Former staffers in the office of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford have alleged a series of abusive behaviours by their boss, with one staffer telling police detectives the mayor drove while intoxicated, and another describing a lurid night in 2012 when there were allegations of cocaine use and a “professional escort.”
The staff interviews, which were summarized in documents that were ordered released Wednesday by Justice Ian Nordheimer, have taken Toronto’s municipal governance crisis to a new place – the corridors of City Hall. Records that were previously unsealed by Justice Nordheimer focused primarily on the mayor’s out-of-office relationship with an accused drug dealer, Alessandro (Sandro) Lisi, which led to an admission from the mayor that he had smoked crack cocaine, prompting headlines around the world. None of the allegations have been proven in court and Mr. Ford has not been charged with any crime.
But the newly released documents – part of a 474-page affidavit that police relied upon to execute four search warrants – offer an inside glimpse of the office of the man who heads Canada’s sixth-largest government: where a staffer described watching the mayor smoke marijuana; where others were allegedly told to purchase alcohol for the mayor as frequently as twice a week; where two other employees were once allegedly assaulted and threatened with physical harm during a drunken tirade.
As of late Wednesday night Mr. Ford had not responded to the specific allegations laid out in the most recently released material, and his lawyer Dennis Morris said that he had not yet had a chance to review the allegations.
Mr. Ford spent most of the day defending himself to his colleagues on Toronto’s city council, which voted 37-5 in support of a symbolic and unenforceable motion that asked him to take a leave of absence to sort out his personal issues.
The mayor has steadfastly refused to take such a leave, and, on Friday, some councillors are expected to take steps to try to curtail his powers for the rest of his term.
“There is nothing else to say, guys,” he told councillors during Wednesday’s session. “I really effed up. That’s it … I know I have done a great job running this city, saving taxpayers’ money and putting us on the right path. I am going to continue doing that. I’m not going to miss a meeting. I’ve never missed a meeting.”
But the portion of the affidavit released Wednesday shows that a number of Mr. Ford’s former staffers – nine of whom have left since May when it was revealed that he was captured on video apparently smoking crack cocaine – had serious concerns about the mayor’s alleged substance abuse and how it was affecting his job performance.
One former junior staffer told investigators that he once found a marijuana joint in the mayor’s desk, and when he went back to find it, it was gone. That same junior staffer, Kia Nejatian, told investigators that he was asked to purchase vodka for the mayor as often as twice a week.
Another former staffer, Chris Fickel, described how, after helping the mayor at a practice for the high school football team he coached up until last year, the former staffer sat beside the mayor as he pulled to the side of the road in his Cadillac Escalade and pulled out a mickey of vodka from a paper bag. The mayor drank the vodka in less than two minutes, chasing the gulps of alcohol with sips from a bottle of Gatorade, and drove off, Mr. Fickel told investigators. Numerous staffers described the mayor arriving late for events, or in some cases – like an April parade with Prince Philip, who was visiting Toronto – not showing up at all.
Several staffers told police that the mayor’s behaviour concerned them, but explained that their entreaties were always ignored. “The mayor was in deep denial,” George Christopoulos, the mayor’s former director of communications, said about staff efforts to persuade Mr. Ford to seek treatment.
But on March 17, 2012, St. Patrick’s Day, when the mayor and several staffers attended one of downtown Toronto’s busier pubs, the Bier Markt, the secret that the mayor’s office had been trying to keep a lid on finally boiled over in the presence of outsiders, the affidavit states.
Before Mr. Ford left his office that night, he had already finished half a bottle of vodka, Isaac Ransom, another ex-communications official for the mayor, told investigators. Mr. Ford took a cab to the pub with two staffers, who, Mr. Ransom said, later described how Mr. Ford had referred to the cab driver by using a racial slur and how he mocked the driver by using “fake language sounds.”
When the staff arrived at the pub, the behaviour turned even more extreme, the affidavit states. One server at the club, Leonardo Navarro, told investigators that he thought he had seen Mr. Ford and a dishevelled, out-of-place woman snort something when he walked into their private lounge. When another mayoral staffer, Brooks Barnett, told the server “don’t tell anyone about what you saw here tonight,” Mr. Navarro became convinced that he had seen the mayor snort cocaine, he told police.
The party – which included a woman whom Mr. Ransom said he believed was a “professional escort” – returned to the mayor’s office and things took an even darker turn, Mr. Ransom said. The mayor accused two staffers, Earl Provost and Mr. Barnett, of being “Liberal hacks,” Mr. Ransom said.
Mr. Ford shoved Mr. Provost, who is now serving as the mayor’s chief of staff and was not interviewed by police, into a wall at the main entrance of his office, Mr. Ransom told police. When staff tried to pull the mayor off, he charged at Mr. Barnett, Mr. Ransom said. That same night, a former female staffer of the mayor, who declined to respond to police requests for interviews, was subjected to suggestive sexual comments by the mayor about oral sex, Mr. Ransom told police. The mayor made similar vulgar sexual comments to a City Hall security guard, Mr. Ransom said.
With reports from Karen Howlett, Kathryn Blaze Carlson, Renata D’Aliesio and Ann Hui