TORONTO – The lawyer for a man arrested in this week’s massive police raids in Toronto says he’s concerned that media reports linking his client to the scandal surrounding Mayor Rob Ford may compromise the man’s right to a fair trial.
Reports published in the Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail say two of the suspects arrested in Thursday’s operation targeting suspected drug and gun traffickers also appear with Ford in a widely publicized photograph connected to the scandal swirling around Ford and an alleged crack video.
The Toronto Star has reported that the same person who showed its reporters an alleged video of the mayor smoking what appears to be crack cocaine provided them with the picture.
It shows Ford posing with three men — one of whom reports have said is Anthony Smith, 21, who was fatally shot at the end of March, and another who was injured in the same shooting.
The newspapers reported the remaining two people in the picture are Monir Kassim, 20, and Muhammad Khattak, 19. The Globe cited sources “with knowledge of the people in the photograph.”
Police Chief Bill Blair suggested this week two of the men in the photograph with Ford were somehow connected to the investigation, but would not elaborate when pressed.
Ford has said he poses for photos with “everybody.” He has also said publicly that he does not use crack cocaine and suggested the video does not exist.
Khattak’s lawyer Nathan Gorham confirmed Saturday that his client was arrested and charged with trafficking marijuana as part of the investigation dubbed Project Traveller.
But he stressed he has no firsthand information about the photo or who it features.
“I don’t have any information one way or another whether it’s him. It’s not something that’s come up in the course of my representation of him,” he said in a phone interview.
The alleged connection to the photo is troubling, however, because of how it could influence Khattak’s trial, Gorham said.
“As a lawyer, you always are concerned that the notoriety of a case or the attention or the mood of hysteria that surrounds these sort of large gang prosecutions might somehow affect the outcome of the case or the fairness of the proceedings against your client,” he said.
“And when there’s an additional level of notoriety — as in this case with the picture involving Mr. Ford — the concern is even more pronounced.”
He noted Khattak, a young man with no prior record facing non-violent charges, has been denied bail, a decision he deemed “very unusual” under the circumstances and which he plans to challenge.
Kassim’s brother Samir told the Toronto Star Friday all his brother told him was that he had seen the mayor and wanted a picture, but didn’t know anything else about the circumstances of the now famous photo.
But previously, Monir Kassim told the newspaper it wasn’t him in the photo.
The Globe cited court documents that indicated Kassim was one of those arrested in the raids.
Thursday’s raids unfolded in various locations around the Greater Toronto Area, including an apartment complex where reports have said the alleged video of the mayor took place.
Investigators said 19 people were arrested in Toronto and nine in Windsor, adding that to date 43 people have been arrested in the investigation.
Police said it would take until at least Monday to release a list of people charged.
They would not say whether there was any link with the mayor.