Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Cocaine mayor refused to take leave

Toronto mayor Rob Ford has refused to step aside despite immense pressure (AP/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)

Toronto's embattled mayor rejected the advice of city council allies to take a temporary leave of absence, returning to work a day after admitting he had smoked crack cocaine, it has emerged.

Deepening the crisis, Rob Ford's long-time policy adviser resigned, continuing an exodus that started in May when news reports emerged of a video showing the 44-year-old mayor smoking what appeared to be crack. Police announced last week they had a copy of the video, which has not been released publicly.

After months of evading the question, Mr Ford acknowledged for the first time on Tuesday that he smoked crack "probably a year ago" when he was in a "drunken stupor". But he has refused to step aside despite immense pressure.

Mr Ford arrived at City Hall just past noon yesterday but took a back stairway to his office to avoid the media crush. He later blew a kiss to reporters as he gave a tour of his office to schoolchildren.

More than 200 people protested outside City Hall, chanting "Hey hey! Ho ho! Rob Ford has got to go!"

Councillor James Pasternak said the controversy consuming Canada's largest city could not go on day after day. He said several councillors asked deputy mayor Norm Kelly to approach Mr Ford and "orchestrate a dignified exit from city hall".

Mr Kelly met Mr Ford and suggested he take a temporary leave until later this year or early next year, but Mr Ford rejected that idea. Councillor Frances Nunziata, also a Ford ally, said they were all frustrated he would not step aside temporarily.

"We're trying to give him sound advice as supporters," she said. "He needs to listen and he's not listening and I'm very disappointed."

Ms Nunziata said Mr Ford needed to get help but only he could make that decision.

Mr Kelly said earlier Mr Ford did not tell anyone he would admit to smoking crack before he did so on Tuesday.

"It came right out of the blue," said Mr Kelly, who learned about it from a member of Mr Ford's staff after the mayor stopped on his way to his office to tell reporters. "I was like, 'What? What have you been smoking?'."

There is no clear legal path for Mr Ford's critics to force him out. Municipal law makes no provision for the mayor's forced removal from office unless he is convicted and jailed for a criminal offence. Police have not charged Mr Ford.

"He has stubbornly refused to listen to everyone across the city to step down," councillor Janet Davis said.

Nelson Wiseman, a professor at the University of Toronto, said the province of Ontario could conceivably step in and put Toronto under trusteeship because municipalities are under provincial jurisdiction. But he said the chances of that happening were "slim to none", though it might be possible if Mr Ford was charged with a crime and almost all the city councillors pleaded for him to step aside in a motion.

Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne has said she is concerned that Mr Ford's personal issues were making it difficult for the city to carry on normally. But she said it was up to police, the courts or the mayor to take action.

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, a member of Mr Ford's executive committee, is putting forward a motion that would ask him to take leave of absence, a measure that could be voted on next Wednesday.

Another councillor is putting forward a motion that could strip some of his powers.

"The right thing to do is for council to take a clear position," Mr Minnan-Wong said. "I remain concerned that there's more information that's going to come out. I'm troubled by that and that it will hurt this city even further."

But voters may have the final word on Mr Ford's future. He has said he plans to run in the October 2014 mayoral election.

Police said they obtained the video in the course of a drug investigation into Mr Ford's friend and occasional driver, Alexander Lisi.

The mayor has called on police to release the tape, but police said they are prohibited from doing so because it is evidence before the courts. Police said the video will come out when Lisi goes to trial on drug and extortion charges.

Lisi is accused of threatening two gang members who had been trying to sell the video to the media.

A judge is expected to make a decision early next week on whether to allow the release of remaining portions of a document that revealed Mr Ford's ties and covert meetings with Lisi, an alleged drug dealer.

Toronto police chief Bill Blair has also said police have a second tape, but he has declined to discuss what is on it.

AP

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