TORONTO – The controversy around an alleged video appearing to show the mayor of Toronto smoking crack cocaine showed no signs of diminishing Tuesday as the leader of Canada’s largest city sidestepped questions about a new twist in the scandal.
The Toronto Star reported a police investigation was triggered after two of the mayor’s closest staffers discussed how to handle a tip about the possible location of the alleged video. Their discussion reportedly came one day after reports of the video first surfaced on May 16.
“I can’t comment on that,” a dismissive Rob Ford told reporters when asked about the report. “You’ll have to ask my staff, I don’t know.”
Ford has said he doesn’t use crack cocaine and that the alleged video does not exist.
In a story based on unidentified sources, however, the Toronto Star reported David Price, the mayor’s director of logistics, told Ford’s then chief-of-staff Mark Towhey that he had been contacted by a source who suggested where the alleged video could be found.
The newspaper said Price asked Towhey what they would do if they knew where the clip was, a question to which an alarmed Towhey reportedly advised going to the police.
The newspaper reported Towhey told Price in no uncertain terms that the mayor’s staff would not be getting the video themselves.
The Star said Towhey — who parted ways with Ford last week — then went to police to give investigators a statement, citing Price as the source of his information. The newspaper says Price was asked to do the same and that police say an investigation into the matter is underway.
According to the Star, Price also said the alleged video of Ford might have been why a young man named Anthony Smith, who appeared alongside the mayor in a photograph, was killed at the end of March.
Toronto police have told the newspaper, however, that their investigation of the video matter is not a homicide probe.
Asked about the Star report, Const. Wendy Drummond would only tell The Canadian Press that police continue to “monitor the situation closely.”
The Star said its report was based on interviews with people close to the mayor’s circle and people in the part of the city where it said the alleged video was shot.
Price did not respond to reporters’ questions at City Hall Tuesday and Towhey could not be reached for comment.
Tuesday’s report in the Star did however draw the attention of Ontario’s Premier, prompting Kathleen Wynne to say she was “worried” about the latest development.
“I think there are real personal problems that are surfacing at City Hall,” said Wynne. “There’s a lot of distraction going on at City Hall right now … It’s difficult to lead, it’s difficult to govern when the ability to focus is compromised.”
Ford has battled a firestorm of criticism ever since two separate reports — published in the Star and gossip website Gawker — claimed the mayor had been videotaped smoking what appeared to be crack cocaine. The reports said someone described as a drug dealer took the cellphone video and wanted to sell the clip.
Neither of the reports about the video has been independently verified and the Star itself has said it could not vouch for its authenticity.
The U.S.-based Gawker reached a $200,000 fundraising goal to buy and post the clip on Monday but was having difficulty locating whoever claimed to have the video.
“I am frankly shocked and heartened that this actually happened. We are going to try very hard to make it work,” Gawker editor John Cook wrote on the website Tuesday.
“This will be a very delicate transaction. If the people who are in possession of the video are reading this: Please get in touch with our mutual friend, or with me … We did what you asked.”
Among those eager to see the video is Toronto’s deputy mayor, who believes a clip of some sort exists.
“I think if we could just get the video then we could analyse the video, and see if it’s doctored or if its real and we can go from there,” said Doug Holyday. “That would clear up a lot of things.”
Holyday added that he continued to support the mayor and emphasized that the controversy around the video was not affecting council business.
The mayor’s brother reinforced the notion of business as usual Tuesday even as he was asked repeatedly whether he knew about Fords’ staffers discussing the potential location of the alleged video.
“I have no knowledge of that. The police, you’d have to talk to them about that,” said Coun. Doug Ford.
Tuesday’s development came as the mayor celebrated his 44th birthday, an event which — like much of the business at city hall lately — was overshadowed by the video scandal.
A handful of residents in party hats and streamers tried to crash a meeting of the mayor’s executive committee to deliver a birthday cake — one frosted with an unusual message.
Written in red and blue frosting were the words “Happy Birthday Rob, Please Resign.”
“He’s having a hard time right now and sometimes it takes courage to just step down and step aside and get the help you need,” said Christine Brubaker, adding the mayor seemed to be “in over his head.”
After being turned away from the meeting, the group tried to leave its offering at Rob Ford’s office but ended up having to carry it away.
The mayor and his supporters later held a celebration of their own behind closed doors, though Ford emerged briefly to offer cake to the throngs of journalists waiting outside his office.