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Canada Ontario’s integrity commissioner declines to investigate government’s firing of Brad Blair

Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner is refusing to investigate the Progressive Conservative government’s firing of Brad Blair, the provincial-police deputy commissioner who has fiercely criticized Premier Doug Ford.

The decision comes just weeks after the same watchdog released a separate report on the government decision that sparked Mr. Blair’s criticism: the hiring of Mr. Ford’s friend, Toronto Police Superintendent Ron Taverner, as the next commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police.

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In March, the retired judge who serves as Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner, J. David Wake, found that hiring process “flawed” and detailed the roles played by Dean French, Mr. Ford’s chief of staff, and Steve Orsini, then Ontario’s top civil servant, in the decision to name Supt. Taverner to the job. But Mr. Wake concluded Mr. Ford did not break any rules and kept his distance from the decision to hire his friend.

In a new five-page report released on Tuesday responding to a complaint about the related firing of Mr. Blair, Mr. Wake concludes there are “insufficient grounds" for an inquiry.

Mr. Wake says the NDP MPP who filed the complaint, Kevin Yarde, provided no evidence the Premier was involved in the decision to fire Mr. Blair, or that Mr. Ford “improperly influenced” anyone.

“To commence an inquiry in these circumstances would be tantamount to embarking on a fishing expedition,” Mr. Wake wrote.

Julian Falconer, a lawyer for Mr. Blair, criticized the report.

“I am at a complete loss to understand how the Integrity Commissioner could issue a report on this issue without even mentioning the word ‘reprisal,’” he said in an interview.

When the move to hire Supt. Taverner was first announced last fall, Mr. Blair was the OPP deputy commissioner acting as the interim head of the force – and a rival candidate for the job.

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He immediately launched a multipronged legal fight, complaining he was overlooked due to alleged “political interference and cronyism.” He submitted sensitive OPP e-mails about Mr. Ford’s dealings with his police bodyguard and transportation teams in court documents, unveiling a proposal to spend $50,000 to retrofit a passenger van for the Premier’s travels.

Mr. Ford responded by suggesting to reporters Mr. Blair was motivated by “sour grapes” and had violated the Police Services Act by going public, remarks that have since prompted Mr. Blair to file a libel lawsuit.

In early March, Supt. Taverner withdrew his name from consideration amid a growing public outcry over his hiring. A few days later, cabinet signed an executive order appointing a new OPP commissioner, Thomas Carrique, deputy chief of York Regional Police.

That same week, Mr. Blair was fired from the OPP as the PC cabinet revoked the executive order that made him a police commander.

In his report released on Tuesday, the Integrity Commissioner points out that Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones told the legislature that the cabinet terminated Mr. Blair from the OPP only after a group of deputy ministers known as the Public Service Commission first recommended the move. And the NDP MPP who complained did not offer anything to contradict this account, Mr. Wake concludes.

Ms. Jones told reporters on Tuesday this should be the end of the matter: “The NDP continue to spin their wheels on issues that frankly are not … what the people of Ontario want to deal with. The wasting the time of these independent officers of the Assembly is frankly getting a little frustrating.”

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NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the province still needs answers about both the attempted hiring of Supt. Taverner and Mr. Blair’s firing: “If the Integrity Commissioner didn’t feel that there was enough information to invoke his mandate, then that’s up to him. But I think it’s pretty clear that there was a process there that just reeked.”

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