Well, this is a fine mess. Months after it emerged that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was the subject of a major police investigation, the two forces involved appear to be sharply at odds over who is in charge of it and where, if anywhere, it goes.
An Ontario Provincial Police spokesman says the force has no further role to play in the matter because no new information or evidence has come forward since it assumed oversight of the case last month. The Toronto Police Service says that its own complex, high-level investigation continues. The detective who heads that investigation says it is news to him if the OPP is withdrawing.
The OPP was never conducting the investigation in the first place, the Toronto police say. Its role was to oversee, not run, the probe. They note that charges have already been laid against one man, Ford friend Alessandro Lisi. As the latest release of police documents shows, they have accumulated a huge trove of evidence on the Ford-Lisi matter (none of which has been tested in court). Once they have completed their work, a Toronto police spokesman says, they still intend to sit down with the OPP and Crown prosecutors to determine whether more charges should be laid.
What the OPP is saying, both on and off the record, leaves a completely different impression: that there is insufficient evidence for the OPP to proceed and that its involvement is at an end. There are even reports of conflicting theories in the two forces about who is alleged to have been extorting whom.
This is a bizarre turn of events, to be certain. To have two police forces disagreeing openly about the status of such an important and widely watched investigation is disturbing. The idea behind bringing in the OPP was to insulate Chief Bill Blair from the dubious charge that he is on a witch hunt against the mayor. Now we have the forces appearing to butt heads about the direction and future of the probe. The public is entitled to wonder who on earth is in charge.
We need to hear from Chief Blair. We need to hear from the OPP's new head, Commissioner Vince Hawkes, too.
How is it that oversight of the investigation was kicked up to the OPP then kicked back just a month later? Is the OPP going to be involved again if the ongoing Toronto investigation produces something "new." Or is the OPP truly washing its hands of the affair for good and, if so, why? Has the OPP really sorted through all thousands of pages of documentation from the investigation in such a short time, including the data extracted from Mr. Lisi's iPhone?
Mr. Ford is the one man who seems certain what all of this means. He was quick to claim vindication when the OPP said it was stepping back from the investigation. He always knew he would be cleared, he said, and "I guess today's the day."
Is it? We simply don't know. Toronto police insist that they aren't precluding anything and stress that their veteran investigators have compiled a comprehensive file on the matter that has already led to the Lisi charges.
To the public, it looks like the kind of bureaucratic turf battle that often overtakes big organizations. Instead of working together to get the bad guys, the two forces appear to be sniping at each other. It is something no one has cause to celebrate – with the possible exception of Mr. Ford.
But even if he never faces charges, it hardly means that, as he says, he "did nothing wrong." Smoking crack while mayor was wrong. Lying about it was wrong. Associating with a criminal element was wrong. Let's hope voters don't forget that.