x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

A crack in the mayor's armour

Canadians are anxiously waiting to see if a video that allegedly shows the mayor of Toronto, Canada, smoking crack cocaine can be obtained and verified.

Canada, a country often perceived to be a deathly boring, snow-covered land populated by toque-wearing, hockey-obsessed goodie-two-shoes types, has been experiencing a moment of notoriety in the international media.

This is thanks to a video that purportedly shows the country's most colourful and controversial politician smoking crack cocaine in the company of men who look like gang members, one of whom was later killed in an underworld-style attack.

"This is the most exciting thing that's ever happened in Canada," declared the Canadian journalist Jen Gerson, a former reporter for The National, in one of thousands of tweets on the subject.

Not since the horrifying case of Willie Pickton, the British Columbia farmer convicted in 2007 of murdering women he had invited to wild parties on his property and then feeding their remains to his livestock, has a Canadian news story attracted such widespread international interest, from America's popular satirical news programme The Daily Show to The Spectator in the United Kingdom.

Rob Ford, Toronto's gaffe-prone conservative mayor, recently became famous outside Canada when he vehemently denied being a crack addict at a press conference following the release of what are claimed to be still photos from a video recorded on a mobile phone.

"I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict of crack cocaine," he said.

Ford, who has been referred to as the "Teflon Mayor", had previously strenuously denied a 1999 arrest for marijuana possession in Florida, but was forced to confess that it was true when confronted with evidence to the contrary in 2010.

More recently, a lengthy investigation into the Fords by the country's respected Globe and Mail newspaper claimed the family was "deeply immersed in the illegal drug scene".

Meanwhile, two Toronto Star journalists and an editor at the US website Gawker said they had seen the video, which was apparently shot by drug dealers who planned to sell it to the highest bidder.

Gawker launched a successful crowdsourcing campaign to raise the $200,000 needed to purchase the clip. "[We] promise you - this is a pretty great video of a mayor smoking crack cocaine," assured Gawker in its plea for funds.

Since raising the money, Gawker has been unable to get in touch with the miscreants who claim to have recorded it. Furthermore, the video's contents have not been verified and, it is worth restating, Ford continues to protest his innocence.

The Globe and Mail investigation alleged that Ford's brother Doug, a Toronto city councillor with whom the mayor hosts a local radio show, sold large quantities of hashish in the 1980s, that his other brother Randy was involved in a drug-related abduction, and that his sister Kathy had ties to the Ku Klux Klan.

Doug has labelled journalists "little sleazebags". His brother was equally curt in his response to the allegations.

But perhaps they shouldn't be getting so riled up. After all, a poll of 1,400 Torontonians shows that the mayor's poor electoral prospects are no worse now than they were before the scandal broke.

"It looks like the Ford Nation seems to be a pretty loyal group of supporters," Lorne Bozinoff, president of polling firm Forum Research, told the Toronto Star. "Unless the issue deals directly with the performance of his duties, these things don't seem to impact his popularity."

Few Canadians are altogether surprised that the 44-year-old, who was asked to leave a military gala in February because he was intoxicated and in March was accused of sexually assaulting a woman, could potentially have sunk to even greater depths. For now, however, it remains to be seen whether the mayor's career will go up in the smoke of such dark allegations.

* Paul Muir