Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is brushing off fresh charges of homophobia, after he stayed in his seat during a long ovation by city council to recognize the success of the WorldPride festivities.
The city’s troubled leader set off a fresh controversy just minutes into Wednesday’s council meeting when he remained rooted to his seat while other councillors got to their feet, clapping in tribute to those who had worked on the 10-day celebration – an image that quickly became widely circulated on social media.
Hours later, as Mr. Ford returned to council after the lunch break, he was asked if he was homophobic.
“You guys have been asking me this question for 14 years and you know the answer,” he said, his back to reporters as he waited for the elevator. “I’m not homophobic. I’m not homophobic.”
Mr. Ford did not give a reason when he was asked why he did not stand up.
“I stick up for every taxpayer,” he said. “I’m the only mayor that saves taxpayers money. I’ve saved hundreds of millions of dollars. It drives you guys crazy, I know.”
WorldPride organizers and city staff involved in organizing the event were recognized by name in presentations by City Manager Joe Pennachetti and Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly at the start of council on Wednesday morning. Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam also was recognized for her work.
The celebration has redefined the city, Ms. Wong-Tam, who is openly gay, said in her remarks to council. “There is no going back in the closet.”
Through it all, Mayor Ford, who returned from a two-month leave the day after WorldPride ended, sat at his desk, at times sipping from a cup and flipping through papers.
Mr. Ford, who was captured on tape making homophobic and racist comments before he left for his stint in rehab, has said in interviews that the remarks were a result of his “disease.” During his time as mayor, he has never attended the Pride parade, citing family obligations.
Soon after, as the business of council began, Ms. Wong-Tam asked that the mayor, “in the spirit of WorldPride,” lift his “hold” on an item that would ask staff to study options for designating shelter beds for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer/questioning and two-spirited young people so that council could vote. Members of council place “holds” on items that they wish to ask questions on or speak about.
“The community has been waiting a long time for this,” Ms. Wong-Tam said.
“The mayor is not ready to release that,” Council Speaker Frances Nunziata said as Mr. Ford sat silently and faced catcalls from the public gallery.
“Come on,” Councillor Mike Layton said.
Mr. Kelly said he noticed the mayor’s actions, and called them “regrettable.”
“He wasn’t there for those proceedings,” he said, referring to the Pride event, “but it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to expect him to join with his colleagues in appreciating the time, the effort, the energy that was put into making Pride one of the best festivals that the city has seen.”
The mayor’s brother and campaign manager, Councillor Doug Ford, initially declined to comment on Pride, saying he would talk only about “the issues.”
When pressed, the councillor denied that his brother does not support the gay community.
“Say someone in the gay community calls him, he shows up to their door, and he’s helped numerous people,” Councillor Ford said. “You don’t want to report that there’s some gay people on his campaign team, you don’t want to report that, either.”
Over the past few months, the councillor has repeatedly refused to reveal who is working on the mayor’s re-election campaign.
He added that the mayor did attend a PFLAG raising in 2012, and he said the family has made donations in the past to Pride events.
Ms. Wong-Tam told reporters that she believes that the mayor’s actions on the council floor discredit his claim that drugs and alcohol are to blame for his homophobic and racial slurs.
“It is really quite unfortunate that Mayor Ford again is just not decent in his approach. He couldn’t even bother to stand up. He couldn’t even fake it, which just tells you this is the kind of guy he is,” she said.
“He has done everything he can to destroy his relationships with the LGBT community and I think he has done so quite effectively,” she said. “Clearly Rob Ford once again stands alone in a corner pouting by himself and that’s where he belongs. That’s where he should stay.”
Also on Wednesday, Mayor Ford rose in the chamber to apologize to Councillor Paul Ainslie for robo-calls he funded last year to Scarborough residents about the councillor’s vote on the Scarborough subway.
“I’d like to apologize to Councillor Ainslie for informing his constituents through robo-calls that he wanted to vote against subways,” the mayor said.
The mayor’s comments came after a report from the integrity commissioner finding that he had breached the council code of conduct by funding the calls, and recommending he apologize – and after several hours of debate in council over the matter.
With a report from Ann Hui.