A former Toronto mayoral candidate says Mayor Rob Ford touched her inappropriately and made a suggestive comment to her at a public event on Thursday night — accusations the mayor says are "absolutely, completely false."
Women's Post publisher Sarah Thomson, who withdrew about a month before the 2010 election that sent Ford to the mayor's chair, posted to Facebook a photo of the two of them standing together at a Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee meeting.
"Thought it was a friendly hello to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford at the CJPAC Action Party tonight until he suggested I should have been in Florida with him last week because his wife wasn't there," she wrote early Friday morning. "Seriously wanted to punch him in the face. Happy International Women's Day!"
Reached by CBC News on Friday morning, Thomson said when the mayor made the comment about his wife and Florida, she shrugged it off. "Maybe he was treating me like one of the boys or whatever.
"And then we got our picture taken together, and he grabbed my ass, and at that point I said, OK, this is unacceptable."
In a Facebook comments thread, which had more than 1,000 comments and had been shared more than 1,200 times by 6:30 p.m. ET, Thomson said: "Guess where his hand was in this picture? I must go shower."
Mayor denies accusations
In a statement released Friday afternoon, Ford said Thomson was lying.
"Early this morning, false allegations were made regarding a number of disgusting actions," the statement read. "I am shocked, dismayed and surprised. I can say without hesitation that they are absolutely, completely false.
"What is more surprising is that a woman who has aspired to be a civic leader would cry wolf on a day where we should be celebrating women across the globe."
'What is more surprising is that a woman who aspired to be a civic leader would cry wolf on a day were we should be celebrating women.'— Mayor Rob Ford
Mark Towhey, Ford's chief of staff, said Thomson has no proof to back up her allegations."I had three staff there with the mayor within earshot the entire time," he told CBC News. "None of them heard any of the comments that she has alleged. I'm not really sure what she's talking about."
Councillor casts doubt
In another development, Richmond Hill Coun. Greg Beros, who was also at the party, claims he heard Thomson planning to do something that night.
He told CBC News he overheard Thomson speaking with her assistant, Sarah Patterson, at the party.
'Sarah says...'We need to get a picture with Rob Ford's hand near your butt. It would be good for a campaign.'— Richmond Hill Coun. Greg Beros
"So, I turn over to see what they're talking about, and Sarah [Thomson] says, 'We need to go upstairs. We need to get a picture with Rob Ford's hand near your butt. It would be good for a campaign'," Beros said.
Thomson later responded to his allegations, telling CBC News on Friday the conversation the councillor overheard happened after the initial incident.
She said she spoke to her assistant after the incident with the mayor took place, and admitted that she wanted to get evidence of improper behaviour to back up her story.
"My assistant, Sarah Patterson, said: 'You know what, let's go back down. I want him to grab my ass. We'll see if he does that when I go and get my picture taken with him. What if he's doing it to other women?,' " Thomson said.
She said it was that discussion that he must have overheard, but due to the loud blaring music, Thomson said, she's not sure how much of the conversation he picked up.
"[The councillor] probably heard us saying, 'Look, we gotta get him. We can't just walk away from this.'"
The pair went back to the mayor to take another photo but Ford did not touch her assistant, Thomson said. However, she told CBC News she would take a lie-detector test to further back up her story.
Mayor 'not his usual self'
Thomson wrote twice on Facebook that the mayor was "out of it."
"I've never seen him so out of it," she wrote. "I know I shouldn't be pissed, but after spending 10 months on the campaign trail together you expect a little bit of respect — at the very least for my husband."
Thomson said she walked up to some of the people with the mayor and told them, "Get him out of here. He's obviously not his normal self."
Ford was still at the event when she left, Thomson said.
She said she was shocked by Ford's behaviour, because she believed they had a sense of mutual respect after spending time on the campaign trail. She is also head of the Toronto Transit Alliance, a group of Toronto region business leaders pushing city hall for transit expansion.
"Like I've always said, I don't hate the guy," she said. "And at times when there's been real issues, I've stood up for him. So for him to turn around and do that to me, it was just so offensive and [a] sign of complete lack of respect."
Thomson said there "was something wrong with" the mayor, though she didn't know what it was.
"He wasn't slurring his words, so he didn't seem drunk, but he was not his usual self."
Ford drank water, chief of staff says
Towhey said that the mayor had nothing to drink at the event except bottles of water, and was not under the influence of anything.
"She's making a lot of allegations, she hasn't got any evidence, so far that I can tell, to back any of them up," he told CBC News.
Thomson, who stuck by her accusations in the face of the counter-accusations, said she has no intention of pursuing legal action.
"Rob has had a lot of lawsuits as it is," Thomson said. "We don't need that for the city."
Thomson said Ford has "personal problems, and he has to deal with them." She said he should "get help."
'I wanted to see change, and I don't believe that we should just shut up and not say anything.'— Sarah Thomson
Thomson said she felt the need to speak out, because she "grew up in a time where you never say anything. And I started the Women's Post magazine, because I wanted to see change, and I don't believe that we should just shut up and not say anything.
"Obviously he's not in his right self, and he has issues that he needs to deal with," Thomson continued, "but for the mayor of the city to be treating someone like me that way, it's so wrong on so many levels.
"And if he treats me that way and I don't say anything, he could treat someone else that way. It may make me look bad in some way, but I really believe that you have to stand up for what's right."