Toronto Police say that they called for a transit bus to transport Mayor Rob Ford’s high school football team after becoming aware that tension had been brewing between that school and their opponents.
Superintendent Ron Taverner told a news conference Tuesday that the cold and rainy weather played only a minimal role in the decision, contradicting an earlier description of events by a school board spokesman.
The use of the bus has roiled city politics and conversation since it was known that transit passengers were left in the rain while two buses were dispatched to an Etobicoke school to pick up football players after their game came to an acrimonious end. It later emerged that Mr. Ford had called TTC CEO Andy Byford’s cellphone and left a message, asking what was taking the bus so long.
At his press conference, Supt. Taverner stressed that the Mayor had not been involved in the initial decision-making about whether to call for a bus.
The veteran officer said that a disputed call by the referee had sparked ire from the opposing team’s coach, verbal confrontations broke out and the game was called early. He said that police had been made aware of posturing on social media since an earlier game between the two sides and that five officers, including a sergeant, were at the scene by this point.
It was the sergeant who decided to call for the bus, in the interest of public safety, Supt. Taverner said. It was felt that the situation could escalate if the Don Bosco team Mr. Ford coaches was allowed to wait in their opponents’ school until their normal bus arrived.
“She feels very strongly it was the right decision,” he told reporters. “I wasn’t there personally but I have to rely on her decision.”
Supt. Taverner’s explanation of why police requested a shelter bus differs from that of the Toronto Catholic District School Board.
Last Friday, John Yan, a spokesman for the board, said the primary reason that Don Bosco principal Ugo Rossi asked officers at the game to summon a TTC vehicle was to get the football players out of the cold, wet weather as rapidly as possible.
In an interview Tuesday after Supt. Taverner’s news conference, Mr. Yan stood by that, but clarified that the decision was a “collaborative” one made between school officials and Toronto police.
Both sides acted out of an abundance of caution, Mr. Yan said.
“We’re in education. Our main concern is the health and safety of our students and especially in terms of [their] having been exposed to pretty bitter conditions for close to two hours and then having to wait another hour [for a bus,]” he said. “That would be our primary focus. That’s not to say that the focus of Toronto police services wouldn’t be … heavier on something else, which in this case was a potential conflict, which, as you know, never materialized.”
The Toronto Transit Commission, meanwhile, said Tuesday it has no intention of changing how it responds to police and fire department requests for shelter buses.
“The shelter bus protocol is sound,” TTC Chief Executive Officer Andy Byford said in a memo to commissioners. “To complicate the shelter bus protocol with a bureaucracy of approvals or review prior to releasing a bus to an incident scene, would, in my view, hinder, not enhance or improve, this important service to the people of Toronto.”
Mr. Byford sent the memo after the TTC conducted a review of its shelter bus policy at the urging of some of the councillors who sit on the TTC’s board.
The chief executive said in his note that 50 fare-paying riders were kicked off a 36 Finch West bus last Thursday so the vehicle could be sent to a nearby high school to pick up Mayor Ford’s high school football team.
“I want to offer my sincere apologies to those customers for enduring this inconvenience,” Mr. Byford said.
A second bus – dispatched when the driver of the first bus could not find the football field – was empty. It was sent back to its regular route when the first driver located Father Henry Carr Catholic School in Etobicoke.
Mr. Byford also confirmed again that Mr. Ford left a voicemail on his cell phone when the first bus was delayed.
“At the time of the call to me from the mayor, I was unaware of the police request. Upon hearing the voicemail, I called the called the Transit Control Centre to inquire about whether they had received a request for a bus. Staff confirmed a shelter bus was requested and advised that it would arrive in five minutes. At no time was the mayor’s name invoked.”
With files from Elizabeth Church