It was one of the most anticipated press conferences for journalists and citizens in the Big Smoke this year. Camera crews and reporters, more than 20 in all, lined three walls of the media gallery at the headquarters of the Toronto Police Service, jostling for space and finding spots to sit on the floor where they could get the best view.
Police Chief Bill Blair made his entrance at precisely 11:30, pausing in the middle of the room for pictures. His speech was crafted to build up suspense till he dropped the bombshell: Police had recovered a video that media had widely reported on since May that allegedly showed mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine.
“On Oct. the 29th, on Tuesday of this week, we received information from our computer technology section that in the examination of a hard drive that had been seized on June 13th, we were able to identify a number of files that had been deleted and that they were able to recover those files,” Blair said. “As a result, I have been advised that we are now in possession of a recovered digital video file relevant to the investigations that have been conducted. That file contains video images which appear to be those images which were previously reported in the press with respect to events that took place, we believe at a house in Etobicoke.”
Blair stopped short of describing exactly what the mayor is doing in the video, saying that it is evidence that will be presented before the courts who will then determine the admissibility of this evidence if a trial takes place. The revelation brought a barrage of questions from reporters all speaking at the same time.
This is the first time police have confirmed the existence of the video and the mayor’s appearance in it. Journalists at the Toronto Star and Gawker claimed to have seen the video, but Ford has always insisted the video does not exist.
Blair said multiple video files were recovered, two of which are relevant to the investigation. He confirmed that one of the files is the one identified in media coverage throughout the summer.
The hard drive with the video was seized at the conclusion of Project Traveller on June 13. The project targeted drug-dealing gangs in the city and resulted in several dozen arrests and the laying of over 200 charges. However, evidence began to emerge that other criminal activities were taking place that were not encompassed by Project Traveller’s mandate, and Blair directed his officers to investigate further.
On June 13, officers seized several hard drives and cell phones. It is on one of these hard drives that forensic investigators were able to retrieve the deleted video file with the mayor in it.
The new video evidence led to the arrest of Ford’s friend and occasional driver, Alexander Lisi, 35, this morning. Lisi has been charged with extortion. He was previously arrested on October 1 and charged with possessing and trafficking marijuana.
For an event during which the main focus was Rob Ford, the police chief delicately avoided uttering his name throughout the 20-minute press conference. When asked if the mayor had been interviewed, Blair simply said that interview had not yet taken place. It wasn’t until a reporter asked him why he couldn’t just say Rob Ford appears in the video, he answered, with just the slightest hint of hesitation, at six minutes and 15 seconds into the conference: “I think, i think it’s fair to say the mayor does appear in those, in that video, but I’m not going to, to get into the detail of what activity is depicted in that video.”
Thereafter, the chief referred to Rob Ford only as “the mayor.”
As for the mayor, Ford addressed reporters at city hall in the afternoon, after avoiding the ones outside of his house in the morning.
Stepping outside of his office, which had been decorated with fake blood and spider webs for Halloween, Ford said he was not going to resign. The Mayor said little else. “I wish I could come out and defend myself, but I can’t. It’s before the courts. That’s all I can say right now,” he told the dozens of reporters outside his office.
Blair said there is no evidence to charge the mayor for any criminal wrongdoing. He added that people cannot be compelled to cooperate in investigations, suggesting the mayor may have declined to be interviewed by police. However, Blair did say that he was disappointed by what he saw in the video.
“As a citizen of Toronto, I’m disappointed. This is a traumatic issue for the citizens of this city and for the reputation of this city, and that concerns me.”