Did he lie?
Misled, dissembled, prevaricated — pick your label for Rob Ford’s response to last spring’s crack video story. But “lie” is an elastic word in this legalistic age. Go back to the garbled comments issued last May by Toronto’s large, imperfect mayor and his brother Doug, you’ll notice a confounding arrangement of verb tenses and conjunctions that left open the possibility that some day some video might surface, at which point they’d be forced to watch it and consider whether it indeed showed His Honour huffing on a crack pipe and applying homophobic epithets to Justin Trudeau.
Even the mayor’s most unequivocal denial—”There’s no video … you can’t comment on something that doesn’t exist,” he told his radio audience May 26—leaves room for Clinton-esque parsing. Yes, the police say they have a video answering the description of the one detailed in the Toronto Star. But it had been deleted from the computer hard drive and had to be recovered by a team of experts. Can a batch of digital files from which police techies re-assembled footage be described as a “video?”
Shouldn’t matter, of course. Most politicians would by now have bowed to convention and stepped down—as several councillors urged Ford to do. Even the most die-hard Ford supporter must accept the truth Coun. Joe Mihevc’s assessment: “The mayor’s been caught delivering falsehoods, delivering a lie to the people of Toronto.”
Yet Ford has vowed to soldier on, emerging from his office Thursday just long enough to say he sees “no reason to resign,” and to claim the involvement of the courts in the affair prevents him from publicly defending himself.
How much longer can this go on?
The question is part legal, but mostly political. Surely danger lies ahead for the mayor, given the surfeit of court evidence released that suggests his dealings with dubious characters runs deeper than those of a buddy who doesn’t throw his friends under the bus. The most important is Alessandro Lisi, who has been described as a part-time driver for the mayor and stood accused of drug-trafficking crimes before the police announced the rediscovery of the footage.
Lisi is now facing an extortion charge in relation to the video and, while police have not identified his alleged target, it has been reported that he and another man paid a visit on May 20 to 15 Windsor Rd., the home of Ford friend Fabio Basso and the address where the video was reportedly filmed. The Star has reported that Lisi was looking for the video, and that one day later, a man turned up at the home and beat Fabio Basso with an extendable baton (police confirmed an assault took place).
Who, if anyone, asked Lisi to go looking for the video is surely a question at the heart of the extortion case. So too is how far Lisi went in any effort to obtain it.
What, if anything, Lisi is willing to tell police about this episode may be a question of enormous importance to Ford.
Meantime, court documents released Thursday have raised questions about Lisi’s alleged role as a facilitator of Ford’s drug and alcohol use. Surveillance teams following him this summer said they watched repeatedly as he and Ford passed like ships in the night at an Esso station near Ford’s house in Etobicoke, Ont.
On several occasions, the officers said, Lisi placed a package in Ford’s Cadillac Escalade truck while the mayor was inside the gas station store.
Investigators also reported watching Lisi and Ford meet to drink. On July 28, the documents say, Ford stopped at a McDonald’s drive-thru, then met up with Lisi at a nearly school yard, where they sat in Ford’s truck. After Lisi drove away, the watchers said, Ford put the McDonald’s bag in a trash can; investigators later found it contained two empty vodka bottles.
On another occasion, a Tuesday, they waited as Ford and Lisi met for an hour in woods at an Etobicoke park; officers later went to the scene and recovered bottles suggesting the men had been mixing Iceberg vodka and Tropicana grape juice—a drink commonly known as a Purple Jesus.
Lying; sneaking off to drink; quite possibly driving drunk: It’s behaviour you’d associate with a wayward teenager, not a mayor. And this time Ford can’t wave it away as fable spun by the Star, a paper he and his brother have portrayed as a crew of journalistic knee-cappers who’d gladly run a “made-up story” to stop their agenda. This time the authors are police officers. Some of them are respected senior investigators whose work Ford in no position to disparage.
Which brings us to the political.
Even if it’s all true, one wonders if this is enough to sour members of the Ford Nation on their plus-sized idol. They’ve had six months, after all, to digest a steady flow of damaging reports about the mayor’s drinking, company and behaviour. A few remained in denial, chalking the stories up to hostile media. But most seemed to accept Ford as a flawed man who might well be substance-dependent; as long as he stood against taxes and scolded the lefties on council, they were okay with it. In a recent poll, 39 per cent of respondents voiced approval of the mayor’s performance.
Still, there are visible cracks in the dam. Perhaps the only surprise bigger than Ford’s defiant refusal to address the existence of the video Thursday was the Toronto Sun joining the city’s other three daily newspapers in calling for him to step aside. To this point, the tabloid has been Ford’s staunchest media ally. Gloria Lindsay Luby, a right-leaning councillor who has backed the mayor in the past, echoed the advice adding: ” I think he’s been lying to a lot of people, for a lot of people.”
And the loyalty of Ford’s believers is about to be put to the ultimate test. While the video is currently part of evidence in Lisi’s extortion case, it’s a matter of days before media lawyers will ask the court that it be released for public viewing, arguing that its contents are irrelevant to Lisi’s legal fortunes. Would seeing their mayor puffing on crack pipe be too much even for his admirers?
Sometimes, even for resolute deniers, seeing is believing.
Toronto police released a 300-page document that details evidence they collected in order to get a search warrant for Ford’s friend Alexander Lisi: