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Updated: Wed, 05 Mar 2014 19:00:06 GMT | By The Canadian Press, cbc.ca

OPP takes on oversight role in Rob Ford-related probe



Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, seen speaking in Ottawa recently, was the subject of police surveillance for months last year. Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, seen speaking in Ottawa recently, was the subject of police surveillance for months last year. Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press

Toronto's police chief removed himself from a lengthy criminal investigation of Rob Ford on Wednesday, but the city's mayor denounced the change as too little too late.

Ford, who has repeatedly attacked the legitimacy of the probe and Bill Blair, wasted little time in criticizing the move, which puts provincial police in charge but leaves city investigators on the case.

"The damage has already been done," Ford said at city hall.

"The chief obviously is playing political games and it should have been done from the very beginning."

Earlier Wednesday, Blair released a letter he had written to OPP Commissioner Chris Lewis in which he laid out his reasons for asking his provincial colleagues for help.

"I am taking this step to avoid the distractions that have assumed such recent prominence," Blair wrote.

"The only public interest here is the continued investigation, without fear or favour, into evidence of possible criminality."

'Charged for what?'

Ford has publicly accused Blair of wasting tax money with the investigation, and vociferously challenged the chief to arrest and charge him.

The mayor said he was not concerned at the possibility.

"Charged for what? For an empty vodka bottle or urinating in a park," Ford said. "Which one?"

The Toronto police investigation in question — dubbed "Project Brazen 2" — arose last spring out of a year-long guns, gangs and drugs probe.

It was during the initial probe that police uncovered a video showing Ford apparently smoking crack cocaine, and decided to investigate his activities.

Ford's friend Alexander (Sandro) Lisi was charged in the first investigation with drug offences, and later with extortion in relation to the "crack" video. The allegations have not been proven in court.

"We're always very concerned that nothing is said or done that could have any impact on current or future court proceedings," said Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash.

"We'll always err on the side of caution."

Giroux will continue to lead probe

Veteran Toronto homicide investigator, Det.-Sgt. Gary Giroux, will continue to lead the investigation, but will now answer to a senior provincial police officer rather than to senior city police officers.

The provincial inspector will have no direct involvement in the probe, but will be available for consultation or to offer advice, police said.

OPP Commissioner Chris Lewis said the change is "semantics" but said the investigative team will no longer report up a chain in Toronto police, ultimately to Blair.

"That removes the whole senior management team of the Toronto police and the chief from any involvement — or perception of involvement — in any decision-making around this case," Lewis said.

Blair wanted the public to be confident that there was no interference from the chief or other senior city officers, Lewis said, adding there was no indication any charges were imminent.

On Monday night, Ford attacked Blair during an appearance on the U.S. late-night talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live.

"They follow me around for five months and came up empty-handed. I just want him to come clean with the taxpayers," Ford said. "It's all politics."

Michael Davis, a former homicide investigator, said taking away the appearance of politics will help if this case ever gets to court.

"You always have to keep that in the back of your mind: What I do today may reflect on the outcome of a court case," Davis told CBC News.

Toronto City Hall reaction

Coun. Adam Vaughan said the request to have OPP oversight was an indication that the investigation has yet to wrap up.

"I guess it means that the work is getting closer and closer to the mayor’s office," Vaughan said Wednesday.

Coun. Paula Fletcher said giving the OPP oversight made "a lot of sense."

With the war of words going on between Ford, his brother and the chief of police, Fletcher said, "I think that everyone needs to feel that there is a very objective third party and the OPP will do that."

Ford has served as Toronto’s mayor for just over three years. He is seeking a second term this fall, though more than two dozen candidates have registered to compete for his job in the October election.

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