Toronto mayor fights for political life as allies call for video's release

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is under intensifying pressure after city police said they had a video allegedly showing him smoking a crack pipe. Ford's antics have captivated Canadians for months.

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press/AP
Mayor Rob Ford talks to media at City Hall in Toronto on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013.

Backers of embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford called Friday for police to release a video that appears to show him smoking a crack pipe, as outraged residents of Canada's largest city called for the mayor's resignation.

Ford's lawyer and the mayor's brother, a city councilor, attacked Police Chief Bill Blair for talking publicly about the video, despite acknowledging it does not provide enough evidence to file charges against Ford. Police announced Thursday that they had recovered the video during a massive surveillance operation of an associate suspected of providing drugs to the mayor.

Dennis Morris, Ford's lawyer, told The Associated Press that Blair acted as "judge, jury and executioner" when he said in a news conference that he was "disappointed" in the mayor. Ford's brother Doug said the chief erred when he made his personal opinions known to the public.

"The chief said yesterday there is no evidence to charge him criminally in reference to this tape so what the heck?" Morris said. "He wasn't elected by the College of Cardinals and he shouldn't be pontificating."

Ford first faced allegations in May that he was filmed puffing on a crack pipe. Two reporters with the Toronto Star and one from the U.S. website Gawker said they saw the video but did not get a copy of it.

Ford maintains he does not smoke crack and said at the time that the video did not exist. He also vilified the Toronto Star, accusing the paper of trying to take him down. The police department's revelations Thursday vindicated the paper's reporting.

Police spokesman Mark Pugash said he expects Ford's allies to step up the criticism.

"This is undoubtedly the beginning of a concerted attack against the investigation, the investigators and the chief," Pugash said on CP24 television. Pugash said the police put their best investigators on the case.

He said the courts will decide if and when the video of the mayor will be released.

The mayor, his brother Doug, a city councilor and his right-hand man, and the mayor's chief of staff hunkered down at the mayor's mother's house for a two-hour meeting Friday.

Voters could have the final word on the strange career of the populist mayor whose travails have captivated and embarrassed Canadians for months. Ford has promised to run for a second term next year.

Despite the pressure on Ford, municipal law makes no provision for his forced removal from office unless he's convicted and jailed for a criminal offence.

The embattled mayor, who is the butt of jokes on U.S. late night television, said Thursday he couldn't defend himself because the affair is part of a criminal investigation involving an associate, adding: "That's all I can say right now."

Morris suggested the video shows the mayor smoking something other than crack.

"Let's see it," Morris said. "You can call it a crack pipe or a pipe to smoke a, b, c or d, so let's see it."

He accused the police of trying to embarrass the mayor, and scoffed at police surveillance documents that, among other things, show the mayor at one point relieved himself on a bush.

"I'm sure nobody has done that," Morris said.

Morris said the mayor declined a request by the police earlier this week to go in for questioning, but said Friday he would be willing to go view the tape, along with his lawyer.

Ford was elected mayor three years ago on a wave of discontent simmering in the city's outlying suburbs. Since then he has survived an attempt to remove him from office on conflict-of-interest charges and has appeared in the news for his increasingly odd behavior.

But the pressure ramped up on Thursday with all four major dailies in the city calling on Ford to resign.

Cheri DiNovo, a member of Ontario's parliament, tweeted: "Ford video nothing to celebrate Addiction is illness. Mayor please step down and get help?"

Blair said the video, recovered after being deleted from a computer hard drive, did not provide grounds to press charges against Ford.

Blair said the video will come out when Ford's associate and occasional driver, Alexander Lisi, goes to trial on drug charges. Lisi now also faces extortion charges for trying to retrieve the recording from an unidentified person. Blair did not say who owned the computer containing the video. Lisi was released on bail Friday morning.

Blair said authorities believed the video is linked to a home in Toronto, referred to by a confidential informant as a "crack house" in court documents in Lisi's drug case.

"There is a lot of insinuation," said Morris, Ford's attorney. "What was he doing here, what was he doing there. Well, if he was doing something illegal charge him."

The prosecutor in the Lisi case released documents Thursday showing they had rummaged through Ford's garbage in search of evidence of drug use. They show that they conducted a massive surveillance operation monitoring the mayor and Lisi following drug use allegations.

The police documents, ordered released by a judge, show Ford receiving packages from Lisi on several occasions.

Ford recently vouched for Lisi in a separate criminal case, praising his leadership skills and hard work in a letter filed with the court. The letter was part of a report prepared by a probation officer after Lisi was convicted of threatening to kill a woman.

Ford's controversies range from the trivial to the serious: Walking face-first into a TV camera. Falling down during a photo op while pretending to play football. Being asked to leave an event for wounded war vets because he appeared intoxicated, according to the Toronto Star. Being forced to admit he was busted for marijuana possession in Florida in 1999, after repeated denials. Making rude gestures at Torontonians from his car.

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