Tories say it is ‘ludicrous’ to remove Toronto police officer from rights watchdog over conflict of interest concerns
Attorney General Doug Downey is dismissing the integrity commissioner’s concerns over the Progressive Conservatives’ appointment of an active-duty Toronto police officer to the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
Downey on Monday defended the government’s decision to name Const. Randall Arsenault to the rights watchdog, saying that “to reject that he has anything to contribute to the body of the commission is just ludicrous.”
Last week, J. David Wake, the independent integrity commissioner, warned Arsenault’s policing duties “could interfere with his abilities to perform his duties as an appointee.”
In his ruling, Wake wrote he had “directed Mr. Arsenault, at a minimum, to recuse (or remove) himself from any OHRC discussions or decision-making related to the TPS (Toronto Police Service) inquiry or other policing services matters.”
As well he “cautioned Mr. Arsenault that he may need to be recused from additional OHRC matters, notably those related to the criminal justice system.”
With the opposition New Democrats urging the Tories to cancel the part-time appointment that pays up to $10,000 a year, Downey insisted the officer is the right man for the job.
“Mr. Arsenault has dedicated the past 20 years of his life to protecting the vulnerable in our communities, as a Toronto police officer, and he was the first ever front-line officer to hold the position of community engagement officer,” the attorney general said.
“He is also an Aboriginal liaison officer. These positions underscore Mr. Arsenault’s deep commitment to breaking down barriers between law enforcement and the communities they serve,” he said.
But NDP MPP Laura Mae Lindo (Kitchener Centre) said Wake is correct in saying the constable is in a “conflict of interest.”
“Concerns were raised because this appointment comes at exactly the same time that the OHRC is finalizing their report into racial profiling at the Toronto police service and working to help rebuild trust between police and racialized communities,” she said.
Lindo implored Downey to “rescind this disturbing appointment today and demonstrate to Ontarians that they are done meddling with the Ontario Human Rights Commission.”
Arsenault, who did not return messages from the Star, is an avid user of social media and has 59,000 followers on Instagram and almost 33,000 on Twitter.
The officer has used his personal accounts to praise Premier Doug Ford and posted a photo of himself with the Tory leader at the Ford Fest picnic in 2018.
Wake’s Thursday ruling said Arsenault is not permitted to “use provincial government resources, including time and email” or “participate in any lobbying activities directed at the provincial government.”
“Do not publicly comment, including through social media, on any subjects related to matters which fall under the jurisdiction of the OHRC,” the integrity commissioner wrote.
In January, Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane asked Wake to examine whether Arsenault’s new post could lead to any conflicts given his job with Toronto police.
Mandhane said Arsenault’s name was not on a shortlist submitted to the attorney general nor was he among the 330 applicants for the position.
After the Star disclosed the appointment in January, Ford hailed Arsenault as “top notch.”
Get more politics in your inbox
Make sense of what’s happening across the country and around the world with the Star’s This Week in Politics email newsletter.
“You can’t ask for a better police officer than what the attorney general appointed,” the premier said at the time.
In 2018, Ford tried to have family friend Ron Taverner, a Toronto police staff superintendent, installed as commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police.
After months of bad press for the Tories, Taverner, 73, withdrew his application last year .
Report an error
About The Star