A judge has ordered the release of more information from a police investigation into Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, but details won’t be made public until at least next week.
In a decision released Wednesday, Ontario Superior Court Justice Ian Nordheimer ruled that almost all of a nearly 500-page police document can be released to reporters, save for details relating to confidential informants and police investigative techniques.
But the information will remain under publication ban until at least Dec. 6 – the deadline set for the Crown to file an appeal.
“We are dealing with the actions of the duly elected mayor of the country’s largest city and the extensive investigation undertaken by the police into those actions,” Justice Nordheimer wrote in his decision. “In terms of legal proceedings, it is hard to conceive of a matter that would be of more importance to the public interest, at this particular point in time, than the one that is presented by this case in the context in which it has unfolded.”
Lawyers for several media organizations, including The Globe and Mail, have been pressing for the release of information from the document submitted to court to obtain search warrants in a drug case involving the mayor’s friend, Alessandro (Sandro) Lisi, and dry cleaner Jamshid Bahrami.
Justice Nordheimer wrote that Mr. Lisi’s right to a fair trial on charges connected to the case is not necessarily compromised by the release of the document. “I would also point out in this regard that Mr. Lisi is not the focus of the ongoing publicity,” he wrote. “That focus is on the Mayor. While I accept that that fact may be a bit of a two-edged sword given Mr. Lisi’s connection to the Mayor, the fact of that connection has already been widely reported.”
The material chiefly involves wiretap information collected while Toronto police monitored the phone calls of at least 59 people identified through Project Traveller, a year-long guns-and-drugs investigation that culminated with dozens of arrests in mid-June in Toronto, Windsor and Alberta.
Peter Jacobsen, the lawyer for The Globe, called the decision “important and significant.”
Justice Nordheimer’s rejection of the Crown argument wiretap information should remain secret will be “tremendously helpful in the future,” Mr. Jacobsen said.
The police investigation is ongoing and none of the allegations has been tested in court.
Much of the police document has been already released, including summaries of police interviews with former employees of the mayor’s office.
The ex-staff members alleged Mr. Ford often dispatched them to buy alcohol for him, appeared intoxicated at City Hall and at official public events, and made lewd comments to former female staffers and a security guard.
Some former staff members also told police they believed Mr. Ford used illegal drugs. One ex-aide recounted witnessing the mayor guzzle a 375 ml “mickey” of vodka behind the wheel of his Cadillac Escalade after coaching football at Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School.
Mr. Ford has not been charged criminally, but the allegations in the police document spurred Toronto city councillors to vote this month to strip Mr. Ford of most of his mayoral powers and chop his office budget by more than half.
Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly now oversees the bulk of the mayor’s staff and budget and has taken over as chairman of the city’s cabinet-like executive committee.
Mr. Ford has likened city council’s move to a “coup d’etat” and threatened to launch a court challenge. Ontario’s Municipal Affairs Minister Linda Jeffrey has asserted council’s measures were legal and within the bounds of its authority.
The police investigation of Mr. Lisi, who had served as the mayor’s occasional driver, began in mid-May, when U.S. website Gawker and the Toronto Star reported that a person had offered to sell them a video of the mayor allegedly smoking crack cocaine. The video, which police allege was filmed in February, has not surfaced publicly. Police Chief Bill Blair revealed on Oct. 31 that police recovered a copy of the video from a computer hard drive seized during the Project Traveller raids, which targeted an Etobicoke gang known as the Dixon City Bloods.
Police have charged Mr. Lisi, 35, with extortion in connection with alleged efforts to obtain the Ford video. Police allege the mayor’s friend threatened Mohamed Siad and Liban Siyad, both arrested in Project Traveller, in an unsuccessful bid to retrieve the video. Mr. Lisi also faces charges of trafficking marijuana, possession of marijuana, possession of proceeds of crime, and conspiracy to commit an indictable offence.
Mr. Ford recently admitted he has smoked crack cocaine after months of denials. He has also admitted buying illegal drugs since he was elected mayor in October, 2010. He said he is not addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Court documents released last week revealed that the mayor’s voice was not captured in police monitoring of telephone calls related to Project Traveller. The records, though, show Mr. Lisi was in phone contact with several men arrested in Project Traveller.
During months of surveillance of Mr. Lisi over the summer, police officers noted Mr. Lisi and Mr. Ford met frequently, at all hours of the day and night, including in unusual places such as school parking lots, gas stations, and “secluded” areas of parks near the mayor’s Etobicoke home. The pair was also in frequent phone contact, including a flurry of phone activity in the days after the report of the crack video.