TORONTO – The controversial mayor of Canada’s largest city vowed to remain in office Tuesday despite revealing he had smoked crack cocaine while in a “drunken stupor” — an admission which reversed months of firm denials over drug use.
“Yes! I’ve smoked crack cocaine!” said Mayor Rob Ford. “Am I an addict? No. Have I tried it? Probably in one of my drunken stupors.”
In the shocking about-face, the mayor of Toronto said he tried the drug about a year ago, while he was in office.
Ford has been under intense scrutiny since May, when two media outlets reported the existence of a video that they said appeared to show the mayor smoking crack.
When repeatedly asked if he smoked crack, Ford had defiantly denied he used the drug and suggested the video did not exist.
“Yes, I’ve made mistakes,” the mayor finally said on Tuesday. “There’s been times when I’ve been in a drunken stupor. That’s why I want to see the tape. I want everyone in the city to see this tape.”
Hours after his surprise statement, a visibly troubled Ford made an emotional apology for his “mistakes” but emphatically said he had no plans to step aside.
“I was elected to do a job and that’s exactly what I’m going to continue doing,” he said. “To the residents of Toronto, I know I have let you down. And I can’t do anything else but apologize, and apologize.”
Ford said he kept his drug use from his family, his staff and his colleagues at city hall because he was “embarrassed and ashamed.”
“These mistakes will never, ever, ever happen again,” he said. “I know what I did was wrong.”
Ford’s backtracking had many shaking their heads, but the mayor insisted that he had been truthful.
“I wasn’t lying,” he told reporters who have long pressed him on his alleged drug use. “You didn’t ask the correct questions. No, I’m not an addict and no I do not do drugs.”
The scandal around Ford took on a new urgency last week when Toronto’s police chief made a jaw-dropping announcement that authorities recovered a video of the mayor with images that corresponded with media reports about him appearing to smoke crack cocaine.
On Tuesday, Ford once again called for the alleged video to be released so everyone could judge its contents.
“I don’t even recall there being a tape or a video and I know that. So I want to see the state that I was in,” he said.
Yet just moments later, Ford told the Toronto Sun that he thought he knew what was on the video police have recovered.
“I think I know what’s on the video and I know it’s not pretty,” he told the newspaper. “Did I smoke something? Probably. It’s ugly.”
Legal experts have said Ford has no right to call for the video to be made public given that it’s evidence in an extortion case against the mayor’s friend and occasional driver, Alexander (Sandro) Lisi.
But a lawyer for one of three men photographed with Ford outside a house reportedly associated with the video, said he’s going to court Friday seeking copies of two video files related to the mayor that were seized by police during “Project Traveller.”
The video files are “relevant disclosure” which may assist Mohammad Khattak _ who was arrested in Project Traveller _ in defending himself on charges he faces, the notice of application for copies or access to seized items states.
“If Mayor Ford truly wishes to see himself on that video, he can join us in our application,” Daniel Brown said.
A spokeswoman for Toronto police wouldn’t say how Ford’s comments would impact their ongoing investigation related to Lisi, saying only that “the information will be passed on to investigators.”
Ford’s unexpected drug-use admission left many stunned.
The premier of Ontario said she was concerned that Ford’s personal issues were making it difficult for the business of the city to carry on in a normal way.
“We want municipalities to be able to function and there is a huge amount of turmoil at city hall right now,” said Kathleen Wynne.
“The police service and the judicial system have to take action. But the mayor will have to make his decisions about what is appropriate right now.”
The Ford scandal also drew the attention of the federal justice minister who said it was “certainly a sad day for the city of Toronto.”
“I’m the justice minister, you know where I stand on the use of illegal drugs,” said Peter MacKay. “As a human being I think that the mayor of Toronto needs to get help.”
Despite Ford’s astonishing announcements, those who have supported the mayor throughout the scandal continued to stand by him.
“Leave Ford alone! The guy is doing a good job. The city is being taking care of!” one person said on Twitter.
“So what? Rob Ford smoked crack? Lots of people drink too much, too often. Leave the guy alone. Electorate will decide his fitness,” tweeted another.
Nonetheless, at city hall some who worked with Ford said his latest admission was a clear sign that he needed to step back from the mayor’s chair and get some help.
A member of Ford’s executive committee — which works closely with the mayor — said some councillors were bringing a motion against the mayor that could strip him of some of his powers.
“He needs to take a break, he needs to consider what’s best for him, what’s best for this city,” said Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong.
There were others who questioned the timing of Ford’s announcement and subsequent apology.
“I feel like maybe he hasn’t been forthcoming, I am a little concerned that there are more things to come,” said Coun. Paula Fletcher. “I’m not sure his sincere apology is going to be sincere enough.”
Some at city hall, however, refused to call for Ford to step aside.
“It’s up to him to decide,” said Coun. Maria Augimeri. “He was democratically elected. He has not been charged or convicted of anything.”
Municipal law makes no provision for his forced removal from office unless he’s convicted and jailed for a criminal offence. The province has said it has no plans to change the law.
Tuesday’s hubbub made front-page news on a number of international news sites and caused some in Ford’s government to worry about the impact the mayor’s scandal was having on Toronto’s brand.
“It’s a circus and if anybody is saying it’s not affecting the business of the city they’re not being honest,” said Coun. Jaye Robinson, who added that the mayor currently “does not have a shred of credibility.”
“We’ve also become the laughing stock of North America, if not the world.”
_ With files from Maria Babbage and Keith Leslie.