TORONTO – Toronto police said Thursday they have obtained a video that appears to show Mayor Rob Ford smoking a crack pipe — a video that Ford had claimed did not exist and has been at the core of a scandal that has embarrassed and gripped Canada for months.
Police Chief Bill Blair said the video, recovered after being deleted from a computer hard drive, does not provide grounds to press charges. Ford, a populist mayor who has repeatedly made headlines for his bizarre behavior, vowed not to resign.
Speaking outside his office door, Ford said with a smile: “I have no reason to resign.” He said he could not defend himself because the affair is part of a criminal investigation involving an associate, adding: “That’s all I can say right now.” Toronto police conducted a huge surveillance operation into a friend and sometimes driver suspected of providing Ford with drugs.
The scandal has been the fodder of jokes on U.S. late night television and has cast Canada’s largest city and financial capital in an unflattering light.
Ford faced allegations in May that he had been caught on video puffing from a glass crack pipe. Two reporters with the Toronto Star said they saw the video, but it has not been released publicly. Ford maintained he does not smoke crack and that the video does not exist.
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. Through it all, the mayor has repeatedly refused to resign and pledged to run for re-election next year.
On Thursday, Blair said the video of the mayor “depicts images that are consistent with those previously reported in the press.”
“As a citizen of Toronto I’m disappointed,” Blair said. “This is a traumatic issue for citizens of this city and the reputation of this city.”
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.
Blair said authorities believe 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.
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 documents show that friends and former staffers of Ford were concerned that Lisi was “fueling” the Toronto mayor’s alleged drug use.
The documents also detail evidence that led to Lisi’s arrest on drug and extortion charges.
The police documents, ordered released by a judge, show Ford receiving packages from Lisi on several occasions.
“Lisi approached the driver’s side of the mayor’s vehicle with a small white gift bag in hand; he then walked around to the passenger side and got on board,” reads one document dated July 30, 2013. “After a few minutes Lisi exited the Escalade empty handed and walked back to his Range Rover.”
Another dated July 28 says Lisi “constantly used countersurveillance techniques” when he met with Ford that day.
On Aug. 13 documents say Lisi and Ford met and “made their way into a secluded area of the adjacent woods where they were obscured from surveillance efforts and stayed for approximately one hour.”
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 said previously that he was shocked when Lisi was arrested last month, calling him a “good guy” and saying he does not abandon his friends.
The documents also say that Ford met Lisi through Payman Aboodowleh, a volunteer football coach at Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School, where Ford coached the team while also serving as mayor. He told police he was “mad at Lisi because he was fueling the mayor’s drug abuse,” the document says.
Former Ford staffer Chris Fickel told police he did not know where the mayor got marijuana from, but “has heard that ‘Sandro,’ Lisi’s nickname, may be the person who provides the mayor with marijuana and possibly cocaine,” the document alleges. However, Fickel added, he has never seen Lisi provide the mayor with drugs. The mayor would call Fickel and tell him to tell “Sandro” that “I need to see him,” Fickel told police.
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 published reports. 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.
Councilor Joe Mihevc said he continues to be shocked by the “depth and revelations that are coming out.”
“The mayor has to come clean and do it as soon as possible,” Mihevc said. “He needs to talk honestly about his use of illicit drugs.”