TORONTO – An increasingly isolated Rob Ford admitted for the first time on Wednesday to buying illegal drugs while in office as council voted overwhelmingly to have the mayor take a leave of absence.
Despite the internationally televised admission that came amid word that more sordid details would emerge from court documents, Ford resolutely insisted yet again he was not an addict.
“I really effed up,” Ford said as the often heated debate ended.
“Apologizing and saying you’re sorry, you can only say that so many times.”
The 37-5 motion, however, was non-binding, although its sponsor has said he would ask the province to step in if Ford failed to heed council’s wishes.
Just before the vote, Ford failed to introduce a motion that would have forced all councillors to undergo drug testing. The speaker ruled it out of order.
Earlier, a more defiant mayor repeated he would not resign or step aside to seek help as councillors grilled him on his eyebrow-raising acitivities.
“Have you purchased illegal drugs in the past two years?” Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong asked.
The rowdy council chamber fell silent for a few moments.
“Yes, I have,” Ford answered.
Ford has previously admitted to smoking crack cocaine and binge drinking but in response to further questions denied having a problem.
The “few isolated incidents” of substance abuse were due to “sheer stupidity” rather than an addiction, Ford said.
The “mistakes” he had made, Ford said, were of a personal nature.
“I understand the embarrassment that I’ve caused every resident in this city,” Ford said. “I’m humiliated by it but I can’t change the past.”
The debate — CNN and ABC carried part of it live — began after 30 of 44 councillors signed onto a petition urging Ford to step aside. Council voted 41-2 to receive the petition, with even Ford’s brother, Coun. Doug Ford, voting in favour.
But Doug Ford, who has steadfastly backed his brother and frequently speaks for him, was soon on the attack.
“Everyone in this chamber is coming across as holier than thou, lily white,” the councillor said.
As council erupted in shouting, Speaker Frances Nunziata called a five-minute recess.
In a series of pointed questions from councillors — the mayor has refused to answer similar questions from reporters — Ford was asked about his links to a west-end home, where he was photographed with three suspected gang members.
A police informant has described the residence as a “crack house” and police have said it relates to a notorious video apparently showing the mayor smoking crack.
“That is not a crack house,” Ford said. “Have you been in that house?”
“I have no interest in being in that house,” Coun. Michael Thompson retorted. “I’m not a crack user.”
Answering questions about a widely published photo showing the mayor posing with three men — two of them accused drug dealers and one shot dead shortly after the photo was taken — Ford said the meeting was a “one-off.”
“I had never met these three men in my life. They came out and asked me to take a picture with them. I’m not part of gang bangers. I do not support them,” he said.
Asked about a 2006 incident at the Air Canada centre in Toronto when a drunk Ford hurled profanities, the mayor said:
“I’ve admitted to my mistakes and I said it would not happen again, and it has not happened again at the Air Canada centre,” Ford said to derisive laughter from the gallery.
Outside city hall, hundreds of noisy protesters called on the mayor to resign and chanted “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Rob Ford has got to go!”
“We’re here to show our dismay at our mayor’s behaviour,” said Robyn Beattie.
“Nobody else who would have committed all the things that he’s done would still be at their current job.”
The mayor also said he had declined to talk to police, who have said they have no grounds to charge the mayor, on the advice of his lawyer.
Also Wednesday, a judge ruled the public would be able to see previously censored information on a police investigation into the “crack” video.
It was not immediately clear when that would happen.
Parts of the 474-page police document released earlier showed frequent contacts between Ford and a friend Alexander (Sandro) Lisi, who also faces an extortion charge related to the “crack” video.
The document, containing allegations not proven in court, was filed by police to get search warrants in Lisi’s case.
Ontario Superior Court Judge Ian Nordheimer ruled only sections involving the mayor’s wife, other people’s personal information, and parts prejudicial to Lisi’s right to a fair trial should stay secret.
Also Wednesday, organizers of the city’s Santa Claus parade urged the mayor to reconsider his decision to lead the parade, saying they did not want the distraction.
With files from Allison Jones and Paola Loriggio