Police Independence Under Attack

Today’s Globe and Mail and Toronto Star contain extremely troubling revelations of the Ford Government’s widespread attack on police independence. OPP Deputy Commissioner (and interim Commissioner) Brad Blair has written a nine-page letter to the Ontario Ombudsman and hired Julian Falconer, a high profile lawyer and expert on government accountability, to represent him.

According to the newspaper reports Blair’s letter deals with two topics, the appointment of Supt. Taverner as Commissioner of the OPP and a request by the Premier’s office that the OPP provide a special premier-mobile.

Regarding Taverner’s appointment, Blair provides more evidence suggesting it was politically mandated. Taverner was seen by a reporter leaving the premier’s office just after his final interview on Nov. 20, a week before the Nov. 28 cabinet decision to appoint him. How did Blair know this? Blair claims Taverner met with him in early December to discuss the transition and told Blair that he had asked the journalist to hold off reporting the sighting in return for a promise of the first interview with the new Commissioner.

That Taverner would have told Blair this reveals a fundamental naivety on Taverner’s part. Surely he must have known that Blair was also being interviewed for the job (as Blair made clear in his letter to the Ombudsman). Confiding in a competitor that the job was wired for you won’t win the competitor’s loyalty, but rather increase his resentment. Taverner was, in so many words, telling Blair that he, Blair, was chopped liver. Blair has just demonstrated that he isn’t. And Taverner has demonstrated that he doesn’t have the bureaucratic acumen to survive as head of an organization that questions his legitimacy.

Blair also alleges that the premier’s office asked the OPP to sole-source a contract to modify a “large camper-type vehicle” and to keep the cost off the books. The premier also wanted a security detail staffed by officers he was comfortable with, and he demanded both actions be undertaken quickly. Every aspect of these allegations – sole-sourcing a contract, hiding costs, hand-picking a security detail, and demanding it be done immediately – is unethical and likely illegal.

Though Blair has a personal stake in the appointment the Commissioner, the overarching issue of governance is independence of the police from political interference. Political interference, especially when clandestine, can lead to the use of the police for political purposes, rather than the impartial enforcement of the law. It is a blatant violation of the fundamental democratic principle of transparency. It is also a step on the road to a police state. We should be concerned, very concerned.

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