. 20, Blair says, stating that the name of the new commissioner could be revealed as early as that day and requesting a draft news release. Blair notes this leads him to believe the decision had already been made, despite a cabinet meeting to review the appointment not being scheduled until the following day.

Blair also notes concerns he has about the relationship between the Premier’s Office and the OPP. He says the premier asked for “a specific security detail, staffed with specific officers,” and told former OPP commissioner Vince Hawkes that if he couldn’t address the request, “perhaps a new commissioner would.” Blair notes the request was later fulfilled.

Blair also raises concerns about a potential violation of financial policies. The interim commissioner says the premier’s chief of staff, Dean French, asked the OPP to purchase a “larger camper type vehicle and have it modified to the specifications the Premier’s office would provide.” Blair notes that French “then provided specifications and costs via a document from a company … and asked that costs associated with the vehicle be kept off the books.”

Taverner is expected to assume command on Dec. 17, but Blair is asking that be delayed until the request is addressed, to avoid any “dysfunction in the Service and undermine the command of the Service.”

The Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario said it is their policy to not comment on specific complaints.

The Premier’s Office did not respond to request for comment, but Ford has previously denied any interference.

"I had zero influence," he said in the legislature last week. " No matter who it was I would have accepted."

-With files from The Canadian Press