A picture of grinning Mayor Rob Ford standing beside a former neo-Nazi musician, and the private meeting that followed months later, all took place without the mayor's knowledge of the individual's identity or history of racist comments, his staff says.
The picture, snapped at the mayor's annual New Year's Levee shows Mr. Ford with a man in a military uniform who is looking grim-faced into the camera.
That picture is posted on the Facebook page identified as belonging to Jon Latvis, the same name as a member of the neo-Nazi band, RAHOWA (Racial Holy War). Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella says he was alerted to the picture and put it on his web site Thursday morning, along with the question, "Why is Toronto's mayor palsy with a former neo-Nazi icon?"
In response, Mr. Ford's office issued a statement a few hours later stating that the picture was one of hundreds taken during the January event.
"While having his photo taken with the Mayor, the gentleman in the photo requested a meeting with the Mayor to discuss issues of concern to him as a constituent," it goes on to say. "The Mayor routinely receives these requests from members of the public and makes every effort to accommodate them whenever possible. In March 2012, the gentleman met briefly with the Mayor to discuss his concerns which primarily focused on transit issues."
At the Levee and the March meeting, "the gentleman identified himself using a name different from the one attributed to him in the recent blog article," the statement said.
Mr. Kinsella told The Globe and Mail he is satisfied with the response, and if this person presented himself under a different name, "then the mayor can't be blamed for that," he said.
As a former political aide, he said the individual in question, dressed as he was in foreign military attire, should have raised some red flags with Mr. Ford's staff and other individuals concerned with his security.
"My antenna would have been up," he said.
On the Facebook page of Jon Latvis, the photo appears with this caption: "Me meeting with Toronto's Mayor, Rob Ford to get an endorsement for the Latvian Homeguard — at Toronto City Hall."
The mayor's staff recognized the individual as someone who had met with the mayor at the Levee and again in March only after the photograph was posted online, the statement from Mr. Ford's office says.
"At no time was the Mayor aware of allegations that this individual had made racist, hateful or otherwise offensive comments, nor were any such comments made during his meeting with the Mayor," the statement says.