Beyond the Bubble

By Danny Zhang

Mayor Rob Ford of Toronto, the largest city in Canada and fourth-largest in North America, found himself fighting for his political life last week after the Toronto Police recovered a video that allegedly showed the mayor smoking crack cocaine.

Ford was elected mayor of Toronto in October 2010 on a populist conservative platform to “stop the gravy train” at City Hall and keep taxes low. He draws his support primarily from suburban homeowners. Since his appointment, Ford has been caught up in a litany of scandals including a voting in a conflict-of-interest case that almost cost him the mayor’s seat, several instances of public intoxication and reading documents while driving on a freeway.

Back in May, the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest daily newspaper, and U.S. website Gawker simultaneously reported on the existence of a video in which Mayor Ford appears to be smoking crack cocaine and using racist and homophobic language. Reporters from the two media sources viewed the video from a man’s cellphone in a parking lot. The video was reportedly taken at a house on Windsor Road in the city’s west-end. Also published was a photograph of the mayor with several young men taken in front of the Windsor Road house. One of the men in the photo had been gunned down outside a downtown nightclub in late March.

In a press conference held one week after the story broke, Ford vehemently denied any allegations of wrongdoing.

“I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict of crack cocaine,” he said at the press conference.

Ford resisted calls for his resignation and blamed the left-leaning Toronto Star for “questionable reporting” and trying to sabotage his conservative agenda.

The mayor also fired his Chief of Staff Mark Towhey after the story initially broke. Towhey supposedly advised Ford to take a leave of absence to deal with his personal issues. A string of high-level staffers, including the mayor’s press secretary, special assistant for communications, policy advisor and executive assistant, followed Towhey’s trail out the door

In June, the Toronto Police conducted several drug raids, including one at the house on Windsor Road where the photo of the mayor was taken. The raids resulted in arrests of a man who tried to sell the crack video to reporters for $200,000 and two other men who appeared with Ford in the photograph on Windsor Road.

Last Thursday, the Ontario Superior Court released a heavily censored 474-page police report of the surveillance operation. The report contained details of a massive police surveillance operation over the summer on Ford and a close associate, Alexandro Lisi. Using helicopters, cameras and unmarked police cars, the Toronto Police captured many meetings between Ford and Lisi, including one in which they exchanged an unknown package at a gas station. The report also revealed a flurry of cellphone conversations between Ford and Lisi after the crack story broke in May and between Lisi and several of the men arrested in the June drug raids. Lisi was arrested on charges of extortion in relation to the video last Thursday.

On the day of the release of the police report, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair announced in a press conference that police were able to retrieve the deleted video off a computer hard drive. He confirmed that the contents of the video were “consistent” with media reports. Ford remained defiant and emphatically refused to step down, despite calls for his resignation from several city councilors and all four Toronto daily newspapers, including two that usually support the mayor’s policies.

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