Ron Taverner, friend of Doug Ford, withdraws from consideration for OPP commissioner

Ron Taverner on Wednesday bowed out of the appointment process for the post of commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police, citing "the controversy" surrounding his appointment.

Fired OPP deputy commissioner Brad Blair says decision 'vindicates' his objections

Toronto police Supt. Ron Taverner, who was approved as the next OPP commissioner by the Ontario cabinet, has withdrawn. (CBC)

Ron Taverner on Wednesday bowed out of the appointment process for the post of commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police, citing "the controversy" surrounding his appointment.

"This decision is not an easy one for me to make," Taverner wrote in a letter to Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones, requesting that his name be withdrawn from consideration. 

"I believe the OPP requires new leadership and a change in culture at its most senior levels."

Taverner, 72, was controversially named by Ontario's Progressive Conservative government to become the next chief of the OPP in late November.

He later requested that the appointment be delayed, and the government said it would "respect" the request while the province's integrity commissioner reviews the circumstances of his selection.

A statement from Jones's office said she "received and accepted" Taverner's letter that outlined his request to withdraw from consideration.

"We thank him for his continued service as a decorated police officer," the statement reads.

"Interim commissioner Gary Couture remains in his post. We will have more to say about the role of the commissioner in the near future."

Toronto Police Service says Taverner continues to enjoy its support. 

"Supt. Taverner will continue to be the unit commander of our northwest district, where he has proudly served Toronto," Const. Allyson Douglas-Cook said. "He has made this very personal decision today, and he continues to have the support of the Toronto Police Service."

Longtime family friend of Doug Ford

Taverner, a longtime family friend of Premier Doug Ford, did not meet the original requirements for the job posting. The government said it lowered the job qualifications to attract a wider field of candidates. He was later approved as the next OPP commissioner by the Ontario cabinet.

Ford has repeatedly denied any involvement in Taverner's appointment, and said the decision was made by a hiring panel.

Taverner — a 51-year veteran of Toronto police who leads the force's Etobicoke divisions — said he decided to withdraw to protect the integrity of rank-and-file police officers, given the controversy surrounding his appointment.

"I am grateful to have had the confidence of the government and believe that my 51 years in law enforcement would have provided me with the experience and leadership skills to do the job of commissioner in a way that would have served the interest of the public and front-line police officers in the best way possible," he wrote in the letter.

Taverner, a longtime family friend of Premier Doug Ford, did not meet the original requirements of the job posting for the OPP's new commissioner. (Reena Foundation/Facebook)

Reacting to Taverner's decision, Ford said that since the beginning of the process, the objective had been to bring in new leadership in order to address systemic issues in the OPP.

"We need a new vision for the OPP; one that puts the interests of our front-line officers and the safety of the people of Ontario as its primary focus, above all else," Ford said. 

The premier also criticized his political rivals.

"It is very unfortunate that the Opposition has chosen to politicize this process rather than focusing on how we can support our front-line officers." 

Decision 'vindicates' Brad Blair, lawyer says

Taverner's decision comes two days after the dismissal of OPP deputy commissioner Brad Blair

Blair was dismissed Monday for allegedly revealing confidential OPP information, which the Ford government has called a breach of his oath as an officer.

Blair has been an outspoken critic of the decision to appoint Taverner, and he is asking an Ontario court to force the province's ombudsman to investigate the appointment.

Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones has 'received and accepted' Taverner's letter requesting that his name be withdrawn from consideration for OPP commissioner. (Government of Ontario)

In a joint statement by Blair and his legal counsel, Julian Falconer, issued early Thursday morning, the pair said Taverner's decision "vindicates" Blair's "unwavering resolve to protect the OPP from political interference."

"While long overdue, the premier and Superintendent Taverner have finally recognized what the rest of Ontario has known for some time: that a longstanding family friend of the premier cannot serve as the head of the OPP," the statement read.

Falconcer said Blair "contests the legality" of his termination, and he will seek "full accountability and compensation for the actions" that led to his firing. 

"It is sad in the extreme that the destruction of a good man's career is the price to be paid for exposing political cronyism and abuse of power," Falconer continued. 

For her part, however, Jones has repeatedly insisted that Blair's firing was not politically motivated. She points out the decision was ultimately approved by the independent Public Service Commission.

Public inquiry is critical, Horwath says

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath says Taverner's surprise withdrawal makes a public inquiry more important than ever.

"Ontario families need to have unshakable confidence that their provincial police force, and its most powerful officer, are above reproach and free from all political interference," Horwath said in a statement.

"Today, Supt. Ron Taverner did what Doug Ford has continuously refused to do, and preserved the OPP's integrity with his withdrawal. This mysterious and abrupt about-face makes a full public inquiry into Doug Ford's meddling in the OPP all the more critical." 

According to Horwath, a great deal of Ford's "secret interference with the police force" has been revealed by Blair, but she said the extent of Ford's political interference is still to be determined.

With files from Desmond Brown and Lucas Powers