Ford won't resign despite alleged video
Mayor Rob Ford talks to media at City Hall in Toronto on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013. Ford says he has no reason to step down despite police confirmation that they have seized a video media have alleged appears to show him smoking crack cocaine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
TORONTO - Allegations of a "crack cocaine" video that have for months swirled around the mayor of Canada's largest city came to a head Thursday with a stunning police revelation that they have uncovered the video.
The surprise police announcement came just hours after the release of a court document detailing allegations that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is connected to accused drug dealers and users, allegedly through his friend, Alexander Lisi.
Ford has repeatedly waved off allegations of drug use as a vendetta from the city's largest newspaper, after reports of the video surfaced in May in the Toronto Star and U.S. website Gawker.
But even in the face of an announcement by Toronto's police chief that investigators have seized the alleged video, the mayor wasn't prepared to substantively address the turmoil.
"I wish I could come out and defend myself," he said. "Unfortunately, I can't because it's before the courts and that's all I can say right now."
Toronto's four major newspapers called on Ford to step down and city councillors predicted he couldn't ignore the scandal any longer.
But he appears prepared to do just that.
"I have no reason to resign," Ford said. "I'm going to go back and return my phone calls. I'm going to be out doing what the people elected me to do and that's save taxpayers money and run a great government."
And despite the pressure on Ford, municipal law makes no provision for his forced removal from office unless he's convicted and jailed for a criminal offence. The next municipal election is a little less than a year away.
Ford was swept into office on the backs of a core group of staunch supporters, who praised his honesty and integrity. Whether the new revelations put a dent in that support remains to be seen, and could depend on whether Torontonians get a chance to view the video before they next go to the polls.
Ford has previously denied using crack cocaine and suggested the video does not exist.
But a "disappointed" Police Chief Bill Blair all but confirmed the video's existence, saying that forensic investigators were recently able to recover a previously deleted file on a hard drive seized in June in "Project Traveller," a drugs and weapons investigation.
"That file contains video images which appear to be those images which were previously reported in the press," Blair said.
"As a citizen of Toronto I'm disappointed," Blair said. "This is a traumatic issue for the citizens of this city and for the reputation of this city and that concerns me."
Blair said they have no "reasonable" grounds to criminally charge the mayor based on the video.
Police have, however, charged Ford's friend Lisi with extortion over alleged efforts to retrieve the video. It will be presented in court as part of Lisi's extortion case, Blair said.
Blair, who has personally watched the video, said it's believed to relate to events at a home on Windsor Drive. That home figures prominently in a lengthy court document released Thursday in a pending drug case, including a marijuana trafficking charge, against Lisi.
A confidential informant refers to it as a "crack house" belonging to "a couple of crack heads," where people go to "chop crack or just hang out and get drunk."
The police allegations also suggest the home is where a photo was taken showing Ford posing with Anthony Smith, who was later shot and killed, and two men who were subsequently arrested and charged with weapons and drug offences as part of Project Traveller.
Features of the house in the background of that photo match that of the Windsor Road home, police allege. Some of the members of the Basso family, who live there, have lengthy criminal records, including for drug offences.
The police document shows that friends and former staffers of Ford were concerned that Lisi was "fuelling" the mayor's alleged drug use.
The document details evidence police collected in order to get a search warrant for Lisi. The document contains allegations that have not been proven in court.
Former Ford staffer, Chris Fickel, told police he didn't know where Ford got marijuana from, but "has heard that 'Sandro' may be the person who provides the mayor with marijuana and possibly cocaine," the document alleges.
However, Fickel added, he has never seen Lisi provide the mayor with drugs. The mayor would call Fickel and tell him to tell "Sandro" that "I need to see him," Fickel told police.
Payman Aboodowleh, a volunteer football coach at Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School, where Ford coached the team, told police that Lisi met Ford through him. He told police he was "mad at Lisi because he was fuelling the mayor's drug abuse," the document says.
Hours after the Gawker and Toronto Star articles were published, phone records show Lisi called Mohamed Siad, who the police report says "is believed to have been one of the people trying to sell Mayor Ford crack video." He also called one of the residents of the alleged "crack house" several times.
The Toronto Star has identified Siad as one of the men it says showed its reporters the alleged video. Siad was also arrested in June as part of Project Traveller.
According to the document, police were conducting surveillance on Lisi and documented several meetings between him and Ford.
On June 26 police saw Lisi meet with the mayor at a soccer field. They spoke for a few minutes then Lisi returned to his vehicle, retrieved a white plastic bag, which he put in Ford's SUV, then walked back to meet up with Ford, the documents allege.
On July 11 Ford is seen on surveillance cameras parking at a gas station then walking straight to the washroom. Shortly after, Lisi arrives at the gas station. Lisi is seen walking near the mayor's SUV holding a manila envelope.
"Lisi appears to be looking around, possibly scoping out the area," the document says.
Lisi is then seen walking along the passenger side of the mayor's vehicle then goes out of the surveillance tape frame and isn't seen again. Ford spends about six minutes in the washroom then buys a pack of gum and drives away.
On July 28 police watched Lisi and Ford meet behind a school. After they left police seized garbage that Ford threw out and it contained two empty vodka bottles.
On July 30 police observed Lisi and Ford meet in the parking lot of the same gas station as the July 11 incident. They saw Lisi get into Ford's SUV with a white gift bag and leave a few minutes later without the bag.
An Ontario Superior Court judge ordered the release of the document Wednesday following an application by media lawyers, who argued it contains information that is in the public interest.
— With files from Paola Loriggio.