Democracy Watch challenges Ontario Integrity Commissioner over Premier Ford’s violation of ethics rules

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the application it has filed in Ontario Divisional Court challenging Ontario Integrity Commissioner David Wake’s refusal to issue a public ruling on Premier Ford’s Chief of Staff Dean French (and possibly other Ford staff) providing preferential treatment to Ford’s friend Ron Taverner, and also to Mario Di Tommaso and Chris Froggatt, which Democracy Watch believes constitutes a violation of the provincial government’s ethics laws. Democracy Watch is represented by Rebecca Shoom of the law firm Lerners LLP.

On March 25, 2019, Democracy Watch sent a letter to Integrity Commissioner Wake and also then-Conflict of Interest Commissioner Sidney Linden calling on them to issue a public ruling on Ford’s staff, and also former Secretary to the Cabinet Steve Orsini, providing preferential treatment in violation of Public Service of Ontario Act (PSOA) ethics regulations.

Both commissioners refused to issue public rulings — then-Commissioner Linden in late March, and Commissioner Wake in early April. Commissioner Linden retired on May 1, 2019 when his office was merged into Integrity Commissioner Wake’s office.

On September 30, 2019, Democracy Watch sent another letter to Commissioner Wake requesting a public ruling. Commissioner Wake responded with the same position he had expressed in early April.

There is nothing in the PSOA that prohibits Commissioner Wake from issuing a public ruling, and the public has a clear right to know if these public servants violated the law.

"There is clear evidence in Integrity Commissioner Wake's ruling on the OPP Commissioner appointment process that Premier Ford's former Chief of Staff Dean French and his former deputy minister violated Ontario government ethics rules by giving preferential treatment to Ron Taverner more than once, and also to Mario Di Tommaso, and that French also gave preferential treatment to Chris Froggatt, and that other Ford staff may have violated the rules," said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. "Hopefully Integrity Commissioner Wake will do the right thing and issue a public ruling finding Premier Ford's staff guilty of violating provincial ethics rules.”

"The public has a clear right to know whether its watchdog has found its government employees guilty of wrongdoing, and government watchdogs must also issue public rulings so the public can be sure they are enforcing the law fairly and properly," said Conacher.

Commissioner Wake’s March 20, 2019 ruling on Premier Ford’s actions concerning Ron Taverner’s proposed appointment contained clear evidence that Mr. French and Mr. Orsini provided preferential treatment to Mr. Taverner in the offer of an executive job with the government’s Ontario Cannabis store, and to him and Mario di Tommaso also throughout the OPP Commissioner appointment process.

The ruling also contained clear evidence that Mr. French also provided preferential treatment to Chris Froggatt by connecting him (and him only) to give communications advice to Mr. Taverner. There was also some evidence in Commissioner Wake’s ruling that Derek O’Toole, then-Senior Policy Advisor in Premier Ford’s office, and Greg Harrington, then-Policy Advisor to Mr. French, also provided preferential treatment to Mr. Taverner.

See the Evidence from the Integrity Commissioner’s Ruling on Premier Ford that, in Democracy Watch’s view, details the extent of this preferential treatment.

All public servants in the Ontario government, including ministers’ staff and the Secretary to the Cabinet, are prohibited by regulations under the Public Service of Ontario Act from giving preferential treatment to any person or entity, and are required to “endeavour to avoid creating the appearance that preferential treatment is being given to a person or entity…” See the Summary of the Ontario Government Ethics Law and Regulations for details.