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The Strange Career of Rob Ford – Toronto's Crack Smoking Mayor

A refresher on the Rob Ford saga in light of VICE's exclusive new revelations.
October 10, 2014, 11:30am

Crack is not a drug people tend to associate with the social elite. But In Toronto, Canada it would appear that not one, but two of the city's high fliers have been caught on video smoking it. You may remember the story of Rob Ford, Toronto's  mayor, who achieved much more world wide notoriety than most Canadian politicians after he was caught smoking crack on a video that was seen by journalists. If the source of an interview for VICE Canada is to be believed, there's a second video, which shows an un-named judge also smoking crack. You can read the whole exclusive interview here.

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All pretty weird and concerning for Toronto. But you're not in Toronto, you're in the UK, and the drug habits of Canadian politicians might not have been occupying your mind for the last few months. So here's a quick refresher on the career of Rob Ford and Toronto's crack addled political life…

November 2000 – February 2009: Early political career
He started making gaffes early on

Doug Ford Sr. – Rob Ford's father – serves as a member of provincial parliament in the late 1990s. Though just a single-term backbencher in a deeply polarising conservative government, his stint in politics stands as an inspiration to two of his sons, who want to make their father proud. Rob Ford is elected three times as city councillor for ward 2 (Etobicoke North) from November 2000. On Council, he distinguishes himself as a person with difficulty grasping abstract concepts, including the value of any particular service from which he himself does not benefit. His approach to politics is charitably characterised as tight-fisted populism and uncharitably characterised as unhinged mania.

In 2006, he drunkenly berates a pair of out-of-towners at a Toronto Maple Leafs game, then claims he was never there. Upon being confronted with proof, he admits it. In 2008, he is charged with assaulting and threatening his wife, but the charges are withdrawn following her inconsistent testimony. Around the same time, he tells City Council that Asians have an edge on Canadians' productivity, because "Oriental people work like dogs."

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Through regular appearances on talk radio and the championing of local tabloid the Toronto Sun, he becomes a folk hero to alienated right-wingers who believe he's the only sane voice at City Hall.

Rob Ford looking officious at the 2014 New Year's Levee (Photo via)

March 2010 – October 2010: Elected as Mayor
From outsider to victor, via even more gaffes

Shortly after disclosing to a conservative blogger that he is planning to run for mayor and then denying he ever said any such thing, Rob Ford enters the race for mayor.

Toronto's establishment regards Ford as a vanity candidate inhabiting the political margins, and only one of the city's four daily papers bothers to dispatch a reporter to his launch. By June, however, his campaign becomes more professionalised – strategists and pollsters help him refine a message and target an audience.

The campaign is not without its own scandals. At one point, Ford is recorded offering to score OxyContin on the street for a man suffering from fibromyalgia. Later, the Toronto Star reports that he was asked to stop coaching football at a public high school in 2001 following what may have been a physical altercation with a student. Still later, the Toronto Sun reports that in 1999 he had been charged with marijuana possession in Florida; Ford denies this until presented with the arrest record and then claims he forgot because he was charged with a drunk-driving offence at the same time.

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His campaign repeatedly casts Ford as the victim – of his generosity, of his love, of those so vested in the status quo that they will do anything to stop the coming tide of change.

Enough Toronto residents decide that his manner and cost-cutting drive are precisely what the city needs. On the 25th of October, he is elected with 47 percent of the vote. His 11.5 point margin of victory is interpreted as a landslide. His brother Doug is simultaneously elected to his old ward 2 Council seat.

Rob Ford meets the press (Photo via)

November 2010 – April 2013: In office
Being in public office didn't calm him down.

According to one spreadsheet tracking his various embarrassments and scandals, there are 54 "incidents" between Rob Ford taking office as mayor and the time the crack scandal eventually breaks.

These range from the funny (calling 911 on a comedian who approached him at his home for a television sketch) to the truly concerning (his mother-in-law calling 911 in the middle of the night to say he was drinking and hauling his kids off to Florida contrary to the wishes of his wife). Sprinkled about are signs that much more is amiss. He disappears from City Hall for days at a time, and photos of him wandering about the city in apparent states of inebriation frequently emerge on Twitter. Following St. Patrick's Day 2012, rumours begin to circulate that he'd been seen snorting cocaine at a downtown bar.

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On the political front, his hold on Council gradually deteriorates. He begins with a firm grip over nearly all of the 44 councillors but his inability to comprehend policy – or articulate a realistic funding source for the billions of dollars worth of subways he insists are needed – causes his support to bleed away.

Meanwhile, he successfully fends off a pair of legal challenges, including one that nearly sees him removed from office. In November 2012, a Superior Court judge rules that he violated conflict of interest laws by voting to reverse an earlier Council decision ordering him to repay money he'd solicited from lobbyists for his eponymous football foundation. The automatic penalty for such a breach is removal from office, but two months later he wins his appeal on a minor technicality.

In March 2013, the Star reports that he was asked to leave a military ball for being intoxicated. The paper says he has an ongoing issue with alcohol and that his staff would like him to seek treatment.

VICE podcast: Patrick McGuire talks to the Toronto Star's Robyn Doolittle about Rob Ford's crack saga

May 2013: The crack scandal breaks
He denies it at first

At 8:28PM on the 16th of May, 2013, New York website Gawker publishes a story titled "For Sale: A Video of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford Smoking Crack Cocaine." In it, the site's editor-in-chief John Cook describes flying to Toronto earlier that week to meet with drug dealers who showed him an iPhone recording of the mayor lighting and inhaling from a crack pipe while lolling about and making various homophobic and racist remarks. The dealers want more money for the video than Gawker can afford but do agree to share a photo of the mayor posing with a man who had recently been shot dead outside a downtown nightclub.

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Not long after Gawker's post, the Toronto Star reveals that two of its reporters, Robyn Doolittle and Kevin Donovan, have also seen the video. They had been working to investigate its context but rush out their report in response.

For the following week, Rob Ford literally runs and hides from the media. Eventually, he holds a press conference to pronounce, "I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict of crack cocaine" and that he "cannot comment on a video that I have never seen or does not exist."

Shortly after, several senior staff in his office leave en masse. He fires his chief of staff, who had reportedly advised him to get help. At the same time, several entities make efforts to retrieve the purported crack video: Gawker crowdfunds $200,000 (£120,000) for its purchase (which is eventually split among a handful of Toronto charities); an intruder attacks two people at the crackhouse at which the video was shot; and, according to the video's broker, people claiming to be acting on the mayor's behalf begin to call and threaten him.

On the 13th of June, police execute a raid on several residential towers in the city's northwest corner, the culmination of a year-long investigation into a gang that has been operating in the area. They arrest dozens of people and lay a couple hundred weapons and drugs charges. CTV reports that police first learned of the crack video months earlier, via wiretaps they were conducting as part of the operation, known as "Project Traveller."

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After it fails to materialise, nearly half of Toronto's residents refuse to believe that such a recording of the mayor exists. Things return to a state of relative normalcy, as it appears that the mayor will weather this storm as he has many others.

In August, theStar exposes that the police have been actively investigating the mayor and several of his friends, a remarkable cast of characters with many convictions and histories of substance abuse between them. A key figure is Alexander "Sandro" Lisi, who's alleged to be a drug dealer and who quietly acted for a short time as the mayor's unofficial driver.

(Photo via)

October – December 2013: Ford comes clean and eats pussy
The police find a video consistent with the one reported in the press

At the beginning of October, police arrest Lisi on marijuana charges. Several media outlets apply for access to the information to obtain a warrant (ITO) that police had sworn before a judge.

On the 31st of October, a large chunk of the ITO is released to media and the public, disclosing the extent of police surveillance on the mayor and Lisi, including several exchanges of mysterious packages between them.

That afternoon, Police Chief Bill Blair holds a press conference to declare that two days earlier, while examining hard drives seized as part of Project Traveller, police forensics specialists recovered a deleted video file of the mayor consistent with what had been described in the press. Lisi is charged with extortion for his attempts to retrieve it.

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On the 5th of November, Ford admits to smoking crack, but suggests he has little memory of it because it happened a year prior, "probably in one of my drunken stupours." At a press conference later that day, he claims he has nothing left to hide. This, as widely expected, soon proves to be false.

More pages from the ITO are released, including interviews with former staff, who describe various incidents involving the mayor and drugs, alcohol, violence, racism, sexism, and possibly sex workers. In denying a particular alleged remark to a former staffer, Ford tells the press, "Olivia Gondek, it says that I wanted to eat her pussy. I've never said that in my life to her. I would never do that. I'm happily married; I've got more than enough to eat at home."

Council removes as many of his formal powers as they are legally able, assigning most duties to the deputy mayor. In a bizarre speech comparing the situation to the first Gulf War in Iraq, he warns his colleagues that, "you guys have just attacked Kuwait."

He also says he will quit alcohol.

Rob Ford learns about culture (Photo via)

January – March 2014: Back on the election trial, back off the wagon
He stands for election again and is seen drinking

Rob Ford registers for re-election on the 2nd January, the first day on which nominations are open.

He gets back to drinking. Videos shot at his favourite all-night restaurant show him continuing to associate with Lisi and drunkenly bragging (in his version of Jamaican patois) about how they evaded the police. He calls Police Chief Blair a "cocksucker."

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Photos of him in deeply inebriated states continue to emerge at regular intervals, despite his earlier public vows. He continues to poll respectably well, all things considered, and there is a remote possibility he could be re-elected.

Rob Ford at the 2014 Ford Fest event (Photo via)

April – June 2014: Rehab
He seeks treatment for drug and alcohol issues

On the evening of the 30th of April, three stories emerge in rapid succession. First, the Toronto Sun publishes an audio recording of the mayor at a bar, drunkenly uttering ethnic slurs, expressing contempt for gay people, and saying he would like to "jam" Councillor Karen Stintz, an opponent in his race for re-election. The Globe and Mail then publishes still images from what it claims is another video of him smoking crack cocaine, which was also being offered for sale and that its reporters have seen. Third, the Star publishes a report describing the mayor's ongoing antics at a particular nightclub, including an unpleasant run-in with Justin Bieber.

Mayor Ford announces that he is taking leave from both City Hall and his re-election campaign to seek treatment for his drug and alcohol issues. He flies to Chicago via a chartered aircraft but is denied entry to the US. He winds up at GreeneStone, a rehab facility in the cottage country north of Toronto.

July – September 2014: Cancer
Return to campaigning and cancer diagnosis

The mayor returns to his job and the campaign trail in time for Canada Day, the 1st of July. While marching in a neighbourhood parade, he is confronted by a shirtless jogger who vents his frustration at the mayor's general gall.

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By mid-August, Ford rises from third to second place in the polls.

On the 10th of September, he is suddenly admitted to hospital with a tumour. Two days later, minutes before the deadline for nominations, he withdraws from the race for mayor and instead registers to seeks his old ward 2 Council seat. His brother Doug signs up to run for mayor in his place.

The following week, with Ford's permission, his doctor reveals he has a rare form of cancer known as pleomorphic liposarcoma and that he will begin chemotherapy shortly.

Doug Ford (Photo via)

October 2014: His brother takes over
Doug Ford for Mayor?

In between chemo treatments, Ford continues to make occasional public appearances. He is seen in at least one bar. Meanwhile, in the election, polls show Doug Ford gradually closing in on first place.

9th of October 2014: VICE reveals allegations about a crack smoking judge
Ford wasn't the only one

VICE Canada interviews Mohamed Farah, who brokered the inital sale of the video. He claims that in another video, an un-named judge is seen to be smoking crack, suggesting that Rob Ford isn't the only member of Toronto's political elite with substance issues.

Jonathan Goldsbie is a staff writer at NOW Magazine in Toronto. He has been following Rob Ford's career since 2005.

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