TORONTO – Pop star Justin Bieber is giving Toronto Mayor Rob Ford a brief respite as Canada’s favorite bad boy and butt of all jokes. Ford has admitted smoking crack while in a drunken stupor and is being sued for supposedly orchestrating the jailhouse beating of his sister’s ex-boyfriend. The 19-year-old teen idol is facing the equivalent of a misdemeanor assault charge.
“It’s a change from the ‘Rob Ford Show,'” said 14-year-old Jon Bullock, who braved glacial temperatures to catch a glimpse of the star as he turned himself in at a Toronto police station to face charges over an altercation with a limousine driver in late December.
The incident, which comes on the heels of Bieber’s Miami arrest while apparently drag racing and driving under the influence of alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs, is the latest to sully the image of the singer, who has been drawing more attention for his brushes with the law than for his music.
For now, at least, Bieber has eclipsed Ford as fodder for late-night comedy talk-shows on both sides of the border.
“He had to fly to Toronto to turn himself in. Boy, this kid is really on a crime spree. He’s become a menace to society. I liked him better when he was just a menace to music,” said TV comedian Jimmy Kimmel. “By the way, when you have Justin Bieber and Rob Ford together in the same place, it’s like Gotham City got attacked by the Joker and the Penguin at once.”
Others feel a comparison with Laurel and Hardy more appropriate. Former Globe and Mail reporter Steve Ladurantaye tweeted an image of Bieber and Ford decked out to resemble the classic comedy duo. “Seems as good a time as ever to look at this picture again,” Ladurantaye, who now works for Twitter Canada, said in the tweet.
Even some members of the Toronto City Council — all too familiar with Ford’s foibles — were compelled to weigh in on the battle of the country’s bad boys.
“Both Justin Bieber and Mayor Ford need to get their lives together,” said Toronto City Councilor Joe Mihevc on the sidelines of a council meeting.
Amidst all the hullabaloo, it is perhaps not surprising the Toronto mayor has rushed to Bieber’s defense. “He’s a young guy. I wish I was as successful as he was. He’s 19 years old. Think about when you were 19,” Ford opined during one of his regular call-in appearances on a Washington, D.C., radio show called “The Sports Junkies.”
Beyond the jokes, there is a sense of embarrassment, damaged pride and the feeling that Bieber and Ford are behaving in a way that is just not Canadian.
“Canada has always been considered this polite place. People like Sarah McLachlan and Shania Twain have fulfilled that stereotype as seemingly nice, friendly people who don’t get into a lot of trouble,” said Joshua Ostroff, the Huffington Post Canada’s pop culture columnist and senior editor.
Ostroff said the Canadian rapper Drake got it right when he joked on “Saturday Night Live” that Toronto is the kind of place where rappers are nice and the mayor smokes crack. “It was a great joke because it’s absolutely true. Drake is the kind of rapper you expect Canada to produce, and Bieber is acting counter to our stereotypes,” Ostroff said.
But Ostroff worries that lumping Ford and Bieber together threatens to trivialize the mayor’s actions. “The people Ford has been associated with have been accused of murder. Bieber has been an idiot, like many 19-year-old boys. He egged a house. He maybe drag-raced after having a beer — they are all dumb things, and he deserves to be pilloried for it, but comparatively, he’s not an adult, he’s not the mayor of North America’s fourth-largest city, and he’s not actually hanging out with gangsters — and the mayor of Toronto is,” he said.
A side effect of Bieber’s scuffles with the law has been to remind Americans that the teen idol is not a U.S. citizen.
Advocacy groups, acutely aware of how less-famous immigrants are treated upon arrest in the United States, have started an online petition with over 100,000 signatures demanding that the Obama administration “deport Justin Bieber and revoke his green card.”
They point out that if Bieber were an American citizen, a conviction for driving under the influence or assault would be enough to get him deemed inadmissible to Canada.
Errol Nazareth, a pop culture commentator for the Canadian Broadcast Corp., says he thinks deportation is a bit much and that the whole comparison is probably being blown out of proportion. “It’s really just an imperfect storm of two people who seem to be up to no good at the same time. It’s really just more of a circus than a statement on our reputation,” Nazareth said. “Bieber is trying to project this bad boy image. They (Bieber and Ford) are both projecting weird images, and it’s not surprising they become the butt of jokes. They’re easy targets.”