Everyone was waiting for Rob Ford to show up to a crucial practice, the last one before the Don Bosco Eagles high-school football team appeared in the 2012 Metro Bowl championship.
But the Toronto mayor, the team’s volunteer head coach for a decade, didn’t arrive until about two hours into the practice, dressed in a hoodie and sweatpants.
After practice, Mr. Ford met in a school hallway with his coaching staff, principal Ugo Rossi and the Toronto Catholic school board’s director of communications, John Yan. The mayor had experienced a significant political setback that day – a judge ruled Mr. Ford violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act and told him to step down, an order later overturned on appeal. Mr. Ford looked and sounded intoxicated, Mr. Yan recalls.
“He was slurring his words. He was swaying,” Mr. Yan said, elaborating on details contained in 382 pages of school-board documents released to The Globe and Mail on Wednesday under freedom-of-information legislation. “We all noticed that he was inebriated.”
But from what Mr. Yan recalls, none of the eight or so people there questioned Mr. Ford about his allegedly unsteady state or whether he planned to drive home. In the end, it appears everyone looked the other way.
“I have no idea how he got home. We had other details to look after for the next day,” Mr. Yan said. “In hindsight, maybe I should have thought of that. But at the end of the day, he had other people around him … his [mayoral] staff around him.”
Whether it was on the high-school gridiron, at City Hall or at public events such as the Garrison Ball, many looked the other way for a long time when it came to Mr. Ford’s now-admitted alcohol abuse and drug use. At least one school board trustee, Sal Piccininni, advocated for the mayor to remain as coach of the Don Bosco Eagles, even as the principal, teachers and parents pushed for his dismissal last year, the newly released documents show.
Mr. Ford, who completed a two-month rehabilitation program in June, is running for re-election and declined to comment on the school-board allegations Wednesday. Mr. Piccininni also declined to comment when reached on his cellphone Thursday.
At City Hall on Thursday, Councillor Doug Ford characterized the school-board documents as “fictitious rumours and allegations,” but declined to elaborate. He defended his brother’s work with the football players.
“There’s no politician in this whole country – entire country – that has put more money, more effort, and more importantly, more time in the youth than Rob Ford has,” his brother said.
The mayor was prohibited from coaching at all Toronto Catholic schools in May, 2013, nearly three months after a review of his volunteer role was launched. The review uncovered a series of “critical incidents” involving the mayor, including alleged threats against a teacher in August, 2012, two instances of apparent intoxication, and ordering players to roll around in goose scat while he berated them with profanity after a game.
Trustee Maria Rizzo said most trustees were kept in the dark about Mr. Ford’s antics until the review. She said the school board should have moved more swiftly in severing ties with Mr. Ford.
“Absolutely, we should have moved sooner,” Ms. Rizzo said. “Because Mayor Ford is the chief magistrate of Toronto, they used kid gloves with this issue. Any other citizen would not have been given the respect that Mr. Ford was given and he didn’t even deserve it.”
Ms. Rizzo said the board voted in private to give the director of education the authority to deal with the Ford issue quickly, but his dismissal still took months. The coaching ban was announced in late May, 2013, days after revelations of a video reportedly showing the mayor smoking crack cocaine.
“If he had been anybody but the mayor, it might have gone faster,” said Judy Collins, a member of the Don Bosco parents’ council. The parents’ council pushed for Mr. Ford to cut ties with the school on March 26, 2013, according to an e-mail from the group’s chair.
Asked why the school board didn’t oust the mayor sooner from his coaching position, Mr. Yan said not all of the critical incidents were known to the director of education or board of trustees until the review. He also noted that Mr. Ford had a decade-long relationship with the school board – one that was largely successful.
“You have to provide a due process and that’s what we did in this case,” Mr. Yan said.
Councillor Joe Mihevc and several others at city hall said they’d heard many of the details of the mayor’s behaviour with the high-school team from former members of his staff or contacts at the Catholic school board.
“They were part of the narrative and stories that were coming out for many, many weeks and months,” Mr. Mihevc said.
Councillor John Filion said what happened with the mayor’s coaching career is part of a broader pattern.
“Nothing is usual about it. You have the mayor of Toronto coaching a high-school football team, then you have this crazy behaviour, then you have everybody ignoring the crazy behaviour, so what else is new,” he said.
The school-board documents allege Mr. Ford disregarded a request for mandatory criminal background checks for himself and his coaching staff until the principal and board threatened to halt football practice in 2012. A staffer in the mayor’s office then put a rush on the checks through police Chief Bill Blair, a briefing note states.
A one-sentence letter from Chief Blair to Mr. Ford notes: “I have reviewed the applicable records and am satisfied that there is nothing that would preclude your work with members in the vulnerable sector.” Other coaching staff are not mentioned in the chief’s letter.
The Globe and Mail previously reported that the 2012 checks failed to catch the violent criminal past of one of Mr. Ford’s volunteer coaches and friend, Payman Aboodowleh.
“My office brought a letter to me and asked if I would sign it,” Chief Blair said Thursday. “It’s unusual. Not unheard of, but unusual,” he added.
With reports from Ann Hui, Sean Tepper, and Elizabeth Church Report Typo/Error