Toronto Ford Fest draws big crowd and LGBT protest

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's annual Ford Fest drew more than a thousand supporters to a park in the city's east end, but the event was marred by some tense moments as LGBT activists were jeered at and told to go home by some supporters.

More than a thousand cheer Mayor Rob Ford, but LGBT protesters cry foul

An LGBT rights supporter says he was assaulted at Ford Fest after some in the crowd began jeering at the activists. Rob Ford has apologized for the confrontations a day after his annual festival. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's annual Ford Fest drew more than a thousand supporters to a park in the city's east end, but the event was marred by some tense moments as LGBT activists were jeered at and told to go home by some supporters.

About six demonstrators protesting what they called Ford's homophobia turned up at Thomson Memorial Park in Scarborough, holding signs that called for the mayor's departure from office.

"He needs to be held accountable," said Poe Liberado, who faced loud jeers from Ford fans.

"His buffoonery is dangerous, his positions are dangerous and he needs to be taken seriously."

Ford drew heat from the LGBT community again recently after he remained seated while city council gave a standing ovation to organizers of Toronto's World Pride festival.

He did not answer questions from reporters about why he didn't stand along with fellow councillors, but said he's not homophobic.

"He's a disgrace," said protester Kevin Speight. "He's embarrassing our city."

The mayor's supporters, however, weren't pleased with the anti-Ford sentiment, with a number of individuals getting into verbal confrontations with the protesters.

At one point, a few Ford fans grabbed the signs being held by the protesters, tore them up, and threw them on the ground, stamping on them in the process.

"Go home," they yelled. "This is Ford Nation!"

One man claims to have been assaulted. Toronto police said they are investigating the matter. 

Most of the commotion took place out of the mayor's sight, and a man who appeared to be on the mayor's team insisted that everyone was welcome to attend Ford Fest.

Free food and entertainment, no alcohol

Ford arrived at Thomson Memorial Park Friday evening to much fanfare as supporters gathered for the 19th annual Ford party, despite a dry event this year after the organizers' liquor licence application was turned down.

Ford insisted that those who attend will enjoy the event, even if they couldn't have a drink.

The event featured free food and live entertainment and gave residents a chance to briefly meet Ford, which many lined up and waited for hours to do.

Ford supporter Julie Marshall showed up at the event three hours early in order to claim a front row seat.

“We’ve been trying to come every year, we can’t get close because park lineups are so big,” she said. “This year we packed our lunch, brought chairs.”

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was greeted by a huge crowd of supporters when he arrived at his annual Ford Fest Friday. (Tashauna Reid/CBC)

"He tells it like it is, he doesn't waste taxpayers' money, he's a people's person," said Bob Hampton, who was waiting to meet the mayor.

"I supported him the last time and so long as he remains clean, I'll support him this time."

Ford-themed gear was seen everywhere — hats, banners and T-shirts.

But despite all the paraphernalia, the mayor and his brother Coun. Doug Ford contend the Ford Fest was in no way election campaigning.

“If you want to see campaigning, come to Etobicoke when we have it on private property,” Doug Ford said. “I’ll show you campaigning.”

The Ford brothers faced the same criticism last year at their Etobicoke event when the mayor put out a call to supporters urging them to vote in October 2014.

Election rules

City officials approved a permit for the party despite concerns from Ford opponents that it is indeed a campaign event that violates municipal rules banning campaigning in public parks.

In the 2010 municipal election, the mayor declared the food and drink at Ford Fest as campaign expenses

City spokeswoman Jackie DeSouza told CBC News the mayor's office had been warned there could be no campaigning at Ford Fest. She said the city will have three bylaw officers at the event to ensure the event doesn't violate the rules spelled out in the permit.

"If anything happens that is in violation of the permit that was given for this event, [bylaw officers] can step in and enforce the permit," she said.

DeSouza said the city has received 176 complaints and/or inquiries relating to the Ford Fest. She said the complaints have come in through the city's 311 information line, the parks forestry and recreation department and the city manager's office. The 176 number does not include any complaints that may have come in through council members' offices or the ombudsman or integrity commissioner.

DeSouza said the bylaw officers will not be at the park to act as "campaign police." She said any concerns about council members' conduct should be directed to the city's integrity commissioner.

Mayoral candidate Sarah Thompson arrived at Ford Fest on a horse. She had arrived at city hall by horse and carriage in March when filling out nomination papers. 

Toronto voters go to the polls Oct. 27.

Ford recently spent two months in rehab for substance abuse issues, returning to office about four weeks ago.

Some of those supporters have made it clear they don't care about the mayor's personal issues.

"We're all got skeletons," said Rick Faulkner. "The only difference between him and the other politicians is he got caught."

Ford's role as mayor has been largely symbolic since November, when city council stripped him of most of his power following his admissions of alcohol abuse and drug use during "drunken stupors."

Those admissions came after months of denials and were followed by the surfacing of videos that appeared to show the mayor making offensive and profane comments.

With files from The Canadian Press