Toronto’s police chief was told about Mayor Rob Ford’s alleged involvement with drugs and ties to a gang nearly one month before veteran officers launched a sweeping investigation in May into accusations the mayor was videotaped smoking crack cocaine.
Chief Bill Blair said in an interview with The Globe and Mail on Friday that he was apprised of developments and evidence gathered throughout a major gang probe known as Project Traveller, including events on April 20 this year, when a member of the Dixon City Bloods was summoned to a bungalow in Etobicoke at 12:52 a.m. to allegedly provide drugs to the mayor.
Despite this development, a decision was made not to begin a separate probe of Mr. Ford’s activities in April because investigators wanted to stay focused on the Toronto gang they had been watching since June of 2012, and monitoring through wiretaps since this past March.
Chief Blair said that decision, which he was aware of, was made by investigators in charge of Project Traveller.
“In the course of a large-scale investigation, the investigators have to make judgment calls,” the police chief said. “There’s a greater purpose to those investigations. Project Traveller involved some very serious criminal activity, including four homicides, a number of shootings, the importation of firearms into Canada, the trafficking of large quantities of drugs.”
Appointed head of Toronto police in 2005, Chief Blair has faced criticism over his handling of the probe involving the mayor of Canada’s largest city.
Mr. Ford and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, have accused the chief of being politically motivated. The mayor has suggested the police investigation and extensive surveillance that led to the arrest of his friend and former driver, Alessandro Lisi, was payback for budget cuts, while Councillor Ford has called on the chief to resign. (Chief Blair rejects the accusations.)
Others have questioned why Toronto police have not charged the mayor.
Mr. Ford, a member of city council since 2000, has admitted to smoking crack cocaine and drinking too much alcohol at public events. Other allegations, such as using heroin, consorting with gang members and a suspected prostitute, and sexually harassing a City Hall security guard, are contained in a nearly 500-page police document submitted to court in a drug case involving Mr. Lisi. The allegations have not been tested in court, and have been dismissed as untrue by the mayor’s brother.
Chief Blair said he stands by how his police service has handled the investigation and by his decision to not turn over the probe, dubbed Project Brazen II, to another law-enforcement agency. Project Brazen II was launched after U.S. website Gawker and the Toronto Star reported on May 16 that drug dealers had wanted to sell the media organizations a video of the mayor allegedly smoking crack cocaine from a glass pipe.
The deal was never done and the video has not surfaced publicly. But Chief Blair revealed in late October that police recovered a copy of the Ford video from a computer hard drive seized during Project Traveller’s mid-June raids and arrests. A second related video was also recovered by police.
Chief Blair declined to comment on whether police have seized other videos of the mayor, only noting a great deal of evidence has been gathered.
About 60 people were arrested in Project Traveller. Summaries of police wiretaps filed in court show one member of the Dixon City Bloods boasted about having “so much pictures of Rob Ford doing the hezza,” which is slang for heroin. Other gang members noted they had a picture of the mayor “on a pipe,” according to police interceptions of phone conversations.
When asked in October whether he was shocked by the Ford video, Chief Blair said: “I’m disappointed.” On Friday, he said he does not regret expressing his opinion about the mayor’s alleged conduct. The investigation remains active.
“There are still some matters that are being investigated and pursued, and I’m not going to comment on any ongoing matters,” the police chief said.
He also declined to comment on whether the April 20 events at the Etobicoke bungalow were the first time he became aware of drug allegations against the mayor. The mayor’s spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
While Chief Blair has faced heightened scrutiny since reports of the Ford video emerged in mid-May, he does not count the probe among his most difficult moments of 2013.
He said the death of Constable John Zivcic and the police shooting of teenager Sammy Yatim were tougher – and more tragic – events. The fallout from Mr. Yatim’s death, who was alone on a streetcar wielding a knife when he was shot by police, is ongoing.
Constable James Forcillo has been charged with second-degree murder. And former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci has been appointed to review the police service’s equipment and its use-of-force training and policies.
Chief Blair said one of the issues that both Mr. Iacobucci and the police service are looking at is whether officers should be outfitted with cameras.
The chief said more research needs to be done on body-worn cameras for police, although he believes the adoption of cameras is inevitable.
“I see some utility in having accurate video reference of police interactions with the public, particularly those ones which give rise to the use of force.”