Ford calls video blackmail claim a lie as Toronto Police defend investigation

The Globe and Mail

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford returns to his office in gym attire during a break in an executive committee meeting at City Hall in Toronto, December 5, 2013. (AARON HARRIS/REUTERS)

Suggestions by police that Mayor Rob Ford tried to buy a video that shows him smoking crack cocaine are “potential hearsay” and an “outright lie,” Mr. Ford and his lawyer said on Thursday – even as Toronto Police launched a media blitz to defend its handling of the investigation.

Mr. Ford’s lawyer, Dennis Morris, dismissed as “potential hearsay” the latest allegations from a police document that suggests alleged gang members may have tried to blackmail the mayor, and that police believed Mr. Ford offered $5,000 and a car in exchange for the video.

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The allegations stem from wiretap conversations between some of the young men arrested in Project Traveller – a gang and drug investigation that resulted in dozens of arrests in mid-June – and their claims about supplying drugs to the mayor. “It could be exaggeration. It could be lies,” Mr. Morris said.

Mr. Ford told Washington radio station 106.7 The Fan on Thursday: “Number one, that’s an outright lie, and number two, you can talk to my lawyers about it.”

The mayor’s brother, Councillor Doug Ford – who on Thursday wore a black t-shirt with a picture of the mayor and the slogan “Built Ford Tough,” also questioned the motive behind the investigation. “I haven’t seen a video, have you? In my opinion, the police chief has his own agenda,” he said.

Several councillors also voiced concerns this week about Toronto Police’s handling of the investigation. Mr. Ford has not been charged, and none of the allegations in the document have been proven in court.

But Toronto Police spokesman Mark Pugash told The Globe and Mail on Thursday that Chief Blair cannot comment because the investigation is ongoing and the matter is before the courts.

“We knew that we were going to be subjected – entirely appropriately – to the greatest scrutiny, and we will make sure and continue to make sure that we dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t,’” Mr. Pugash said. “Because we know that we will have to justify not only what we do, but anything that we don’t do.”

And what police did not do – lay charges against the mayor – has been a persistent question, Mr. Pugash said.

“The Chief said yesterday, ‘Where there are reasonable and probable grounds for charges, people will be charged,’” he said. “Just because someone says, ‘Yeah, I may have driven impaired’ – you need evidence. You need them in a vehicle. You need to be able to get blood level.”

Premier Kathleen Wynne declined to answer questions about the investigation on Thursday, but said that, after meeting with Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly this week, she had “a lot of confidence in city council.”

Mr. Kelly said Toronto’s executive committee, which met on Thursday, is “immunized” from the controversies. He added that Mr. Ford cannot continue to dodge questions on the investigation.

“The most troubling aspect of this situation was his involvement with certain types of people in Toronto and he’s got to explain that,” he told reporters.

Mr. Kelly chaired the first meeting of executive committee since the seat was pulled from the mayor in a council vote last month. The mayor left the meeting early, after which the executive committee approved the city’s water and garbage budgets, which will now be presented to council.

Councillor John Filion, the architect of the measures to shift authority from Mr. Ford to the deputy mayor, said they “seem to be working.”

Mr. Kelly said concerns about the police investigation should be directed to the police services board.

In an e-mail, Alok Mukherjee, chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, said the Police Services Act prohibits the board from giving direction to Chief Blair on day-to-day investigations.

Councillor Michael Thompson, vice-chair of the police services board, said he is satisfied with the investigation.

With reports from Bill Curry in Ottawa and Kaleigh Rogers

 

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