Last year although homicides in Toronto were at a 14-year low, a summer barbecue in Scarborough where two people were killed and 23 wounded, alarmed Torontonians and spurred the mayor, Rob Ford, to request additional funding from the provincial government to aid in his declaration of war on gangs.
To fight this war, Ford determined the most measurable program was to hire additional police. And for that, the $1.2 billion Toronto already spends on policing, would need topping up — anywhere from $5 million to $10 million — so he called on then premier Dalton McGuinty who, sympathetically hardened funding for the existing Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) and a similar province-wide program, so that Toronto could continue putting police in priority neighbourhoods to gather guns, build connections there and stamp out crime. In total these programs represented a $12.5 million support package from the province, but Ford and McGuinty did not completely agree on methods to solve the gang problem.
Ford complained that “hug-a-thug” community programs which McGuinty was in favour of were wasteful. The controversial term is used to describe programs, which aim to reform and otherwise assist people, especially youth, who have run afoul of the justice system and may need education and other assistance to segue into jobs and lawful living. ‘You’re throwing a lot of money at it, but at the end of the day you can’t measure how many people are being helped by it,’ the National Post quoted Ford saying. And in line with this thinking, he then voted against $350,000 in federal money for anti-gang programs.
Then, earlier this year, rather than just fighting gangs, Ford became associated with gang activity in a questionable but inconsequential way — because as he said, he is photographed with a lot of people, so a night time photograph of him in front of a house linked to drug activity and with, among others, Anthony Smith, who was murdered in March, in what appeared to be a gang-related shooting on Toronto streets, proved nothing, except that Toronto’s mayor is socially mobile and affable. Too bad that it was the same photograph used in early May by hawker Mohamed Siad to back up connections to a video he offered to sell to the Toronto Star and Gawker.
That video, the papers later reported showed Mayor Ford smoking from a crack pipe; but neither news body was ultimately able to obtain a copy of the video, despite successful crowd-sourcing by Gawker to purchase it and reveal it to the public.
At first Ford claimed the media was out to get him, the Toronto Star in particular. The video probably didn’t exist, he said. After all, neither the Star nor Gawker could prove it did; but inside the mayor’s office the plot secretly thickened as his aide David Price, had learned that the video not only existed but may have been connected to Smith’s death, contrary to claims that Smith was killed over less high-profile street-related matters. Price brought the supposition to Ford’s then chief of staff, Mark Towhey, who contacted police and reportedly advised the mayor to seek treatment for addiction, a suggestion that led to the mayor firing him days later.
A day after Towhey’s firing, and encouraged by an open letter from members of his executive committee who wanted him to set the record straight, Ford, decrying the media campaign bent on crucifying him, stood before the cameras to tell the public: “I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict of crack cocaine.” But it was not enough for those who had waited more than a week for him to speak on the issue and who concluded he was a distraction bringing disgrace to the city and should resign. He did not, and the issue laid dormant, awaiting proof that the video existed and showed the mayor to be undermining the very policies he actively sought funding to deal with.
Then last Thursday Toronto police chief, Bill Blair, announced that a video had been recovered from a hard drive captured in the year-long Project Traveller raid, which focused on an Etobicoke gang known as the Dixon City Bloods, and that this video supported the news story told of the mayor smoking from a crack pipe. Afterwards, Blair admitted to being “disappointed” in the mayor, whom has not yet agreed to be interviewed by police.
Since making that comment, Blair has been criticized by those preferring him to be neutral — that, or simply lay charges and let those speak. Nonetheless, Blair’s knowledge of the evidence informed his comment and fills a need for information from authorities, especially now that released court documents related to the Brazen 2 project which followed Traveller, showed suspicious interactions between the mayor and Alexander “Sandro” Lisi, his friend and occasional chauffeur.
Of Lisi, mayor Ford said publicly: ‘he’s straight and narrow, never once seen the guy drink, never once seen him do drugs.’ However, the released police documents show that others, including former mayoral staff member Nico Fidani, feared that Lisi was in fact supplying the mayor with drugs. And over the past month the police have charged Lisi with drug trafficking, and extortion related to the crack video now proven to exist.
Not surprisingly, such intrigue sells. The constant coverage, however, also makes it seem as if Mayor Ford is being unfairly scrutinized when it is Lisi who has been charged with criminal offences.
Not so. Allowing that some are thrilling at another’s unravelling, citizens are appropriately curious to know if Rob Ford is a suitable representative, because while any man can declare a war on drugs and gangs and then turn around and procure drugs, a mayor cannot, especially Rob Ford who came into office promising respect for taxpayers, including more responsive, transparent, accountable, and low-cost municipal government.
If a mayor solicits from drug dealers (who often are gang affiliated) then though he may save tax payers money by contracting out garbage collection, he effectively pollutes the city, and compounds its costs by exacerbating the problem and casts doubt on the effectiveness of spending nearly $14-billion taxpayer dollars on police and other measures to curb what is estimated as a $600-billion drug industry. Such a mayor would not deserve the $175,395 paid to leaders of local government because he acts to counter the people’s aims. And by covertly soliciting drugs while a member of public office, he demonstrates disrespect for the laws of the city and the people.
And although what Ford calls ‘hug-a-thug’ programs may not work for hardened criminals who find that criminal behaviour is too lucrative to stop, it is certainly wasteful to fund the fight against drugs and gangs when only low-level thugs are caught and dealt with, but high-level ones determine they are untouchable and use their positions of power to ensure it.
Ironically, those high-school football players Ford coached at Don Bosco (many of whom he said came from broken homes and were involved in neighbourhood gangs) may be noticing alongside other Torontonians that people from all levels of society get mixed up in circumstances that bring tears to your eyes. And maybe they will conclude magnanimously that second chances are in order; Or maybe they will just turn their backs and shake their heads at being played.