New OPP head to testify in sexual-harassment case

Thomas » Sat Dec 08, 2018 1:23 pm

Ontario Provincial Police Block

The new head of the Ontario Provincial Police is set to testify before a tribunal about his alleged mishandling of a sexual-harassment complaint under his watch at the Toronto Police Service as he takes control of the larger service facing its own reckoning over the treatment of female employees.

In the spring, Ron Taverner is expected to testify before the province’s Human Rights Tribunal about how he handled a junior officer’s concerns about sexual harassment, including allegations he discouraged the complainant from speaking out. The OPP is also before the tribunal, facing its own human rights complaint from dozens of female members who have accused the provincial service of systemic discrimination.

Premier Doug Ford, who is a friend of Supt. Taverner, has described the veteran officer as the right leader for the service, but said he had no part in his selection, which was done by an independent panel and later signed off on by Mr. Ford and his Cabinet. However, The Globe and Mail has confirmed that several years ago, Mr. Ford showed interest in Supt. Taverner’s career advancement. Alok Mukherjee, who chaired the Toronto Police Services Board for a decade before he stepped down in 2015, recalled that Mr. Ford – who was a city councillor at the time – suggested he promote Supt. Taverner to deputy chief. Supt. Taverner did not apply for the role and did not get the job.

The province has released few details about the selection process for the OPP commissioner position. It’s not known if Supt. Taverner’s alleged role in the sexual harassment case before the Human Rights Tribunal was factored into the panel’s decision. The Premier’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

Supt. Taverner did not respond to interview requests. Both the Toronto Police Service and the Toronto Police Services Board also declined to comment on the sexual harassment allegations, citing the ongoing proceedings. TPS has previously denied the allegations, arguing the case was properly investigated and dealt with by management, including Supt. Taverner, the professional standards unit, and the province’s Special Investigations Unit.

The complaint was filed in 2014 by TPS Constable Heather McWilliam, who alleges that she was subjected to a toxic work environment and relentless sexual harassment from colleagues at 23 Division, which Supt. Taverner headed.

Though Supt. Taverner is not named in the application, Ms. McWilliam’s lawyer Kate Hughes said that he is “very much a part of this case.” One of the issues at play is whether Supt. Taverner discouraged Ms. McWilliam from bringing her allegations forward.

In December, 2012, according to the application, she went to him to advise him she would be filing a sexual harassment complaint. She said she told Supt. Taverner that she would not return to work until that officer, Staff Sgt. Chris Nolan, was transferred out of the division,which he was. The officer later pleaded guilty to a Police Services Act charge of discreditable conduct, and was docked 20 days’ pay. After Ms. McWilliam returned to work, she alleges in her application that Supt. Taverner told her she needed to “have a tough skin.”

“He then reminded me of the picture in his office that says, ‘Loose lips sink ships,’” the application reads. She alleges that in the months that followed, Supt. Taverner tried to “punish” her by hindering her opportunities within the service.

Ms. McWilliam has been on medical leave since 2014.