Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s sobriety coach wants the world to know that he loves his job – even though he’s had a hard first couple of weeks at the office.
Ever since Mr. Ford’s return from rehab, Robert Marier has been glued to the mayor’s side, and he’s feeling the weight of his new, very high-profile job. The 49-year-old Montrealer, who left his wife behind in Quebec to live out of a suitcase in a Toronto hotel, began working as the mayor’s “sobriety coach” just two weeks ago. Since then, he’s been thrust into the spotlight of the media – including an accusation that he kicked a protester, which he denies – all the while entrusted with the responsibility of keeping the chief magistrate of Canada’s largest city on track in his recovery.
But despite it all, Mr. Marier – or “Bobby,” as he’s known to friends – says he has no regrets working with Mr. Ford.
“I take the hard cases,” he said in an exclusive interview with The Globe and Mail. “I take the cases that other people will run away from. The burning buildings – I run in.” Mr. Marier said the job has nothing to do with his political views. “It’s not about that,” he said. “I just think everyone deserves a chance.”
Mr. Marier, who spoke to The Globe on the condition that he would not discuss his ongoing work with the mayor, is a recovering alcoholic and cocaine addict himself who used for 23 years, and has been sober for 10 years.
“I have a chronic illness and there’s no cure, but there is a solution,” he said. “To me, the solution is helping other people. I’m not ashamed to tell my story.”
Mr. Marier’s own story of addiction began at the age of 15. He grew up the youngest of six kids “with every advantage of the world” in Montreal. But when he used cocaine for the first time with friends at school, he said, “I was pretty much off to the races.”
He tried university for a while, but dropped out after a few years – “having ADD, like me, I didn’t get much done … my favourite colour is shiny.” He jumped from one job to the next, he said – as a server at restaurants, as a “handler” for local bands, and then a stint in Los Angeles working for a film-distribution company – but addiction continued to plague him.
In 2004, he was arrested for fraud after writing a series of bad cheques the year earlier – a charge he was given an absolute discharge for. According to court records, he wrote seven cheques to American Airlines on a closed bank account, totalling about $10,000. At the 2011 court appearance, the judge was told Mr. Marier had been struggling with drug addiction at the time of the fraud, but had since “turned his life around.”
In 2006, he appeared in a Quebec court on an assault charge, though that charge was later withdrawn. He said that charge came after he was involved in an altercation with a gas-station owner for urinating near the property.
“I’ve dealt with all that stuff,” he said. “I’ve paid for my past.” After a “serious drug accident” which he refused to elaborate on, and a stint in rehab, he began learning about addiction and became involved in the sobriety community.
Mr. Marier has no formal clinical training, instead using his own experience – a “been there, done that” attitude – when working with clients. Working through a company that hires him out, he said he’s helped hundreds of clients in the five years he’s been coaching.
As a coach, he works one-on-one with clients to “reinforce the positive results of continued abstinence,” according to a description he provided to The Globe. He’s also tasked with running “interference” between clients “and those who seek to provide drugs and/or alcohol” – associations the mayor claims he’s cut out of his life.
Donny M., a recovering cocaine addict who asked that his last name be withheld, credits Mr. Marier for saving his life.
The 24-year-old had seen Mr. Marier around in AA meetings, but in 2010 he was surprised (and irritated) when the grey-haired man approached him in a McDonald’s restaurant.
“He just came up to me and asked me about cleaning my apartment and stuff like that – ‘did you make your bed this morning?’” Donny said. “It’s a Bob thing … addicts, we think we’re too good to do the things that normal people do. We think we’re above it,” he said.
Over the next four years, Mr. Marier became Donny’s AA sponsor, showing up at 8 a.m. every Saturday morning to drive him to meetings.
“I’ve never met anyone more persistent, and it’s exactly what addicts need,” Donny said. “If he’s at your house and he wants to get you to a meeting, which is like your medicine, you’ll just go. It doesn’t matter who you are, if you’re Rob Ford or the president of the United States,” he said.
Another former addict, Cory R. (who also asked that his last name be withheld), echoed this about Mr. Marier. “I don’t think that there’s any other person on the face of this planet who could do what he’s doing right now” with the mayor, he said. “He’s able to read people immediately … he’s able to call people on things and the lies that they hide behind.”
Both Cory and Donny expressed disbelief at the reports of kicking – “He’s not an idiot,” said Donny.
A CityNews video last week shows a police officer accusing Mr. Marier of kicking protester John Furr during a chaotic press conference. Both the police officer and Mr. Furr maintained the kick happened, though Mr. Marier denies it. No charges were laid.
“It didn’t happen,” Mr. Marier said. “We touched each other. It was a grazing, and there was no kicking motion. Absolutely none.”
And despite the report, Mr. Marier appears to still have the full confidence of the mayor’s office.
“Bob’s doing a good job,” the mayor’s brother, Doug Ford, said Friday. “He’s not going to be around forever. I don’t even know what the time frame is, either. But he’s doing a good job.”
Mr. Marier would not comment either on how long he plans on working with the mayor. But he indicated that he’s in it for the long haul.
“As long as it takes,” he said.