Judge denies expedited hearing on ombudsman investigation into Taverner's hiring
Codi Wilson and Joshua Freeman, CP24.com
Published Monday, January 14, 2019 6:30AM EST
Last Updated Monday, January 14, 2019 3:31PM EST
A judge has denied a request to fast-track a case trying to force the province’s ombudsman to investigate the hiring of a close family friend of Premier Doug Ford for the position of OPP commissioner.
A lawyer for OPP Deputy Commissioner Brad Blair appeared in a Toronto courtroom this morning to ask for an expedited hearing on an ombudsman investigation into the hiring of incoming OPP commissioner Ron Taverner.
Blair, who also applied to become OPP commissioner, previously asked that Ontario’s ombudsman Paul Dube investigate the hiring. Blair cited concerns about political inference by Ford, a long-time friend of Taverner.
When the request was denied, Blair took his case to the courts to try to compel the ombudsman to investigate.
An Ontario Divisional Court ruled Monday that Blair’s lawyer Julian Falconer failed to establish urgency in order to expedite the case. However Justice Herman Wilton-Siegel said the matter should be dealt with in a timely fashion.
The province’s integrity commissioner has launched a review into Taverner’s hiring but in court documents filed ahead of today’s hearing, Falconer suggests that the ombudsman’s investigation would be broader.
Falconer also said that even if the integrity commissioner’s investigation finds wrongdoing, the legislature could reject any recommendations on penalizing the member found to have violated integrity rules.
Premier says commissioner job is a political appointment
The job listing for the OPP commissioner position originally included requirements that would have ruled out Taverner. However the listing was taken down and then reposted with a different set of requirements that allowed Taverner to apply. According to the government, the post was modified in order to attract a broader pool of applicants. But the move raised eyebrows given Ford’s personal relationship with Taverner.
The premier has previously denied having any involvement in Taverner’s selection and has said that the appointment will take effect as soon as the integrity review is complete.
Speaking with CP24’s Nathan Downer on Mondayhowever, the premier called the job a “political appointment” and said he is within his rights to pick anyone he likes.
“As far as I’m concerned this has been blown out of proportion,” Ford said. “Nathan, if I wanted to, I could appoint you OPP commissioner. It’s a political appointment. Kathleen Wynne had a political appointment, Dalton McGuinty, and the 14 other premiers prior to that. It’s a political appointment.”
He dismissed Blair’s concerns as “sour grapes” and called his reaction “very disappointing.”
Blair had been a candidate for the job as well. He was placed in the role of interim commissioner after the previous OPP commissioner retired.
Appointment could lead to ‘void in accountability’: Falconer
Speaking with reporters outside of the courtroom Monday, Falconer said his client’s urgency in trying to get the ombudsman to review the matter stems from a desire to protect public safety.
“Brad Blair was trusted with the mantle of interim commissioner. That mantle includes leading the men and women of the OPP, as well as protecting the public,” Falconer said. “He has laid out in very clear terms why he thinks the integrity and perceived independence of the OPP is at stake, and therefore the safety of the public is at stake. That’s his job and frankly he’s facing serious professional and personal jeopardy for doing his job.”
Falconer said the appointment could lead to “an utter void in accountability.”
“That is what we say is of compelling public interest that needs to be addressed as quickly as possible,” he added.
He said it’s important that questions around the appointment are answered before it takes effect, but said he will do his best to work within the timeline allowed by the judge.
“Weeks make a difference in whether the process, under the taint that it is, will result in a commissioner being appointed before this is cleared up,” Falconer said. “So weeks can make a huge difference. But at the same time I hear the judge and we’ll all do our best to work within the confines of what he’s directed.”
Falconer also argued in court that the hearing should be expedited out of a concern for possible reprisal against his client.
“It is my view that reprisal is purely a function of his seeking an investigation,” Falconer said in court. “If an investigation were commenced formally, his vulnerability would be reduced.”
Since bringing his court case, Blair has been removed from his post as acting OPP commissioner.
But speaking with reporters afterward, Falconer declined to elaborate on what he meant by “reprisal.”
In rejecting the motion for an expedited hearing, Justice Wilton-Siegel also pointed out that whatever his findings, the ombudsman would not have any power to block Taverner’s appointment.
The hearing is expected to take place sometime in April or May, Falconer said.
-With files from The Canadian Press