Toronto investigators knew about an ongoing relationship between Mayor Rob Ford and the men he is seen posing with in a widely publicized photograph that has ties to his alleged drug use, police sources tell CBC News.
Two of the men pictured with Ford were arrested Thursday in a series of pre-dawn raids targeting guns and gangs in the city's west end. A third man in the photo, Anthony Smith, was shot dead outside a King Street nightclub two months ago.
The massive bust involved 17 different police agencies, which searched 30 locations in Toronto and others in Windsor.
The operation, dubbed Project Traveller, involved police knocking down doors and in some cases using stun grenades to rouse suspects from their beds and make multiple arrests.
The investigation began in June 2012 and targeted drug activity of a gang known as the Dixon Bloods, that Toronto police Chief Bill Blair said operated along Dixon Road between Kipling and Islington Avenues in northwest Toronto. Blair said there were criminal connections that reached as far west as Alberta.
In a press conference, Blair cited a number of successes of the "complex investigation" that he said will make streets safer including:
- 19 arrests in Toronto, nine more in Windsor, Ont., a total of 19 warrants issued.
- 40 firearms seized.
- $3 million in narcotics seized.
- More than $572,000 in cash seized.
"We can make a difference by incapacitating the most violent of offenders," said Blair. "We know many families that have lost their sons to violence."
He said the investigation is connected to drug distribution but also violent crimes including murder, attempted murder and robbery. Blair also said the arrests will have implications "far beyond this neighbourhood."
One of the addresses searched in Thursday’s pre-dawn raids was 320 Dixon Rd.
That address is reportedly the location mentioned in reports suggesting drug dealers may have stashed an alleged video showing Ford smoking crack cocaine.
The Dixon Road building is steps away from a house on Windsor Road linked to a picture of Ford that appears to show the mayor posing with suspected drug dealers. That photo was shown to journalists by people trying to sell the alleged video.
The alleged video has yet to surface, but the allegations have caused upheaval at Toronto City Hall since the story first broke in mid-May.
Reporters asked Blair repeatedly about connections to Toronto’s embattled mayor, but Blair said he couldn’t comment about anyone connected to the raids for fear of jeopardizing future prosecutions.
"The only place for the disclosure of this information is in a court of law," Blair said. "All this evidence will come out in court where it belongs."
Blair said police are aware of the allegations surrounding the Ford video, and that he is "monitoring the situation."
Blair said there will be another news conference on Friday that will include and update the arrests.
Blair also said police will post officers in the Dixon Road area to answer residents' questions about the raids.
"We know how traumatic it can be when those raids take place in the dark of night, when doors are going crashing down and when concussion flash bangs are also ignited in their neighbourhoods," he said.
'You know as much as I do' Ford tells reporters
Ford was asked about the raids as he arrived at city hall on Thursday morning, and said he first heard about them on the radio news as he drove in to work.
"The cable was out last night. I know as much as you do," he told reporters. "I've not been in touch with the chief. Your guess is as good as mine on what happened last night.
"I support the police 100 per cent."
The raid at 320 Dixon began just before 5 a.m. Thursday, after dozens of officers assembled at a nearby staging area before charging into the apartment building.
The searches shut down the area around Dixon Road for more than an hour.
"Loud bangs were heard from inside the building, possibly stun grenades or doors being knocked down," the CBC's Trevor Dunn reported.
Police were seen leading people out of the building in handcuffs and into police vehicles.
Guns crossing border
In the hours after the raid began, boxes of evidence were also seen being wheeled out of the building by police.
CBC News has seen a copy of one of the search warrants issued for an apartment at 320 Dixon Rd. The warrant allows police to search and seize cellphones, laptop computers and other electronic devices as well as items and documents related to the distribution of controlled substances and banking documents.
Over 150 officers from the Ontario Provincial Police, Windsor police and Sarnia police arrested nine people who were to be transported back to Toronto for a court appearance on Friday.
Windsor police Deputy Chief John St. Louis said police made nine arrests of area residents who are known to police.
Blair said the Dixon City Bloods have been trafficking guns across the Detroit-Windsor border.
Canada Border Services Agency declined to comment Thursday.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that police searched locations in Guelph and the Waterloo region as part of Project Traveller. In fact, the raids involved police forces from those regions but arrests were made only in Windsor and Toronto.Sep 13, 2013 3:59 AM ET