Upon being approached, the sources declined to speak if identified, saying they feared the consequences of outing themselves as former users and sellers of illegal drugs.
The Globe also tried to contact retired police officers who investigated drugs in the area at the time. One said he had no recollection of encountering the Fords.
Another, whose name appeared on court documents in relation to allegations of assault and forcible confinement committed by Randy Ford, said he could not recall the incident. Several did not respond.
Since entering public life, both Fords have been ardent supporters of Toronto police and have campaigned, over the years, on increasing the police presence on Etobicoke’s streets. In December, 2011, Doug Ford showed up, unannounced, at a police press conference to trumpet the force’s crackdown on a network of drug dealers who were selling, among other things, marijuana.
Doug, like Rob, frequently promotes the Ford family as a type of brand – one that started with their late father’s four-year tenure as an MPP in the government of former Ontario premier Mike Harris. Doug Ford is fond of invoking his family’s contributions to the community. Through his involvement with the Rotary Club of Etobicoke, he has helped to organize events like the Etobicoke Fall Fair. He frequently mentions the many sports teams that the Ford family business, Deco Labels and Tags, has sponsored over the years. He also cites the many football teams his younger brother has coached, and the hordes of people – he puts the figure at 25,000 – the Fords have entertained at their annual backyard barbecue.
But long before he took over the family business and pursued public office, Doug Ford’s circle of friends was a group of young people who called themselves the RY Drifters, after the Royal York Plaza, a strip mall many of them frequented.
The Fords’ neighbourhood was paradoxical in some respects. It teemed with wealth; families who settled there after the Second World War, such as the Fidanis and the Brattys, would become known as the biggest players in Toronto-area land development. As his sticker and label business flourished, Doug Ford Sr. was featured in the society pages of The Globe, rubbing elbows with cabinet ministers, senators and members of the Eaton family.
But the prosperity disguised a disturbing trend among many of the area’s young adults – an attraction to crime that went beyond typical teenage rebellion. Former Ford associates interviewed for this story identified at least 10 RY Drifters who became heroin addicts, some of whom turned to break-ins and robberies to support their habits.
In recent years, the Ford family home has become known for the annual barbecue, attended by hundreds of neighbours and a Who’s Who of Conservative luminaries – including Prime Minister Stephen Harper and federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. But in the 1980s, the finished basement at 15 Weston Wood Rd. was one of the many places Doug Ford did business, the sources said.
“Justin” recalled descending to the basement on one occasion to buy hash from Mr. Ford, and on numerous other occasions watching as it was sold.
He said he couldn’t recall exactly how much hash he purchased that day, but that it was enough to require a triple-beam balance scale – the kind used in most high-school science classes. Normally, street-level dealers in that era relied on Pesola scales, the compact tubes often used by fishermen to weigh their catch. “If you went over [a quarter-pound], you had to go up to the three beamers – because you could get up to a few pounds on it,” he explained.
As a dealer, Doug Ford was not highly visible. Another source, “Tom,” who also supplied street-level dealers and has a long criminal record, said his girlfriend at the time would complain, whenever he was arrested, that he needed to be more calculating “like Doug.” Mr. Ford’s approach, sources said, was to supply a select group that in turn distributed smaller amounts across Etobicoke.
As well as James Gardens, a popular place to buy hash was the Royal York Plaza, also known as The Drift, because it offered a clear line of sight down Royal York Road and fair warning of any approaching police cruisers.