Even before Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's Cadillac Escalade became the focus of controversy this week as a result of a Muskoka woman's arrest behind the wheel, the black SUV's late-night presence was already raising eyebrows among the dozen or so residents who live along a private road in Ontario's cottage country.
Andrew MacIver, a 22-year-old University of Western Ontario student who spends his summers in Muskoka, spotted the mayor's Escalade twice last weekend, both times parked late at night, and just off of a normally-secluded private road. The area is just a couple-hundred metres from GreeneStone clinic, the rehab facility where the mayor is seeking treatment.
"I don't think I've ever seen something parked there at night, and rarely during the day," Mr. MacIver told The Globe in an interview.
Mr. MacIver first saw Mr. Ford's SUV early Sunday morning at about 2:30, while returning home from a Saturday night shift at the bar in Bala where he works. In the days leading up to that, Mr. Ford had made headlines after he was seen walking around cotttage country, and posing for photographs with local residents.
"By that point, we'd heard rumours he was in the area," Mr. MacIver said, which is why he stopped to take photos, in the off-chance the vehicle might be Mr. Ford's.
When he returned home, he compared the licence plate from the car he'd just seen with old images of the mayor's Escalade, and confirmed it was the same car.
By the next morning, the car was gone.
But the next night, while returning from work at about 4 a.m., he again saw the SUV parked in the same spot.
The car was again gone the next morning, and he hasn't seen it since. There was no one inside the car both times he spotted it.
Mr. MacIver said that the area is about a kilometre north from the main gate of the rehab facility, but only a few hundred metres from the grounds if you walk through the woods. GreeneStone confirmed in a statement Friday that Mayor Ford is undergoing treatment at their facility.
Just a day after Mr. MacIver spotted the SUV for the last time, 36-year-old Lee Anne McRobb was pulled over behind the wheel of the Escalade, and charged by Ontario Provincial Police with impaired driving.
The SUV has since been seized and is sitting in a Muskoka impound lot, where it will remain until next week.
How or why Ms. McRobb ended up behind the wheel is still a mystery – though the long-time Muskoka resident and former bank teller was filmed telling reporters that she'd met Mayor Ford in rehab.
Also a mystery is what happened to the licence plates on the SUV, which have been removed. OPP officers say the plates were still on the vehicle when it was towed away by a local tow-truck company. But the towing company says that they did not remove the plates, either.
The embattled Toronto mayor has been on a leave of absence for the past two weeks since The Globe and Mail reported the existence of new footage showing Mr. Ford smoking what is allegedly crack cocaine.