Rob Ford video: What next for Toronto's embattled mayor?
Not enough evidence to charge the mayor with anything, lawyers say
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford gave a one-minute statement Thursday following the bombshell announcement that Toronto police have possession of the video that allegedly shows the mayor smoking crack cocaine.
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Police also announced a charge of extortion, to go along with previous drug charges, against Ford family friend and part-time driver Alexander Lisi, who was caught up in a large drug and gang sweep called Project Traveller. Ford himself has not been charged with anything.
In his brief statement, the mayor said, "I think everyone's seen the allegations against me today," and noted that while the matter is before the courts "that's all I can say right now."
But what are his options as this controversy unfolds? Can he simply, again, try to brazen it out as he did earlier when two media organizations, citing unnamed sources, reported on the alleged video?
City councillor Jaye Robinson, a former member of Ford's executive committee, told the CBC that at this point city council does not have the power to make the mayor step down. "The only option before the city is for the mayor to step aside" on his own, Robinson said.
The Ontario government can remove a mayor from office, but only after a conviction for a criminal offence. Without that, Municipal Affairs Minister Linda Jeffrey said today, "There's nothing we can do at this point," adding, "I'm not going to speculate on what the next steps will be."
Hamutal Dotan, editor-in-chief of the Torontoist website, and a regular City Hall commentator on CBC Radio's Metro Morning, said, before Ford spoke, that she expects Ford "to come at this fairly aggressively," and to "project a message that he is going to continue serving in public office and doing his job."
That is exactly what Ford did Thursday in his brief scrum before retreating into his office away from shouting reporters.
Another possible option for the mayor would be to go on the offensive.
"When he's been in the midst of allegations before, his tack has been to go on the offensive, so I imagine he will do something similar," Dotan predicts.
"He is notoriously reluctant to offer explanations when it comes to allegations and questions he's not comfortable with."
That was how she saw Ford's performance after the allegations of a video showing the mayor smoking a crack pipe first emerged six months ago.
"Number one, there is no video, so that's all I can say," he said on his radio show in Toronto on May 26, adding, "You can't comment on something that doesn't exist."
Take on the police?
Now that police have confirmed that they have the video, recovered off a hard drive from which it had been deleted, Ford may consider whether to go after the police and Blair, who called what he saw in the video "disappointing."
Defence lawyer Mike Lacy told the CBC's Carole MacNeil, "it's not the role of the chief to weigh in on his personal feelings watching a video no one else has seen."
Ford, however, has historically been an ally of the police, as are many of his supporters. So if he challenges the police role in these developments he might have to walk a fine line.
Lacy stressed that while Lisi has been charged with extortion, the victim of the alleged extortion is unknown (although police said the charge is connected to the video).
As a result, since Lisi "may or may not have done things to hurt Rob Ford that he had no idea he was doing, how can you hold Rob Ford accountable for that?" Lacy wondered.
He also noted that "people have to remember [Ford] is not alleged to have done anything wrong, he is not charged with any criminal offence."
He added that "we don't expect people to just, in the face of an allegation, to walk away from their work or to walk away from their businesses."
For her part, Dotan does expect Ford to lose some support, though she says the die-hard Rob Ford supporters are "just going to move the goal posts and say 'well, OK, fine, maybe the video exists, maybe it's actually true that the mayor smoked crack, that doesn't make him unfit for office."
Canadians tend to be more forgiving than their American counterparts about coming down on politicians for recreational drug use, Dotan says. But she also expects Toronto City Hall will come to a standstill over this latest development.
That's what she saw in the spring after the Toronto Star and Gawker articles about the video were first published. "I'd be surprised if regular council business gets much attention at all for a while."
And with Toronto's next election a year away, she said "the mayor is going to face a lot of questions about his re-election campaign.
"This might push some potential candidates to declare their candidacy earlier out of concern that the mayor isn't capable of governing effectively anymore."