Other people heckled Rob Ford when he appeared at a parade in east-end Toronto, but Joe Killoran forever gained fame as the “shirtless jogger” who chewed out the mayor on Canada Day.
A high-school teacher, Mr. Killoran said his action wasn’t planned, though. Because his words struck a chord with a segment of Toronto voters, Mr. Killoran – initially dubbed the “topless jogger” by a clever headline writer at the Global News website – quickly became a minor Internet celebrity, praised in some quarters for his frank talk. “I didn’t intend to go shirtless and be on the news, but that’s the way it ended up. I certainly didn’t expect this,” he said in an interview.
“I did it as a private citizen, that wasn’t a planned lesson, me yelling at the mayor.”
During the confrontation, he called Mr. Ford a racist homophobe and asked him about a Globe and Mail report that the mayor and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, lobbied city officials on behalf of Apollo Health and Beauty Care, a client of the Ford family’s labelling business.
“Answer the questions. People have a million questions about your lying, your corruption. You’re a corrupt, lying, racist homophobe,” Mr. Killoran yelled.
The incident took place after the mayor decided to join the East York Canada Day parade.
Amid the fire trucks, bagpipe bands and Shriners go-karts were local politicians, including Ward 31 Councillor Janet Davis, New Democrat MP Matthew Kellway and newly elected Liberal MPP Arthur Potts. Mayoral candidate Olivia Chow also rode in the parade on a bicycle.
Mr. Ford was actually late and didn’t show up until the main group had passed on and the crowd started to thin. Some straggling residents jeered him.
Mr. Killoran, who lives near the parade route, was jogging bare-chested because of the muggy weather, he said in an interview Wednesday during a break from his duties teaching summer school.
“It was spontaneous. … I didn’t know there was an East York parade, much less that Rob Ford would be at it,” he said.
He teaches politics, law and American history at Malvern Collegiate Institute and has shared his views about the mayor in the classroom. “I teach politics so Rob Ford comes up a lot, certainly, in my class,” he said.
Mr. Killoran said he felt Mr. Ford has devalued politics and public debate in a way that ran counter to what he teaches his charges.
“Students are getting the idea that politics is just another reality show. I like, when my students learn about politics, I like to watch them develop various views. Some them might be right-wingers or left-wingers, all sorts of views. I have got libertarian students and Marxist students and I like for all of us to debate ideas and have substantive discussions,” he said.
“He [Mr. Ford] has degraded that. It’s just anti-intellectual sloganeering, clichés, lies, it’s just like another reality show. That’s the greatest harm he’s done.”
Doug Ford, the mayor’s brother and campaign manager, had harsh words for Mr. Killoran when asked on Wednesday about the incident.
“I wouldn't let him teach my dog, this gentleman, the way he was acting,” Mr. Ford told reporters. “He needs anger management. He needs consulting. A little therapy, in my opinion.”
Mr. Killoran said he had in the past done volunteer work for Liberal and NDP campaigns but noted that he hasn’t been involved in partisan politics for six or seven years.
He has been involved with Education Equality in Ontario, a group that advocates for the removal of the Catholic school system in favour of a single publicly funded secular school system.
He has also written opinion pieces that are critical of grade inflation and overprotective parents.
“Certainly, in my educational views I wouldn’t fall in the left side of the spectrum. I think, like most people, I don’t fall neatly on any side. … I’m certainly not some permanent political activist.”
He declined to take part in a video interview with The Globe. “I feel that the public must be saturated with my picture by now.”
Feelings for Mr. Killoran varied among his students.
One, who contacted Councillor Ford during a radio show, was standing beside him at City Hall by Wednesday afternoon.
Spencer Leefe, who said he came by to visit his friend, Councillor Ford, said his former politics teacher made no secret about how he felt. “He’s a good guy, don’t get me wrong, but I mean, come on, he clearly is an NDP socialist guy,” said Mr. Leefe, who took his Grade 12 politics class. “It’s very direct what he says. You can clearly see in class what side of the political spectrum he’s on.”
Another student contacted by The Globe had a different take.
Brian Hay, a student in Mr. Killoran’s Grade 11 American history class this year described it as one of his favourite classes.
“He’s definitely got some opinions, but he’s not what Doug Ford makes him out to be,” the 16-year-old student said.
Mr. Killoran sometimes talked in free time about events surrounding the mayor, he said, but it was not a constant topic. “If someone asked, he’d say he didn’t like the mayor,” he said.