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No rules broken in selection of OPP head: Integrity commissioner
Chris Herhalt, CP24.com
Published Wednesday, March 20, 2019 1:41PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, March 20, 2019 5:47PM EDT
Premier Doug Ford did not violate provincial law during the now-aborted controversial hiring of Ron Taverner as OPP Commissioner but details of the process are “troubling,” Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner has found.
Last fall, the Ford Government announced the appointment of 72-year-old Toronto Police Supt. Taverner, who Ford says he counts as a friend, as the province’s top cop, prompting complaints from opposition legislators and Deputy OPP Commissioner Brad Blair.
“I found that the Premier stayed at arm’s length from the recruitment process and that he believed it to be independent,” Commissioner David J. Wake wrote in his report released Wednesday. “However I found that there were some troubling aspects of the recruitment process and ultimately made the finding that the process was flawed.”
Legislators, including NDP MPP Kevin Yarde and Liberal Interim Leader John Fraser, complained that Taverner was underqualified for the position, citing a change in the job requirements that removed the stipulation for past experience as a deputy chief at a major police service, which specifically benefitted Taverner.
They also pointed out that the new deputy minister of community safety, Mario Di Tommaso, was a former superior of Taverner at Toronto Police.
Wake found that Ford and Taverner communicated with each other at least several times per week since before the June 2018 election and have known each other for at least 15 years.
Amid an outcry, Taverner rescinded his resignation from Toronto police, eventually withdrawing his name from consideration for the job on Mar. 6.
Deputy Commissioner Brad Blair asked the provincial ombudsman to investigate the process and was fired from his job on Mar. 4. The government said that Blair contravened “his legal and ethical responsibilities as a deputy commissioner and senior public servant” in sharing privileged documents from court filings.
On Mar. 11, the province announced Thomas Carrique, a deputy chief at York Regional Police, would become the new OPP Commissioner.
"I would like to say this represents a complete vindication for our government," Premier Ford said in a statement issued after the report was released.
He said the opposition's complaints about the process were partisan attacks.
“We will not let disruptive partisan tactics from the opposition distract us. There is a concerted effort by those who will stop at nothing to protect the status quo.”
Ford offered Taverner $270K+ job at Ontario Cannabis Store
In the summer of 2018, Wake found that Premier Ford’s office wanted someone “with a policing background” put in the senior ranks of the fledgling Ontario Cannabis Store, which would begin online sales of marijuana that fall.
“Premier Ford indicated that in Aug. 2018, he approached Mr. Taverner about working in the OCS,” Wake wrote, adding this account was also confirmed in an interview with Taverner.
Wake also found that Taverner was offered a title of “Vice President of Community Affairs, or something” and a salary of $270,000 and a possible 10 per cent bonus deemed “risk pay,” according to Secretary of Cabinet Steve Orsini.
Ford’s Chief of Staff Dean French told Wake he disputed that any offer had been prepared, and said only that he recommended Taverner for the job but it did not have a set salary.
Wake found that Taverner did not accept the job because he did not want to leave law enforcement. He formally declined the job on Sept. 10.
Five days earlier, then-OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes’ retirement from policing was made public.
Wake found no evidence that anyone told Taverner to reject the Ontario Cannabis Store offer due to Hawkes’ pending retirement from the OPP.
“We all know Ron is going to get an interview”
As the preparations for hiring a new OPP commissioner got underway in Sept. 2018, an executive search firm called Odgers Berndtson asked then-deputy community safety minister Matt Torigian, who himself is a former police chief, to supply a list of 30 potential candidates who could replace Hawkes as OPP commissioner.
Wake found that Brad Blair was on this list, but Taverner “was not.”
Torigian told Wake that on Oct. 16 or 17, he had a phone call with Odgers Berndtson partner Sal Badali regarding the list of replacements.
“Mr. Torigian indicated that during this call, he told Mr. Badali that it would be wise to reach out to the deputy chiefs or chiefs of the ‘Big 12’ police forces in Ontario. He explained that Mr. Badali then pressed him about whether there was anyone he could think of,” Wake wrote.
Torigian then described a part of the phone call that indicated Taverner was on Badali’s radar.
“Well, there's one other name obviously out there that you're not going to get from me, because they're not qualified, but I'm sure you've heard there's interest in having this person apply, too," Torigian told Wake the conversation with Badali went. “And, I didn't give him the name. And, [Mr.Badali] half-chuckled and said, ‘Well, we all know Ron is going to get an interview, and we'll see where it goes’.”
Badali told Wake he could not recall that this discussion “ever took place.”
Badali also said he was not aware of Taverner until Oct. 19, after the call took place.
“Given the onus of proof in this matter I am unable to find that one version of what transpired in the October 16 call is more likely than the other so that is where I must leave it,” Wake wrote of what took place during the phone call.
Taverner interviewed well
By all accounts documented in Wake’s report, through two lengthy interviews and psychological testing, the six people who conducted the interviews said that Taverner provided thorough responses to questions and seemed well-prepared.
Top bureaucrat resigned to push delay to Taverner appointment
After the choice of Taverner was made public, there was significant public outcry concerning his closeness to Ford.
Secretary of Cabinet Orsini told Wake that he expressed concern to Ford’s Chief of Staff French about proceeding with the appointment of Taverner as OPP Commissioner without a review of the process, telling French it would be “very hard for him to work here,” if there wasn’t a delay.
On Dec. 14, after Ford said he was surprised he was being asked to delay Taverner’s appointment, Orsini sent Ford a letter indicated he would resign.
Wake found that French then emailed Orsini saying he would agree to delay Taverner’s appointment, name an interim OPP commissioner and refer the matter of Taverner’s hiring to the integrity commissioner for review.
Speaking on Wednesday, Ford said he had nothing but respect for the former chief civil servant of Ontario.
“Steve Orsini was an ultimate professional throughout the whole process and with his recommendation we went forward with referring the matter to the integrity commissioner. If Steve Orsini came through that door, I’d take him back in ten seconds.”
Read the full report below: