A sorry mess in Toronto as mayor Rob Ford admits he smoked crack cocaine

Rob Ford draws ridicule as he tries to cling to mayor's job after finally admitting crack cocaine use; step aside, even allies urge

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 November, 2013, 9:55am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 November, 2013, 4:04am

For six months, Toronto's unashamedly populist Mayor Rob Ford has derided reports that he featured in a cellphone video smoking crack cocaine, while somehow managing to avoid directly addressing the central accusation.

How, he said, could he comment on a video that he had not seen "or does not exist"?

My first reaction was ‘wow’. He’s lost the moral authority to lead

On Tuesday, Ford stunned his supporters by admitting for the first time that, yes, he smoked crack "probably a year ago" when he was in a "drunken stupor". Later in the day, he sweated and stammered his way through a surreal press conference at which he refused to resign, despite immense pressure to step aside as leader of Canada's largest city.

Ford, looking haggard and intensely uncomfortable, said he loves his job and "for the sake of the taxpayers, we must get back to work immediately".

"God bless the people of Toronto," he added in a final attempt at a flourish that was greeted with outright laughter by some reporters as Ford fled the room without taking questions.

The mayor's admission was forced after police last week said they had obtained a copy of the video in the course of a drug investigation against a friend of Ford's. The file had been deleted from a hard drive, but police computer experts recovered the data.

"Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine," Ford told stunned reporters outside his office on Tuesday morning. "There have been times when I've been in a drunken stupor. That's why I want to see the tape. I want everyone in the city to see this tape. I don't even recall there being a tape or video. I want to see the state that I was in."

Later at the news conference, he said acknowledging the drug use made him feel as if he had "1,000 pounds off my back".

Authorities have said the video, which has not been released publicly, does not constitute enough evidence to charge the mayor with a crime. Its contents were described by reporters from the Toronto Star and the Gawker website, who were shown the video by men who were trying to sell it for C$200,000 (HK$1.5 million).

The video is said to show Ford puffing on a crack pipe and appearing heavily intoxicated. A man off camera is said to goad Ford into making a series of slurred remarks, describing Liberal opposition leader Justin Trudeau as a "fag" and the high school football team that he coached as "f****** minorities".

Police have said the video recovered in their investigations is consistent with the content described in the media reports. Officers have said they want to talk to the mayor, but his lawyer so far has declined.

Police spokesman Mark Pugush said Ford's acknowledgement of crack use will be passed on to investigators. Several Toronto city councillors called on Ford to step down.

The controversy has drawn comparisons to the 1990 arrest of then-Washington mayor Marion Barry, who was videotaped smoking crack cocaine in a hotel room during an FBI sting operation. Barry served six months in prison for drug possession but later won a fourth term in 1994.

Toronto municipal law makes no provision for the mayor's forced removal from office unless he is convicted and jailed for a criminal offence.

City councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, a member of Ford's executive committee, said he would put forward a motion asking Ford to take a leave of absence. "My first reaction was 'wow'," Minnan-Wong said. "He's lost the moral authority to lead."

Councillor Jaye Robinson said the mayor needs to step aside and address his problems. "We have become a laughing stock of North America, if not the world," Robinson said.

Canadian Justice Minister Peter MacKay said it was "a sad day for the city of Toronto". "As a human being, I think the mayor of Toronto needs to get help," MacKay said.

The crack episode is not the first time Ford has been forced to admit drug use. During the campaign, he acknowledged after repeated denials that he was busted for marijuana possession in Florida in 1999.

Ford apologised over the weekend for excessive drinking. He said he should not have been "hammered" in public when he appeared at a street festival in August, calling it "pure stupidity".

Police said the video would come out when Ford's associate and occasional driver, Alexander Lisi, goes to trial on drug and extortion charges. Lisi is accused of threatening two alleged gang members who had been trying to sell the video to the media.