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Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair held a press conference at Police Headquarters in Toronto on June 13, 2013 to provide limited information on Operation Traveller that police across the country executed earlier this morning. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair held a press conference at Police Headquarters in Toronto on June 13, 2013 to provide limited information on Operation Traveller that police across the country executed earlier this morning. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

Marcus Gee: Toronto Police Chief Blair has to tread carefully Add to ...

Chief Bill Blair was under an intense spotlight when he greeted the press at police headquarters on Thursday to talk about the Project Traveller operation. The raid centred on the Dixon Road apartment complex associated with the purported Rob Ford crack video. Minutes away is the house where a photo was apparently taken showing Mr. Ford with three men, one of whom has since been murdered.

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Obviously, reporters had a few questions. Did the video or any other evidence linked to the mayor turn up? Is there a criminal investigation of anyone in the mayor’s office? What about the reports that police heard about the drug video even before reports about it surfaced in the media?

Mr. Blair wasn’t playing. Repeatedly and politely, he turned away questions about the mayor, saying that he could not comment on individuals or discuss evidence for fear of pre-empting further investigation and prosecution.

Reporters kept pressing. “Is Mayor Rob Ford linked in any way to this investigation?” one asked. The chief replied: “I am not able to make those connections about individuals.” What about the photo of the mayor and the three men? The chief said he knew of the photo and was interested in anything that might have “evidentiary value,” but “I’m not going to be able to discuss with you whether or not it had relevance or connection” to the drug raid.

Was he still looking into the video affair, then? “I said we are monitoring the situation in its totality very carefully,” he said with a nervous smile. “We were and we are.”

For those who were looking for some clarity about this murky and troubling affair, it was not exactly reassuring. The next morning on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning, host Matt Galloway challenged the chief about his painfully careful answers.

“You could have very easily exonerated Rob Ford. You could have said the mayor has nothing to do with the investigation we’re involved in right now. Why didn’t you do that?” The chief’s reply: “Again, my responsibility here is to collect evidence within a legal framework.”

His caution was frustrating, but understandable. The chief is in a tight spot. The whole city wants to find out what the police know about this matter – especially after Thursday’s dramatic raid – but he does not want to incriminate anyone or release evidence that might be at issue in a future trial. He can be excused for stepping carefully.

What is not excusable is the mayor’s own persistent refusal to answers questions about the affair. He told reporters on Thursday that he knew nothing about the raid and had nothing to hide, but has yet to say (among other things) whether he has anything to do with the men in the notorious photo, what he was doing at the house where it was taken or whether he knows the people who live there (two of whom have criminal records, one for trafficking in cocaine).

“There are questions circulating concerning the mayor and they won’t go away till they’re answered,” says John Parker, a sensible, conservative city councillor who has been pressing the mayor to address the issue head-on.

Instead, Mr. Ford is trying to ride out the controversy, swatting away all questions and trying to switch the conversation to his accomplishments. On Friday, he was speaking at a luncheon of the Toronto Real Estate Board, boasting about taming the city’s budget and claiming that only he could be trusted to protect the interests of taxpayers.

“It all comes down to trust,” he said.

Follow on Twitter: @marcusbgee

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