The ties that bind Ford and Di Tommaso
A Globe and Mail investigation raises questions about Ontario deputy community safety minister's role in recent government staffing decisions
By GREG MCARTHUR, COLIN FREEZE
Friday, March 15, 2019 Print Edition, Page A10
Over the past four months, Premier Doug Ford's government has left the leadership of the Ontario Provincial Police in a state of flux: appointing a new OPP commissioner who was forced to withdraw amid allegations of cronyism; firing a deputy commissioner who publicly challenged that appointment; hiring another new commissioner who didn't apply for the job the first time around.
Behind every one of those personnel decisions stands a powerful bureaucrat: Mario Di Tommaso, Ontario's deputy minister of community safety.
Although they do not often make headlines, deputy ministers are influential public servants - non-partisan bureaucrats expected to speak truth to their partisan ministers while doing their best to execute the government's agenda.
A Globe and Mail examination of records posted online, filed in court and released through the Freedom of Information Act, raises questions about Mr. Di Tommaso's distance from the Ford government and his role in the events that led to the failed appointment of Premier Ford's friend, Toronto Police Superintendent Ron Taverner, as the next OPP commissioner. That hiring is now the subject of an ethics probe by Ontario's Integrity Commissioner.
Mr. Di Tommaso, who was named a deputy minister in October after more than 30 years with the Toronto Police Service, declined to answer detailed questions for this story. His ministry issued, instead, a brief statement through spokesperson Greg Flood: "Deputy Di Tommaso had a long and distinguished career protecting the public as a Toronto Police officer. He is now continuing that service as a public servant."
Mr. Di Tommaso has been described by Mr. Ford as one of two "independent" public servants who first unanimously selected Supt. Taverner in November, 2018, over more than two dozen applicants.
"I accept the professionals' advice," Mr. Ford said on Dec. 4.
"Again, it was an independent panel - not Doug Ford."
The Premier had no discussions with Mr. Di Tommaso about the deputy minister position prior to his appointment to that job, Mr. Ford's spokesman, Simon Jefferies, said in an e-mail to The Globe.
Before Mr. Di Tommaso joined the public service, he served as Supt. Taverner's Toronto police boss. Social-media posts also show Mr. Di Tommaso socialized multiple times with Supt. Taverner, Mr. Ford and the first minister he was hired to serve, Michael Tibollo, in the months leading up to Supt. Taverner's appointment.
Additionally, an internal email shows that the day before the OPP's previous commissioner, Vince Hawkes, announced his retirement in September, the head of the public service, Steve Orsini, arranged a "one-on-one confidential" meeting with Mr.
Di Tommaso before he was hired by the government.
The chronology of events and relationships between Mr. Di Tommaso, Supt. Taverner and Mr. Ford must be examined, says lawyer Julian Falconer, who has launched a lawsuit on behalf of former deputy commissioner Brad Blair.
"In my opinion, when you look at all the information concerning the various senior bureaucrats, it is impossible to have confidence in what happened," Mr. Falconer said last week.
Mr. Blair, who was in the running against Supt. Taverner for the job, alleges political interference in the selection and has asked the provincial ombudsman to investigate, including a probe of Mr. Di Tommaso's "personal and professional conduct in his role in the hiring" of Supt.Taverner.
For his part, Mr. Ford has denied that Mr. Di Tommaso was in any sort of conflict of interest when the panel he was part of selected Supt. Taverner for the job. At a December news conference, Mr. Ford was asked directly whether he appointed Mr. Di Tommaso as a deputy minister in an effort to secure the commissioner's position for his friend.
"No, I didn't," Mr. Ford replied.
Mr. Blair was fired by Mr. Di Tommaso last week after being
warned about releasing confidential information. Supt. Taverner withdrew his candidacy for the commissioner's job two days later, and on Monday the government announced it had appointed York Regional Police Deputy Chief Thomas Carrique, a process that was led, again, by Mr. Di Tommaso.
At one of the social engagements that preceded Mr. Di Tommaso's ascension into the bureaucracy, a gala dinner in June that honoured Italian-Canadian police officers, Mr. Di Tommaso made a speech that included a joke about the advanced age of Supt. Taverner, 72, who was in attendance. Mr. Ford was also present.
"Policing today is more difficult than it has ever been. And it's certainly more difficult than the pre-Charter era when I started, or the Sir Robert Peel era when Ron Taverner started," Mr.
Di Tommaso said. (Sir Robert Peel founded London's Metropolitan Police Service in 1829.)
Another guest at the gala was Mr. Tibollo - the first Minister of Community Safety that Mr. Di Tommaso was hired to serve, and who has since been made Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport.
Mr. Di Tommaso has been photographed with Mr. Tibollo over the years at events held by the National Congress of ItalianCanadians, where Mr. Tibollo has served as president. Mr. Di Tommaso's daughter worked, for six months in 2016 as an administrative assistant at Mr. Tibollo's four-lawyer firm, Tibollo and Associates, according to her LinkedIn page.
In separate statements to The Globe, both Mr. Tibollo and Mr.Di Tommaso - through Mr.
Flood, the Ministry of Community Safety spokesperson - said they "are not close acquaintances" but acknowledged knowing each other as "active members of the community."
Mr. Tibollo played no role in the appointment of Mr. Di Tommaso as a deputy minister, according to Mr. Jefferies, the Premier's spokesman.
Although it is not common for deputy ministers to have ties to an elected government, it is not unheard of, said Patrice Dutil, a professor of public administration at Ryerson University.
"I'd say at any given time maybe 10 to 20 per cent of deputy ministers ... will be selected because they are friendly, they are known to be partial to the ideas and sensitivities of government," he said, adding that what matters most when evaluating a deputy minister is how they perform in their role.
During his 38 years at Toronto police, Mr. Di Tommaso worked in a variety of capacities, investigating everything from robberies to homicides. In 2012, he was named an Officer of the Order of Merit of the Police Forces.
Mr. Di Tommaso was the subject of disciplinary proceedings during his time as the second-incommand of the force's intelligence unit from 2005 to 2007, court records show.
The person in charge of the unit at the time was Staff Inspector Steve Izzett, who resigned in disgrace after he was charged with nine offences under the Police Services Act. The charges alleged an array of offences, which included the use of "profane, abusive and insulting" language, unwanted kissing of a subordinate officer and lying to his superiors.
The internal investigation into Mr. Izzett sparked a wider review of the officers around him, including Mr. Di Tommaso.
In an Ontario Divisional Court application, which Mr. Izzett launched in an unsuccessful attempt to have the case against him overturned, he argued his backers were disciplined to deter them from supporting him.
"Di Tommaso was disciplined in May, 2009, for failing to report my alleged tyrannical and oppressive behaviour," Mr. Izzett said in a 2009 sworn statement.
Precisely what Mr. Di Tommaso was disciplined for is not outlined in the court filings. The Toronto Police Service says it cannot confirm any internal discipline. It is only when formal charges under the Police Services Act are laid, and tried before a tribunal, that such matters become public, said Meaghan Gray, a Toronto Police spokesperson.
In his statement to The Globe, Mr. Di Tommaso did not address any questions about his role in the Izzett affair.
As part of the probe, professional-standards officers questioned Mr. Di Tommaso, who was then serving as an inspector. According to a transcript, they told Mr. Di Tommaso how his subordinates had described him and why they hadn't turned to him: "Mario did not want to cause any waves. ... I did not trust that if I talked to Mario that it would make a difference," one officer said. Another officer said that there was "no percentage" in complaining to Mr. Di Tommaso.
In response, Mr. Di Tommaso said: "I disagree ... that I'm a yes man." He said no one ever complained to him formally or informally.
With a report from Laura Stone