A non-partisan government watchdog group is calling on the integrity commissioner to investigate whether Premier Doug Ford “tried to influence any step of the process” that led to the appointment of Ron Taverner as the next commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police.

Taverner, who is currently the Toronto Police Service’s unit commander of 12, 23 and 31 Divisions in the northwest corner of the city, was selected for the job last week following a process that was led by an executive search firm.

His appointment has raised some questions due to his longtime relationship with the Ford family.

In a letter sent to Ontario Integrity Commissioner David Wake on Tuesday, Democracy Watch Co-founder Duff Conacher expressed concern over whether Premier Doug Ford may have influenced the hiring.

Conacher said that Wake should conduct an investigation that would determine whether Ford “took part in choosing the executive search firm or directing its decisions in any way” and whether he had any role in “choosing the members of the selection committee or directing its decisions in any way.”

The names of the members of the selection committee have not been publicly released at this point.

“Key factors in this situation are that the executive search firm would have been serving on a contract with the government that would give the cabinet the opportunity to direct the firm’s search,” the letter states. “As well, members of the selection committee could be people serving at the pleasure of Premier Ford – for example, any Deputy Minister on the committee. And, of course, all cabinet ministers serve at the pleasure of the Premier, which means they share the Premier’s appearance of bias given that they have full incentive to please the Premier in order to remain in cabinet.”

Taverner has been in policing since 1967 and has held a number of different senior roles within the Toronto Police Service during his 51-year career.

His appointment to the top job at the OPP, nonetheless, represents a massive promotion. He is currently responsible for about 700 officers but as the head of the OPP, there will be 8,000 officers under his command.

“He’s a nice guy to have a beer with but he’s a superintendent in a division of Toronto that we’ve got detachments that are bigger than that division in the OPP,” Former OPP Commissioner Chris Lewis told CP24 last week. “I think it’s a real kick to the OPP and the senior officers in that organization that know this province and know their organization and they pick somebody from the outside with very limited experience."

The Ontario Integrity Commissioner has generally refused to conduct investigations unless a member of the legislative assembly asks for one but in his letter Conacher contended that Wake has “discretionary power” to do so unilaterally.

Conacher also said that if the integrity commissioner were to find that Ford interfered in the hiring process, the penalty should be his removal from office.

“Premier Ford taking part in any way in any step of Mr. Taverner’s appointment process raises concerns about violations of fundamental principles of democratic good government, including the upholding of the rule of law, and the separation of the executive and law enforcement branches of the government,” the letter states.

Minister of Community Safety Sylvia Jones has previously said that Taverner was appointed to the role based on the unanimous recommendation of the selection committee and will bring “the support of front-line officers, community leaders and our respected law enforcement professionals” to the job.