During a cabinet shuffle on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that former Toronto Police Chief, and current Liberal MP, Bill Blair had become the minister in charge of the newly created Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction portfolio.The appointment comes as the federal Liberals stave off criticisms from some opposition and provincial leaders who have accused the government of being too meek on the issue of irregular border crossers. Blair’s new role will also once again put him face-to-face with Ontario Premier Doug Ford, with whom he had a tumultuous relationship dating back to when he confirmed the existence of a tape showing the premier’s late brother, former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, smoking crack.
Here’s a look back at the beef between Blair and Ford, a long-standing feud that will making dealing on this topic awkward to say the least.It might seem hard to remember, but Bill Blair and Doug Ford were actually on friendly terms once.While he was a city councillor, Doug Ford praised Blair as “great” back in 2012 after a police watchdog found the city’s police force used unnecessary force against protestors during the G20 Summit that year. Rob agreed with his brother Doug’s sentiment, adding he felt that Blair was getting an “unfair rap.”But tensions started to simmer the following year as the Toronto police were carrying out an investigation into guns and gang activities in the city’s west end, that would eventually uncover the crack footage, something that Mayor Rob Ford had for months had denied as “ridiculous.”Things boiled over on Halloween in 2013, when Blair called a press conference and made the stunning announcement confirming that the police had recovered a video as part of an ongoing investigation into.“As a citizen of Toronto, I’m disappointed,” Blair lamented. “I know this is a traumatic issue for the citizens of this city and for the reputation of this city and that concerns me.”Blair’s comments sent the Ford brothers into a tailspinA few days later on November 5th, an enraged Councillor Ford called his own press conference outside the mayor’s office in an attempt to stick it to Blair.
“We have the most political police chief that I have ever seen,” Councillor Ford declared, calling for Blair and members of the police board to step down. “He believes he is the judge, jury and executioner. This compromises the chief.”Rob Ford had other plans, though, and made his own stunning revelation later that day during a surprise scrum outside of his office at City Hall.“Do you smoke crack cocaine?” a reporter asked him.“Exactly. Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine,” the mayor replied. “Have I tried it? Probably in one of my drunken stupors, probably approximately about a year ago.”Even though a host of city councillors decried the mayor’s admission and called for his resignation, Rob didn’t waver. One early morning during the following January, the Mayor was caught on tape inebriated at a fast-food restaurant insulting Blair with profanities.“Fucking Chief Blair,” said Mayor Ford. “They chase me around for five months … you know how much that costs?”The next month, in February, the Fords continued attacking Blair. By that time, Doug brought forward a formal complaint to the Police Board regarding Blair’s press conference on the crack tape. Specifically, Doug claimed that Blair had gone “rogue” and violated rules governing the police by weighing in on Mayor while he was under investigation.
At the time, neither Blair nor the police service would comment on the accusations.That August, the Toronto Star reported that the Toronto Police was preparing to subpoena Mayor Rob Ford to testify in the case of his friend, alleged drug dealer Alexander “Sandro” Lisi, who was accused of trying to extort the people peddling the crack tape to media outlets. Doug Ford told reporters later that day he thought Chief Blair leaked the information about the subpoena to the newspaper. He claimed, without any proof, that Blair was angry that he hadn't had his contract renewed by the police board, and alleged the leak was "payback".
While Blair had been relatively measured in his public remarks about the Fords until that point, he shot back through a police spokesperson saying: “Doug Ford is lying, and I am prepared to take legal action.”Within a couple days, Doug Ford dialed back his leak accusations and apologized to Blair, but the chief didn’t accept it and still served him with a notice of defamation, to which Ford joked he was “shaking in [his] boots.”Blair eventually accepted Doug’s apology, which he insisted be in writing in addition to a $1,000 charitable donation made to a homeless youth shelter."Lies that go to the heart of your integrity cannot be tolerated. The law does not protect lies or the people who tell them. They must be held accountable,” Blair told reporters at a news conference on August 14th, acknowledging the two had made amends on the matter. "I have tried to avoid being dragged down into what has been called a war of words.”Cover image: composition of CP images by Frank Gunn and Adrian Wyld