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Ethics watchdog mum on probe of Taverner’s controversial appointment to head OPP

Ethics watchdog mum on probe of Taverner’s controversial appointment to head OPP
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Integrity commissioner J. David Wake is looking into whether there was any political interference in the hiring of Taverner, a long-time family friend of Premier Doug Ford.

Doug Ford and family friend and Toronto police Supt. Ron Taverner at a fundraising gala in 2016. Ford wants Taverner to be OPP commissioner.  (Kevin Viner / iPolitics)

“The office will not comment on an ongoing inquiry. I can tell you that the inquiry is in progress. I do not have any information on timelines,” Michelle Renaud, a senior adviser in the commissioner’s office, said Tuesday.

The Tories appointed Taverner, 72, as Ontario Provincial Police commissioner last November.

But the posting triggered a firestorm of criticism because of the 51-year police veteran’s close relationship to the Ford family and concerns about the independence of the OPP, Canada’s second-largest force.

NDP MPP Kevin Yarde (Brampton North) formally requested Wake investigate the appointment.

Taverner, who did not return messages from the Star on Tuesday, voluntarily returned to his old job overseeing three police divisions in Etobicoke, while the integrity commissioner’s probe is ongoing.

While Ford insists he had nothing to do with his friend’s hiring, he has indicated he wants him to run the OPP.

“We look forward to having Ron Taverner as the commissioner of the OPP,” the premier said at his most recent new conference on Dec. 18.

“You look at his credentials, speaks for itself, 50 years of policing around the province. Again, he’s a front line police officer … a cop’s cop as they say. And that’s what is desperately needed at the OPP right now,” he said.

“There has never been a more popular police officer in this province than Ron Taverner.”

Ford, who has said he expects Wake’s review to take four to six weeks, added it was “a real shame” that the media “are chasing this gentleman down like I’ve never seen.”

Taverner’s most recent public comments on the controversy came Dec. 15.

“Out of the greatest respect for the brave men and women of the Ontario Provincial Police, I am requesting my appointment as commissioner be postponed ,” the superintendent said.

His decision to delay the OPP move was welcomed by critics who questioned why qualification levels for the commissioner’s position were lowered two days after the job was posted.

That last-minute change to the threshold allowed Taverner to meet the criteria.

The New Democrats are hopeful Wake will use his authority to call for an independent public inquiry with open hearings.

That probe resulted in criminal charges and a conviction against a top political staffer.

Questions about potential conflicts of interest would always linger with Taverner as commissioner, retired RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson told the Star last month.

“Every investigation of the government is going to be tarred,” he added. “It just sounds like a mess.”

OPP Deputy Commissioner Brad Blair , who applied for the commissioner’s job, has also asked for a review of Taverner’s appointment and any “potential political interference.”

Blair is headed to court to force Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé to investigate the hiring.

Dubé’s office has declined to do so, insisting it is beyond his jurisdiction. Blair was serving as interim commissioner after the retirement of commissioner Vince Hawkes last fall. He has since been replaced by Gary Couture.

In Blair’s complaint to the ombudsman, he alleged the premier’s chief of staff, Dean French, asked the OPP “to purchase a large camper-type vehicle … modified to specifications the premier’s office would provide us” and keep the costs “off the books.”

The premier called that “a baseless claim without merit.”

“That’s just not accurate whatsoever. I asked if they had a used one,” Ford said last month.

He did not say why he needed the van or why his office allegedly wanted the costs of customizing the vehicle kept hidden.
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