TORONTO – The country’s largest city descended into embarrassing new political turmoil Thursday with police essentially confirming the existence of a alleged video appearing to show Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine.
The surprise announcement by Chief Bill Blair, which followed the morning arrest of Ford’s friend on extortion charges related to the alleged video, prompted immediate calls for the mayor to resign.
“The mayor has a totally unique approach to these personal crises of any politician we’ve ever seen,” said Coun. Shelley Carroll.
“(But) we’re now at a juncture where nothing he can do can make this go away.”
Ford shoved photographers out of the way and yelled “Get off my property!” as he left home without commenting for what aides said was to be a routine day at city hall.
Speaking later in the day, a far more subdued Ford said he was unable to defend himself because the matter was before the courts.
“I have no reason to resign,” Ford said. “I’m going to be out doing what the people elected me to do.”
For months now, the mayor has brazened his way through the allegations about the cellphone video and his purported drug use, saying only that it does not exist and he does not smoke crack cocaine.
Ford has also refused to talk about his friendship with Lisi, 35, who was charged Thursday with extortion in relation to the alleged video. Lisi, who was also Ford’s occasional driver, was previously charged with drug-trafficking offences.
The mayor has described him as a “good guy.”
Despite the pressure on Ford, municipal law makes no provision for his forced removal from office unless he’s convicted and jailed for a criminal offence.
“There’s nothing we can do at this point,” Municipal Affairs Minister Linda Jeffrey said at the legislature.
“The province has no power to remove anybody, and obviously we’d have to wait as the investigation unfolds as to next steps.”
Like others, including Blair who expressed disappointment at the latest turn of events, Jeffrey said she was “saddened” by them, but refused to say whether Ford should step down.
At the same time, the minister expressed confidence in council to continue managing the city’s affairs despite the questions and allegations.
Even if the city and its thousands of employees keep functioning despite the woes at the top, the situation is clearly weighing on the minds of many councillors.
Some branded Ford an embarrassment, others said he owed the city an explanation.
“This cannot keep dragging out,” Coun. James Pasternak said.
“It is very disconcerting that the mayor of Canada’s largest city is under police surveillance.”
Allegations about Ford began swirling in earnest earlier this year when website Gawker and the Toronto Star published stories about an alleged drug dealer shopping around a cellphone video.
They also published a photograph showing Ford with people accused of drug and weapon offences. One person in the photograph was killed in a drive-by shooting.
With files from Maria Babbage