Toronto police became aware of an alleged video that appeared to capture Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine during the force's sweeping investigation into a network of accused drug dealers and gun runners – before the alleged video was revealed in the media, The Globe and Mail has learned.
A source with knowledge of the investigation said that the alleged video "came up prior" to the May 16 reports in the Toronto Star, and the U.S. gossip website Gawker, both of which published detailed accounts, written by three different journalists, about how they were shown a video of the mayor smoking what appeared to be crack-cocaine from a glass pipe.
The media reports did not come as a shock to investigators, who had already learned about an alleged video through their yearlong probe into a west-end Toronto street gang known as the Dixon Bloods, the source said.
CTV News reported earlier Thursday that police had prior knowledge of the alleged video.
Since the allegations upended city hall nearly a month ago, Mr. Ford has declined to answer specific questions about his alleged ties to accused drug dealers and has called into question the existence of the alleged video. "I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict of crack cocaine," he told a gathering of reporters in May.
But on Thursday, after police launched a series of coordinated raids on the six apartment buildings that serve as the geographic base of the alleged violent street gang, more questions emerged about ties between Mr. Ford and a group of young men whom Toronto police Chief Bill Blair described as having a "devastating impact" on their community.
One of the 19 people in Toronto who was arrested Thursday is Mohammed Khattak. Mr. Khattak, is one of the young men who appeared to be standing with Mayor Ford in the photograph that was distributed by the drug dealers who were trying to sell the alleged crack-cocaine video. Mr. Khattak was criminally charged Thursday with participating in a criminal organization and trafficking in a substance passed off as marijuana.
The west-end Toronto home belonging to Mr. Khattak's parents was searched by police officers Thursday. Photographs published by the Toronto Star showed investigators emerging from the home with electronic goods, including a laptop computer. One of the other young men featured in that photograph, 21-year-old Anthony Smith, was gunned down and killed in March in downtown Toronto. Mr. Khattak was also injured in that shooting.
Police have declined to explain what role Mr. Smith and Mr. Khattak played in the alleged gang or whether they have questioned Mr. Ford about his ties to the two men, but at a press conference Thursday afternoon, Chief Blair said that he was "aware of that picture." He explained that the men posing with Mr. Ford "form part of this investigation. But I'm unable to disclose who's been interviewed, what information's been obtained."
In previous interviews, Dennis Morris, Mr. Ford's lawyer, has said the mayor has his photo taken with many people every day and likely would have no recollection of the photo ever being taken. "Say somebody says 'here, take a picture' and it's in front of a certain location. You have no idea that location may be involved in something illegal or improper, allegedly, that type of thing," he said. "You as an innocent party have a photo taken. So where does that put you? It puts you as an innocent party."
Chief Blair appeared before reporters to announce a police crackdown on the Dixon City Bloods after legions of officers conducted early-morning raids in Toronto and Windsor on Thursday. Alleged gang members have been involved in trafficking firearms and drugs as well as murders and attempted murders, Deputy Chief Mark Saunders said.
Much of the gang's alleged activity is centred on a Dixon Road apartment complex. One of the mayor's staff members received a tip that the video may have been in an apartment at 320 Dixon Road at one point, a city hall source has told The Globe.
However, Chief Blair would not answer repeated questions on whether investigators uncovered any links to the alleged video or to the mayor.
Nineteen people were arrested in Toronto and nine in Windsor. To date, 43 people have been arrested in the investigation, dubbed Project Traveller. Police said they expect to make additional arrests.
Deputy Chief Saunders said gang members have been "networking with associates" in Windsor and Edmonton since 2006.
During the course of the investigation, police seized 40 guns, more than $3-million worth of narcotics, including cocaine, heroin and hashish, and $572,000 in cash.
Chief Blair said the gang allegedly imported guns from the U.S., noting that more than 70 per cent of the guns seized in crimes in Toronto were obtained south of the border, both legally and illegally.
"I think we cut off that pipeline, that supply of guns, and that's going to make the city of Toronto a safer place," he said.
Chief Blair said more information on the arrests would be released on Friday.
With a report from Renata D'Aliesio and file from Sunny Dhillion