Allegations that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has been caught in a video smoking crack cocaine has prompted several online crowdsourcing campaigns aimed at raising $200,000 to buy the footage.
The Vancouver Province tweeted late Thursday night that they were turning to Indiegogo, a website that raises money from online donors, to raise the funds.
"We made a commitment to the people who were going to contribute that if we got this money, we were going to publish the video," said Wayne Moriarty, editor-in-chief of The Province.
Media organizations in Canada, including the CBC, occasionally pay for exclusive video of breaking news. But some say the move could be dangerous.
"It makes it much easier to attract people who create false news," said Langara College journalism instructor Ross Howard. "There is just something very tawdry about 'Hey, we will buy anything and make it a story.'"
In the end, the Province dropped the campaign after U.S.-based website Gawker launched a similar one. By Friday, afternoon the campaign had already raised more than $34,000.
Ford calls allegations 'ridiculous'
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says allegations he was caught on tape smoking crack are "ridiculous," following reports that someone had been trying to sell a purported recording of such an event to U.S. and Canadian media outlets.
"Absolutely not true," he said outside his Etobicoke home on Friday morning. "It's ridiculous. It's another Toronto Star whatever," he said before getting into his Cadillac Escalade.
Later in the day, Ford emerged from his office at city hall to give a brief statement to reporters.
"Anyways, like I said this morning, these allegations are ridiculous, it’s another story with respect to the Toronto Star going after me," Ford said. "And that’s all I’ve got to say for now."
Ford then walked to a nearby elevator and did not answer questions from reporters.
Toronto Star reporters and the editor of the U.S. gossip website Gawker report viewing the footage, which they say shows the mayor smoking from what appears to be a crack pipe.
'I don't know whether or not such a video exists, but I think it would be fair for the public to see such a video and make their own conclusions.' —Dennis Morris, lawyer retained for Rob Ford
The Toronto Star says two of its reporters have seen the video. Robyn Doolittle told CBC News that she and Star colleague Kevin Donovan had reviewed the footage earlier this month. Doolittle wrote in her report that the video was shown three times to her and Donovan by men in the back of a car. The men were looking to sell the video, Doolittle told CBC News.
"The men were clear that they want the money for it. And we know that they have spoken with American outlets," she said.
"They wanted six figures for it and we did not pay it," Doolittle added.
The editor of Gawker, John Cook, also told CBC News he was approached by someone looking to sell the video.
Cook said he did not purchase it.
'He denies the allegations'
CBC News has not seen the video and has not been able to validate any of the claims being made.
Toronto police Const. Tony Vella said police "are closely monitoring the situation."
He said the police chief was not available to comment.
A lawyer retained by Ford, Dennis Morris, told Radio-Canada that Ford denies the allegations.
"I don't know whether or not such a video exists, but I think it would be fair for the public to see such a video and make their own conclusions," Morris said.
"I can tell you he denies the allegations," he added.
Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday said he has full confidence in the mayor and he questioned whether the public can trust the person or people who have been shopping the video to the media.
Allan Bonner, a crisis communications expert, said Ford must realize that he needs to confront the allegations head-on.
"Criticizing your critics isn't a solution to a problem. The solution to the problem is to deal with the substance of it," Bonner told CBC News in an interview on Friday.
'Not healthy for the city'
Coun. Adam Vaughan would not address the video directly, but said there have been distractions since Ford was elected.
"He's a bad mayor because he makes bad decisions … he doesn't have a coherent set of policies," said Vaughan.
On CBC Radio's Metro Morning, Coun. Josh Colle called the allegations "obviously shocking and kind of salacious stuff" that the mayor must address as soon as possible, lest it further distract from matters at city hall.
"There have been so many distractions, and it kind of seems to be ongoing," Colle said. "You're kind of almost nervous to turn on your radio or TV to see what the next news story's going to be. It's not healthy for the city, that's for sure."
In March, Ford also fended off reports in the Star that he appeared intoxicated and was asked to leave a gala dinner on Feb 23.
"It's an outright lie," he said at the time.
Former mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson accused Ford in March of inappropriately touching her while posing for a group photo at a party held by a Jewish political group. Ford also denied those allegations.
Tumultuous term as mayor
Ford, who will turn 44 later this month, was elected as mayor in the fall of 2010. He was sworn into office in December that year. He previously served as city councillor in Etobicoke, the Toronto suburb where he lives with his family.
The mayor has often made headlines through his term as mayor, both for issues related to his work at city council and his life outside of city hall.
Last year, Ford faced a removal challenge that could have led to his ouster. But the mayor won an appeal in that matter and hung on to his job.
Ford also faced a defamation lawsuit last year that was eventually dismissed in court.
More than two years into Ford's term as mayor, he leads a council that is divided on key issues, especially on how the city should build toward the future.
While serving as mayor of Canada's most populous city, Ford has continued to coach high-school football in Etobicoke. Critics have suggested the mayor’s football commitments are a distraction, but the mayor has ignored their concerns.
Ford has also made headlines when driving around the city in the same black Escalade he left his home in on Friday. His brother Coun. Doug Ford is among those who have asked the mayor to get a driver, but so far, he has continued to be his own chauffeur.