Jian, Lucy and Ameer: The Hassle of Criminal Law

Four months ago, I left my cell phone on the steps of Our Lady of Lebanon Parish on Queen Street in Toronto. Given the chance, Parkdale just ate it up.

Today, I stepped into my local Wind Mobile store on Dundas to ask the owner, Ameer, to help me buy a replacement.

Four blissful months without a cell phone came to an end.

Hipster dude
Dundas West style

As I waited, I got to observe Ameer deal with a local hipster client, looking all Frank and Oak in his beard and sunglasses. Ameer was the picture of patience and solicitude.

Mr. Frank and Oak on the other hand was rude and arrogant. “I know how to read,” he said, in response to a bit of customer service.

I was surprised, and not just because I thought that simply having a plentiful beard bestowed one with an infinite sense of grace; but also by Ameer’s consistent friendly and helpful demeanour.

After Mr. Frank&Oak left, I asked Ameer how he remained so calm and equanimous.

“Oh, I deal with those kinds of people all the time,” he said. And we somehow segued into Ameer’s background.

Ameer’s has owned the store for two years. He’s a recent immigrant from Karachi, Pakistan. And he’s been robbed three times in the past year.

Three times! I couldn’t believe it. Once, last February, two men came into his store at around 7 pm, brandishing guns. They forced him to lie down behind one of the displays while they pilfered every single phone.

His phones, too. Ameer has to buy his own stock.

When they left, Ameer ran after them. Their bag split in half and the phones inside fell to the sidewalk. The robbers ran behind a nearby building and Ameer started after them, until a neighbouring business owner brought him to his senses and told him to stop.

Nonetheless, Ameer managed to catch sight of his assailants enter the area of an apartment building across the way.

“The police came once,” Ameer explained, “but they never came back.” No subsequent calls.

Ditto for the other times thieves broke into his store. Once, they left some blood on the floor after they broke the door as they entered. Police took swabs for DNA evidence but never got back to Ameer about the results. He’s never been to court.

Nonetheless, Ameer is as friendly as can be. Optimistic, glad to help me out, he gave me a discount. I can’t even sure if that was just a part of his general m.o. or if I got bonus friendliness for not being as rude as the previous customer.

The Hassles of Criminal Law

Over the past month or so, Toronto witnessed the grand implosion of Jian Ghomeshi’s career through public allegations of sexual and physical abuse, from people like actress Lucy DeCoutere. One thing has become clear: the justice system can kind of suck.

It sucks that if you’re the victim of sexual assault, you’re afraid to go to the police because you’re worried that you won’t be believed. Or that you’ll have to prove your allegations in court on top of having gone through them in the first place.

It kind of sucks for Ameer too, who’s been robbed three times, has had three formulaic experiences with Toronto police, and doesn’t even know if the same people who robbed him have come back into his store to scope it out for another try. Or maybe to rudely buy a cell phone and brush off the finest service this side of Karachi.

It also kind of sucks if you are a black male in this city and you’re randomly stopped by police because you fit a general description of someone who committed a crime in the neighbourhood. Or because you are “loitering”.

And then it sucks too if, due to a random, unjustified stop, whether black or white, man or woman, the police luck upon some marijuana, or even some crack, when they had no reason to stop you. Then you’re hauled into court, held for bail, and maybe released on ridiculous bail conditions that essentially force you to live like a prisoner in your own home. Or with your relatives.

All of this kind of sucks.

And it doesn’t feel any better to be a police officer who’s forced to prove to a judge that your actions pass constitutional muster. And to be berated by lawyers barely out of diapers about whether a ten second interference with their client’s liberty somehow violated their sacred rights, notwithstanding a gun or drugs that contribute to the debilitation of said client’s community. Or life.

And it’ll probably suck for Jian Ghomeshi to have to live with his mother for the next year or two because, what, living with his mother is going to stop him from re-offending?

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Jian’s lawyers looking stylish

Does anyone seriously believe that Jian Ghomeshi is at risk to reoffend, to commit another alleged terrible date over the next year or two? Who are the women lining up to date this guy? But yet, even his high-priced, Hollywood-esque lawyer and the firm she heads up couldn’t get Jian back in his beaches’ home. He has to live with mommy.

So much for fearsome Marie Henein. The system always wins.

There’s much more to say, but it strikes me that those who reinforce the fear of the justice system that already exists in the minds of so many worried about making a criminal complaint don’t do the objects of their supposed sympathy any favours.

It may not seem like enough, but there’s been a lot of progress on that end, and if anything, judges often bend over backwards to avoid the errors of the past.

It’s the system, really. It’s not a place where justice is made, so much as ground out. One of my interlocutors in Twitter perhaps said it best. As long as justice is a zero sum game, we all lose something. Maybe there’s a wrongfully convicted accused person, or maybe a disbelieved complainant.

But the system is rigged in favour of tears.

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A Progressive Choice for Ward 18 in Davenport

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Voting in Ward 18 this year could be one of the more difficult election choices you face if you live in this part of Davenport.

On the one hand, you have the likeable, community-engaged incumbent, Ana Bailão. She’s often seen at any number of community meetings, park dedications, or even where you pick up your local espresso.

At Issue: Ana’s Record

On the other hand, there is her voting record on some key, politically charged issues such as the Scarborough subway, tearing up bike lanes on Jarvis, or eliminating the vehicle registration tax. If you’re a progressive, these are votes that matter.  Ana

For bike lanes. Against wasteful spending on subways when a cheaper, more construction-ready alternative exists. Against eliminating the vehicle registration tax, which could fund important rapid transit projects.

These votes helped create the so-called successes that Rob and now Doug Ford are running on as proof of their ability to get their agenda through council.

And yes, Ana voted on the “wrong” side of all these issues.

So I like Ana, but I’m not sure, in the end, what she’ll stand for next, even if she is “committed to our community” in some warm yet amorphous way.

Ana liberalParty Politics and the City

Ana has also closely associated herself with the Liberal party of Ontario. She campaigned for them. They now campaign for her. Her election signs are traditional Liberal red.

The issue is that city politics are supposed to stand apart from the battles of other levels of government. How independent-minded will Ana be the next time a policy has electoral ramifications for the provincial or federal Liberals?

Spacing magazine has carefully documented the manoeuvring by Premier Wynne’s government to get the Scarborough subway extension. For the Liberals, this echoed into a Scarborough by-election that they wanted to win.

Consider the fact that many of Ana’s progressive or centrist colleagues on council, like Adam Vaughan, Mike Layton, Gord Perks, and Kristyn Wong-Tam, who represented downtown neighbourhoods like hers, voted in favour of the LRT. Yet she didn’t.

That said, Ana is a warm, hard-working councillor. Maybe she’s made some mistakes, but she can be counted on to support a mostly progressive vision. Mostly.

There is an Alternative

There are 10 other people running for council in this ward. Many are impressive, but in large part, their platforms are either non-existent or indistinguishable from what Ana would offer. Alex

Then there’s Alex Mazer. I’ve talked to Alex on a number of occasions. He’s personally come to my door at least three times during a general canvass of the neighbourhood. His team is sophisticated, volunteer-driven and has been active since back in January.

Alex’s campaign strongly suggests that he has leadership qualities that could work well on council and with his constituents.

Although he hasn’t openly associated himself with either the NDP or Liberals, he’s been endorsed by prominent members of both parties, and even the provincial Green party.

His platform is fully fleshed out and progressive. He favours an open budgetary process. New homes for those in need of affordable housing. He wants to pursue revenue tools to make sure the city can fund its fair share of new transit projects. He supports using the “Georgetown” GO line, which runs ran through Davenport, as part of a greater expansion of the TTC, adding new stations to serve the local community.

Alex is in favour of the “Minimum Grid,” a bike project and vision that would create 200 additional kilometres of bike lanes, half of them protected, by 2018.

Sure, Ana’s platform supports these items as well, but strangely, it only came out in the last week or so. But more than that, when you’re the incumbent, you have to run on what you already did, not what you say you’ll do the next time around.

Alex has been openly critical of Ana’s votes on the Scarborough subway, the Jarvis bike lanes, and the vehicle registration tax. This puts him in a position where, if elected, he has to try to reverse the effects of those actions.

So there’s no doubt for me that, when votes are raised on critical issues, Alex will support the progressive vision that Ana now says she will as well. He would also bring his unique strengths to bear, based on his experience working in government and in volunteer capacities.

Voting with Your Head

I’m all for voting with your heart, but voting based on gut, emotional reactions to a candidate can get you into whole a lot of trouble (see: Rob Ford).

Ultimately, you vote to support the policy ideals that you agree with. Even if the candidate you choose doesn’t get elected, the winner will scrutinize the results and ask why they lost a certain segment of the voting public.

I’d like to see Alex get elected. If not though, I want to make sure that Ana does not take the progressive vote for granted and thinks long and hard next time a decision comes up on bike lanes, revenue tools, transit projects, or even climate change, an issue that can no longer be ignored.

Toronto’s at a critical juncture in its history. We’ve got to make sure we have strong, visionary voices to help lead us through the next four years.

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The Union-Pearson Express: Liberal Blinders and What Could Be

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There’s one issue on almost everyone’s mind in the riding of Davenport, and that’s the Union-Pearson Express, also known as the UPX. Number one, it will send hundreds of diesel-powered trains through our community, raising serious health concerns.

Number two though, the UPX is another example of Liberal mismanagement on a hugely important file, in this case, rapid transit. Think of what they’ve done with this potential game-changer:

  • They built an express train that will pass through very communities it should serve, in a race to get to Union Station.
  • It will cost a projected $20 or more per trip which, for a family, will mean the same or more that it costs for a taxi right to their doorstep.
  • The Liberals chose a foreign supplier of diesel locomotives instead of made-in-Canada electric trains.
  • The Liberals also chose diesel, which across the board performs worse than electric on the most important criteria that matter, such as pollution, cost to maintain and operate, journey time, and ability to start and stop quickly.

And they knew all this from a 2010 Metrolinx report. You could not ask for a greater amount of incompetence.

Now, after committing half a billion dollars to complete the UPX, the Liberals have promised to convert to electric at some unspecified point in the future.

This means millions of wasted dollars in an attempt to satisfy an interesting demographic: the people running the Pan Am Games. This is the reason diesel was chosen in the first place. Delayed decision-making made it the only option that could be done by 2015, on time to service the tourists expected for that event.

The Pan Am Games. The Liberals placed the interests of people who will come and leave the GTA in a week or so over the needs of its residents and put off a solution to the gridlock that is choking this city.

And, believe it or not, but the UPX platforms at Union Station may not even be ready for the games.

It’s hard to downplay the transformation that could take place with electrification. First of all, if the Liberals had acted on Metrolinx’s report, the UPX would have been done by now.

More importantly, a rail link to Pearson on the GO corridor could provide rapid transit to more than a million people in Toronto. Electrified, fast, two-way service with stations up and down the line, at places like Queen West, Brockton, the Junction, St. Clair and Keele, joining up with the Eglinton Crosstown LRT (the “Mt. Dennis” station), and onwards through Etobicoke.

You can see the kind of change that could happen by looking at this mock-up of a Union-Pearson line that actually serves the community. You can click on it for a larger version.UP proposed line enhanced

Instead of something like this, the Liberal-executed UPX will have two stations, Weston and Dundas West. Why? Because diesel trains can’t start and stop quickly.

Great express line, Premier Wynne. A great waste of our time, money, and opportunity.

Over in NDP-land, Andrea Horwath is just as responsible for the present situation as the premier. For two and a half years, she had a veto over Liberal policy. The Liberals bent over backwards to give in to NDP demands.

For two consecutive budgets, NDP representatives at Queen’s Park propped up the Liberals without getting action on the UPX, an issue that the they campaigned on here in Davenport.

Then, in 2014, Andrea Horwath and her colleagues walked out on a budget that finally offered electrification.

By doing so, they abandoned Davenport residents and may hand the government over to the Tories who, under Tim Hudak, have ruled out electrification.

I won’t do the same thing to the people in my riding. If they send me to Queen’s Park, electrification of the Union-Pearson line will be a minimum cost for my support.

It’s not an empty promise. Last time around, the Liberals were one MPP short of a majority.

Time to get real and shake things up at Queen’s Park.

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Hudak, Wynne and Horwath and The Value of Nothing

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nothingWelcome to the campaign about nothing. Nothing for anyone who innocently believes that the three big parties have something real to offer this election.

This isn’t Green, partisan politics talking here. Take it from Andrew Coyne, a right-leaning columnist for the National Post. He likes Tim Hudak’s platform but calls his one million jobs’ plan, “ridiculous, even by the standards of most such job-creation claims.”

Hudak’s plan to cut 100,000 public sector jobs? Just words. Whether he ends up doing so or not, “is not important….its value is mostly for what it signals of his resolve.” 

In other words, Hudak’s platform is a kabuki act. This, from one of its smartest and biggest admirers. Sure, he says he’ll balance the budget in two years, but whether he actually does so – or could do so, I might add – is “irrelevant in economic terms”. 

It’s tough to pay down the debt when you’re cutting jobs and cutting taxes. Mike Harris added more than $40 billion to Ontario’s debt when he tried that last time around.

And this is the heart of Hudak’s platform. Much of the rest Coyne calls “blandly conventional”. 

Politics, the Dreamy Edition 

On the left side of the spectrum, Martin Regg Cohn slices up Hudak’s promises and those of the NDP and Liberals. He calls the Tory’s million jobs’ plan a “lottery game” and a “marketing pitch”.

Then Cohn turns his guns on the Liberals and the NDP. The Liberals’ budget is a “shell game”. They promise to balance the books by 2017 but offer no plan to get there, only “a leap of faith”. Cohn notes that Ontario has become the biggest “sub-national borrower in the world.”

Austerity, here we come. Greece, Portugal, Ontario. An economic glee club managed by our creditors.

As for the NDP, Cohn accuses them of trying to “bribe” voters with $100 cheques on hydro. He says that Andrea Horwath’s promise to remove the HST from hydro bills is a “discredited” pledge. He criticizes her tax reduction policy on small business as running counter to what actually stimulates the economy.

Like Coyne’s conclusion on Hudak, Cohn says that the leaders of our most popular political parties are running “make-believe campaigns”. What can a voter do?

Raise the Standards on Political Promises

Well, for one, it’d be nice if the standards on what passes for resolve were higher than phony numbers that “signal” a direction. I say this with all due respect for Mr. Coyne, who takes our fiscal situation seriously and doesn’t resort to mud-slinging to make his point.

But actual integrity and courage should be a bare minimum for political leadership in this province. Hudak has shown none, no matter what might be the posture of his campaign.

Secondly, the mirage of fakery noted by Mr. Cohn is countered by the Greens and yet omitted in his survey of the dreamy landscape of the three other parties. They all act as if money is going to fall from the skies.

On the other hand, government could merge the school boards and re-invest $1.5 billion in education without cutting programs or raising taxes. We could increase levies on mining and thereby reduce our dependence on debt.

How about a dedicated fund to build new transit lines through congestion fees, gas taxes, or road tolls? Measures like that would have a triple effect: they’d help solve traffic gridlock, reduce pollution, and they wouldn’t increase our debt.

Instead, we’ve got fake promises and a fake campaign.

There’s also only one platform that deals with scientifically proven climate change. We’ve got a serious situation on our hands that will radically change Toronto and Ontario’s climate. The Globe and Mail recently printed a graph on what’s happened already in our lifetimes.

Time to get off the fence on this issue and demand action from our mainstream politicians. You don’t have to a died in the wool environmentalist to consider the Greens this time around.

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Vote Green this Time Round. It’s the Right Time.

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As of today, I’m officially the Green party candidate in the Toronto riding of Davenport. It’s where I live, along with my three year-old son, my wife and thousand of others.

When Ontario votes on June 12, we will re-elect the Liberals or replace them with the NDP or Conservatives. And then we’ll turn to the page on that sorry piece of news.

The Liberals may stay in power but they’ve taken a bad fiscal situation and made it much worse.

It’s hard to imagine but government debt used to be a temporary measure. For 40 years, the Liberals, Tories and NDP have spent money the way a person does when they’re drunk and using someone else’s tab.

Think about it; here in Toronto, politicians rack their brains with how to pay for a $7 billion relief line. Up at Queen’s Park, Ontario will pay $10 billion this year in interest on the debt, then borrows another $12.5 billion to pay for the shortfall in what they’ve purchased.

Numbers like these could easily solve Toronto’s transit problems in one short year.

That’s Liberal economics. They don’t deserve your vote. They don’t have the courage to ask us to pay for what they promise. They need to leave or be held accountable. Ontario, like Toronto, can pay for what we think is important. We’re a wealthy, first world country.

The Greens say we should raise corporate income taxes up to a rate that’s still less than the North American average. Put in a carbon tax that discourages harmful emissions and also deals with the deficit. Bring in a closed loop source of revenue to fund civic transit.

We’ll get a cleaner environment and a better balance sheet.

Don’t let politicians scare you that companies and families will leave Toronto or places like Ottawa and Kitchener-Waterloo if we raise taxes to the same rates as most North American cities. Make them tell you the truth.

This is the best place to live in the world. We don’t have to give away the store to convince people to set up shop and raise their families.

Don’t look to the NDP for solutions. They don’t like the NDP-style budget that Premier Wynne delivered and Andrea Horvath is opposed to the use of new revenue tools to pay for Toronto’s badly needed transit lines. That’s an anti-Toronto position. They don’t deserve your vote if you come from this city.

And don’t look to Tim Hudak. There is a good reason no-one knows what he stands for. His ideas are vague and he has no plan.

We are entitled to expect a balanced budget, a transit system that flows in all four directions, and a clean environment.

Enough of the broken promises. Let’s set the course for healthy cities and normal temperatures. The Green party will build a transit that gets you out of your car if that’s what you’d like. Life’s better on the ground.

Vote Green this time. It’s the right time.

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Rob Ford won’t get charged. And so it goes.

Five months ago, I took pen to paper, keypad to screen, and started a blog on what, I wasn’t sure.

It was a neat time to be blogging and turned on to the sights and sounds of Toronto politics. It was easy to became immersed into the world of Rob Ford’s Toronto. ITO’s, Sandro Lisi, Chief Bill Blair, and the inanities of city council.

The gradual release of court documents showed what looked to be an earnest police attempt to figure out what kind of illegal acts were being committed by our chief magistrate. My antennae were tweaked.

I picked up the criminal law cleats that I had dropped about two years ago and applied my experience to Project Brazen II.

My intuition was that there was nothing there. Nothing to get upset about as far as the police were concerned, and little chance that the mayor would be charged with a serious offence.

And none of that was really all that bad. The system was working. Politics was working.

Mayor Ford had been given a fair chance to run this city and, like him or not, hadn’t achieve much, in large part due to his polarizing style. But aside from a frank and somewhat offensive manner, he wasn’t the worst mayor Toronto had ever seen.

But these court documents had, in my opinion, demonstrated that he wasn’t a nice or healthy person and that alone was enough to justify a change at city hall.

Democratically. In October of 2014.

Now it seems like the police investigation has come to a self-described dead end.

And that’s not a bad thing.

If there’s no evidence that Rob Ford was involved in an attempt to extort the return of a video showing him smoking crack cocaine, there’s no evidence. You may doubt, like Clayton Ruby, that the police exhibited smarts or good faith when they observed the mayor from afar in what looked like classic drug trafficking behaviour with Sandro Lisi.

But then again, you weren’t on the ground. And if you think that a bust for simple possession of marijuana outweighed concerns about the destruction of other evidence that could could have led to a more serious charge, become a police officer.

Don’t spend your life as a defence lawyer, sniping from the sidelines. And when you’ve spent a huge effort trying to oust the mayor from office over a case that you ultimately lose, like Clayton Ruby, or if you’re like the swaths of journalists who despise the mayor, don’t pretend that your criticisms are objective. They’re not.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Chief Blair did the city an enormous good deed when he green lit the investigation into the mayor, no matter where it led.

I’m no fan of “carding”. I think that there’s a lot to be said about disarming a good portion of Toronto’s police to deter incidents like Sammy Yatim’s alleged murder last year. And the G20 holding cells on Eastern Avenue looked like an egregious suspension of basic human rights and totalitarianism-lite.

But credit where credit is due. Without Brazen II, Mayor Ford could still be the emperor who was wearing his clothes in this election season.

But that’s it for me as far as Toronto political writing goes. I think I’ve had enough of political candidates for the time being. My next post will not mention the words Rob Ford, Olivia Chow, and the like.

I truly appreciate all those who found my voice on this subject matter to be interesting and engaged with the blog either by reading it, responding or reposting it on Twitter, or making comments on these pages. If I continue to write, it’ll be with you in mind, and I’ll try to make your time worth spending.

 

 

 

 

Campaign notebook: Team Soknacki Goes Long

“There are 209 days until the election.”

I’m sitting in Saving Gigi, a laid back coffee shop at Bloor and Ossington, near Toronto’s urban core. It’s a hipster hangout that typifies the hybrid appeal that the Scarborough-based David Soknacki hopes to project as he runs for for mayor. Brian Kelcey, David’s campaign manager, is explaining to me how his boss hopes to reach the finish line in October.

“The goal is to peak on election day,” Brian says. That may sound like a tall order at this point. Based on the CityTV debate last Wednesday and recent polls, it’s not clear that Soknacki has what it takes to overtake John Tory or Olivia Chow for that matter. He seemed over-reliant on his notes and was not an effective communicator.

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Rob Ford was crowned the winner of that debate, as incredulous as that may sound, and Karen Stintz, currently running fourth in the polls, pulled in a respectable performance, if merely based on the fact that she projected strength.

To top that off, the next night at Ryerson, at a right-wingers only debate moderated by Olivia Chow antagonist David Lean, Lean started into Soknacki by asking, “Why are you here?”

Indeed. Soknacki sometimes seems like Toronto’s equivalent of George McGovern, or Adlai Stevenson. The smart guy who should win but won’t, whom you secretly hope will run things behind the scenes.

Brian Kelcey counters that image by painting a compelling picture of what, ideally, will happen over the next six months to set into motion a dynamic that could lead to an October surprise. Part of that involves relying heavily on a ground game of motivated volunteers, a growing voter list, and plain old elbow grease. Knocking on doors, both literally and in cyber space. Kelcey and the rest of his team are active on Twitter and have a motivated base of people online who testify to their candidate’s ability to motivate folks.

Kelcey acknowledges that Soknacki has room to grow in terms of his debate performance, but says that he has already improved from where he started. Soknacki spent the last number of years thinking about what the right policies are for the city of Toronto, but he hasn’t spent that time preparing to be a candidate. He needs to connect with audiences and deal more effectively with his rivals, but the next debate is not until the end of April. Kelcey says that no-one inside the campaign has any illusions about what Soknacki needs to do, including David himself.

But that, as Kelcey frames it, is only half of the picture. The other half is what he likes to describe as the air game. This is where Soknacki’s true strength lies – smart policies that will set him apart from people like John Tory and Rob Ford. Four years of “subways, subways, subways,” have delivered a stalled plan to build a three-stop subway that will cost the taxpayers of the city $1 billion in extra debt.

Soknacki is the one who called Rob Ford out on his transit record by starting his campaign with a promise to scrap the Scarborough subway in favour of a fully funded LRT. At first, that may have seemed daring and politically dangerous. Royson James called it a “risky move” in his Toronto Star column. It was an unlikely way to begin a campaign, but it immediately set Soknacki apart from Ford and his closest right wing rivals, Karen Stintz and John Tory.

Then, Olivia Chow surprised everyone by adopting the same platform, something that she repeated with Sokacki’s promise to reduce business taxes. Although this certainly surprised Soknacki’s campaign and now represents a huge challenge to them to further differentiate their candidate, there were positives too. For one, given her current place riding high in the polls, it is obvious that the LRT is not dead in the water. Soknacki gets credit for that.

He now has to flesh out more of his policies, including a platform that, as Kelcey puts it, Chow can’t steal.

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“We want to give voters something to vote for, not just against,” says Kelcey. If this campaign ultimately turns on transit and who has the best shot at putting shovels in the ground to relieve gridlock, Soknacki could pull ahead. It’s a big if, but that would depend not just on putting forward a bold plan but also on voters voting for a candidate who promises things such as higher taxes. At this point, Soknacki has not committed, as Chow and Tory have, to keep property taxes in line with inflation. He has also raised other revenue tools, such as increasing the HST.

But with the “anybody but Ford” movement gaining steam, it’s not sure that this will resonate. If that evolves into settling on a person who looks like the winning-most candidate, that likely will not be Soknacki. But if at some point the anti-Fords feel confident that the mayor is truly on his way out, the focus could rest on ballot issues like what candidates will actually get done.

For now, it is arguable that a good part of both Olivia Chow and John Tory’s appeal sails on the polarizing force that is Rob Ford. Soknacki is playing a long game in what at this point seems like a hostile climate. But as Kelcey likes to point out, less than two months before Calgary’s mayor Naheed Nenshi was elected, he polled at 8%.

He ended up with 40% of the vote, beating his closest rival by eight points.

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Is Mayor Ford a Criminal?

If you look up criminal on Google, you’ll get the following definition:

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Over on page three of your search, you’ll also come across a link to Matt Galloway’s interview with Rob Ford last week, where the mayor famously quipped, “I’m not a criminal”. It begs the question – is he?

Well, to counter the mayor, the question doesn’t hinge on whether he’s been convicted or not. But to call the mayor a criminal, you really have to think of what your referring to. And in Ford’s case, there’s more than meets the eye.

For example, last week Tim Hudak showed just how easy it can be to get hauled into court over the use of language. He tarnished the entire provincial government as criminals, when, in point of fact, the police investigation is into former Premier McGuinty’s chief of staff, not Premier Wynne, before she officially took office. That didn’t stop Hudak from bringing her into fold, saying, “We now know that the coverup and criminal destruction of documents and emails took place in Kathleen Wynne’s office under her watch as premier.” Premier Wynne has threatened to sue Hudak over his comments.

For good measure, Doug Ford smeared Wynne’s administration as, “a corrupt Liberal government that have stolen billions of dollars off the taxpayer”.

Going those standards, you would think that Mayor Ford would be fair game. After all, he’s been the subject of a criminal investigation for almost a year.

But since Mayor Ford’s admissions related to his own use of crack, the question is whether he actually committed a crime. And with Rob, that is where it gets little more complicated.

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Ford has tangled with defamation law more than once. He came within a razor’s edge of paying damages to some folks who run a pub in the Toronto beaches when he labelled them as corrupt. He was only given some rope in that case because he loaded his comments with caveats. With Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale, Ford pretty well knew that he had gone over the line and was quick to offer a full and complete apology once Dale filed a libel notice.

But Rob Ford admitted that he smoked crack cocaine. He did so in the company of alleged gangsters. He was photographed in the company of a man who was shot down in a hail of bullets. He hung out at what the police describe as a known crack house. He is best friends with a man who has been charged with trafficking and extortion.

When you think about Doug Ford’s standard, it looks like a no brainer.

But let’s not use Doug’s standard. After all, brains are a good thing.

None of the statements in police documents that impute wrongdoing have been subjected to cross-examination. The strongest case rests on the mayor’s own admission that he smoked crack cocaine. Yet, even from a theoretical legal point of view, there are questions that chip away at the mayor’s guilt.

The biggest comes from the his own words, which is the idea that he smoked crack in a “drunken stupor”.

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If this is true, that would mean that on the night of February 17, 2013, the date of the crack video, he had gotten himself so drunk that he pushed  himself into a state of self-induced automatism. It is like he was sleep walking. He might have looked like he was acting and doing, but there was no-one upstairs. He was like a person acting without any conscious thought. In a state of oblivion.

For possession of a narcotic, that is a full defence. Criminal law 101 states that, to wit: “The essence of that crime is the possession of the forbidden substance and in a criminal case there is in law no possession without knowledge of the character of the forbidden substance.”

QED, as they say in the business.

The mayor is the kind of guy who would make a criminal lawyer very happy, if he was ever charged. A lot of smoke, but not enough fire to extinguish the presumption of innocence. In a court of law.

The court of public opinion, however, has an entirely different set of rules.

mayor

If I Had a Billion Dollars: Dealing with Mayor Ford

Many saw the shouting match that passed for Toronto’s first mayoral debate on Wednesday as a five-way free for all. It has to go down as one of worst run political debates ever.

But it did tell us one thing. Mayor Ford will own these debates as long as people try to deny his billion dollar savings claim. For a good year, pundits have called this a lie. But now, in 2014, Ford has the backing of the city manager.

It’s done. Deal with it.

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Denying Ford his billion dollars feeds a basic premise that his opponents are blind partisans who can’t acknowledge the achievements he’s made in the past four years. If so, they obviously can’t be trusted to lead this city.

That’s not how you win an election. When you fight against an incumbent, you have to make the case for change.

So the question should be, what can be said in response to this formidable boast? Because if the battle is fought solely on who can save taxpayers the most money, Rob Ford wins. He owns this turf.

Sorry, John Tory.

The path forward is to give Ford his due and then counter punch. And there are two ways this can be done, both of which relate to leadership.

The Only Song he Knows

The first is to paint the mayor as a one-trick pony. We’ve seen all he has to offer. Contract out garbage. Reduce expenditures. Find “efficiencies”. Cancel the purchase of anything new that costs money. Cancel taxes that bring in revenue to the city. Deal with the spending we have and see if there’s a penny here or there to save.

Reduce the perks.

Once that’s been done, which it largely has, the mayor has nothing else to offer. He can’t get along with other councillors. He attacks them personally. Sometimes he is so enraged that he ends up attacking them physically.

Ford’s other ideas have no merit and would actually cost the city money. The island airport has a $180 – $300 million tab. Building a ferris wheel is a beyond ridiculous use of the city’s most important undeveloped land.

And then there’s the subway, a billion dollar tax increase he favours over a fully funded LRT. This three-stop “stubway,” which is stuck in neutral, not only eats up his billion dollars but shows the most he can offer the city. With limited imagination and an inability to lead, his virtues as a penny pincher are spent.

ford
Mayor Ford’s Billion Dollar stare

A Criminal Cannot Lead a City

The second argument is that city hall cannot be home for a self-admitted criminal who refuses to explain his actions. Police documents describe a mayor who smoked crack cocaine at least twice in 2013, on February 13 and April 20.

Ford hung out with young men from struggling immigrant communities in Rexdale who were committing crimes as a way to escape lives of poverty. He validated their criminally lost ways. He provided a market for their crimes. He exacted one of the most damaging acts you can do to a young person, and it looks like he did it at least twice. He caused untold damage to their families.

Two days later, the hypocrite was bemoaning gun violence in the same community.

The mayor’s close friend, Sandro Lisi, is charged with extortion and trafficking in marijuana. He and Ford were in constant telephone and personal contact. It stands to reason that Ford should have known about Lisi’s alleged criminal activities. The mayor’s staff thought Lisi was his drug dealer. One member says they saw him smoke marijuana and found a joint in his office desk. Voters should know if Lisi was or still is the mayor’s drug dealer.

Voters need know if the mayor instructed Lisi to obtain the crack video that he lied about for months. Police wiretaps recorded Lisi warning gang members that the mayor would bring the heat down on Dixon if they did not return his phone after he lost it on April 20. 2013. Voters need to know if Rob Ford instructed Lisi to make that threat.

After news of the crack video broke, Lisi is alleged to have threatened the men who had the video, saying they were dead meat. He is charged with trying to bury evidence of the mayor’s wrongdoing using threats of violence. That would have been for the mayor’s benefit, so it begs the question as to his involvement.

People living in this city should know if their mayor is a criminal. This is not about lifestyle. This is about threatening physical harm because the mayor was caught with his pants down. He needs to come clean.

So far, the mayor has refused to provide answers. His lawyer says that he has “the right to silence,” which is a joke. The right to silence is something you exercise in relation to the police or when you are charged with a crime. Politically, the mayor has no right to silence. He is simply afraid to tell voters the truth.

Political rivals have the right to make Ford talk or suggest that he has something to hide. They have the right to raise public allegations of criminality and confront the mayor in a forum where he can’t run and hide, like he’s been doing. They have the right to show voters that he is an unacceptable choice for mayor.

Voters need to know the truth. Candidates want to win. Seems like a good match.

silence

With Rob, It’s an Endless Supply of Moral Lapses

There’s always more. Tales of the mayor’s ethical abuses in police documents include drinking and driving, bi-weekly vodka runs by office staff, assaulting his staff, and having staff perform personal duties. He promised the city that he would stop drinking, followed by further incidents of public intoxication. The mayor is far from done.

There are two ways to deal with the mayor’s billion dollar savings claim in the next debate. His rivals need to take the mayor’s claims seriously, drop the gloves and make the case for change.

 

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Dennis Morris: the Baloney Defence

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No doubt you’ve heard of Mayor Rob Ford’s criminal lawyer, Dennis Morris.

His client’s crack smoking timeline is in the news again, thanks to the release of another ITO, the document that the police use to get court orders. And Mr. Morris is too. The consigliere.

The latest ITO doesn’t tell us a lot more than we knew already, but a few tidbits will help feed those with a crack-mayor addiction like, well, ok, like all of you.

Foremost among them was the revelation that over a week long period early last November, the police offered the mayor and his lawyer an opportunity to look at the crack video for themselves.

Baloney, Mr. Morris told CP 24. It was a baloney offer.

In criminal law circles, this is known as the baloney defence, or as we lawyers sometimes like to call it, using its original, Latin name, “il panino con balogna”.

The question many have is, why would Mr. Morris call this seemingly generous offer baloney? After all, this was and still is a piece of confidential evidence crucial to the future trial of Ford drinking buddy Sandro Lisi. In addition, Mr. Morris’s client is not yet charged with anything. He may one day, but until he is, he has no right right to view the fruits of a police investigation.

Morris says he declined the offer because it came with too many strings attached; namely, that he and Ford agree not to discuss it with anyone, since it had not yet been presented in open court.

To put this in context, the crack video is a key piece of evidence in the extortion charge against Sandro Lisi. Without it, the police could have had a hard time proving that Lisi threatened somebody over the existence of an object that Ford denied even existed, up until his hand was forced by Chief Blair. Until it is presented in court, the police and the Crown do not want the pool of potential jurors to be tainted by comments made by people like Ford or Morris as to what it contains. That could affect not only how it is perceived by jurors, but also what witnesses will ultimately say in a trial.

It’s perhaps being overly cautious, but perfectly reasonable. After all, Morris was upset when Chief Blair said that he was even “disappointed” by what he saw. Surely, he would agree to apply the same standard to himself.

Not only that, but conditions are always attached to viewing police evidence. Lawyers deal with them every day in court when they receive copies of Crown evidence. In a case with major exposure like Rob Ford’s, all the more reason to be careful, since the police do not want to be accused of being negligent.

Seeing No Evil

So really, the question is, why might Dennis Morris advise Rob Ford not to view the tape? This is somewhat more interesting and it would have been good advice to give to a person like the mayor.

First of all, viewing the tape would require the mayor to step into a police station, something he has studiously avoided doing since this story broke. And for good reason: if there is one thing that it is tough to control, that’s Rob Ford’s mouth.

From shooting it off in the Steak Queen to calling the media maggots for pursuing a true story, this is someone you cannot trust in the same room as the police. Better safe than sorry.

Secondly, it’s possible that the police wanted to observe the mayor before, perhaps during, and definitely after he saw evidence of himself committing a crime. His conduct, anything he said, and his reaction could all be pieces of evidence that tell a story to a jury if he was charged with an offence. Even silence can speak volumes.

We know that the mayor has refused to help the police investigate crimes related to the crack video. Some, like maybe a mayoral candidate, might think that this betrays his civic duty as the chief magistrate of this city. After all, as soon as he was put in a position of having to choose between his own interests and those of the city, the mayor should have resigned.

Regardless though, it makes a lot of sense from a legal point of view for Mr. Morris to advise the mayor not to cooperate with the police, even by looking at the video. Simply put, the mayor committed at least one crime and Morris wouldn’t want to expose him to any further jeopardy.

What’s strange about Mr. Morris’s public profile is that he has taken on the job of not only being a legal advisor but also a spokesperson for the mayor’s views. He actually called the mayor the victim in this case during his interview with CP 24.

This sounds like the Ford worldview here, which sees the entire police investigation as illegitimate. Ford put himself in the situation that led to the crack video being put on the media market by committing a crime with unsavoury characters. This set into motion a course of events that allegedly included a shooting, a shake down, and extortion by Ford’s closest associate, Sandro Lisi. Yet Ford, to Mr. Morris, is the victim.

The other disconnect here is that we all know what is on that video. The new ITO describe the mayor talking as he exhales, holding a crack pipe in one hand and a lighter in the other. If Ford saw that video, he’d have to give up one more complaint that he’s been using to smear the police investigation.

And so would Mr. Morris.

The “Best Lawyer in Canada”

But who is Dennis Morris, anyways? The mayor has called him as “the best criminal lawyer in Canada”.

The last time Morris had Ford on as a criminal client was 2008, when he had then Councillor Ford’s assault charge against his wife, Renata, dismissed.

Over the past ten months, Toronto has become more acquainted with Morris. From suggesting that Ford might have been smoking tobacco or marijuana out of a crack pipe to calling on the chief of police to resign, he has become a regular fixture in crazy town.

If he truly was the best, you’d expect him to have a track record that echoes some of the greats. Eddie Greenspan comes to mind, or younger brother Brian. Cross the border and you have people like F. Lee Bailey, Johnnie Cochran, and Gerry Spence. Spence is a legend – he famously never lost a trial as a defence lawyer or prosecutor.

But this “best lawyer in Canada” label comes from Rob Ford and, not surprisingly, Mr. Morris’s reputation doesn’t shine quite as bright as those legal stars.

For one, he doesn’t seem have much of a profile amongst the criminal lawyers and is not seen around the courts that much. That may not seem to be important, but for lawyers who practice criminal law in Toronto, in a short while they see even the most high profile lawyers like Eddie Greenspan fairly regularly around the courts.

One of Morris’s most famous cases was one that, for him, didn’t go to court at all. In 2004, he returned a piece of stolen art to the Art Gallery of Ontario on behalf of a client who remained nameless. Apart from that, there’s not much reported about the mayor’s go-to on criminal law. If you search the web, you’ll find almost nothing that doesn’t include the name Rob Ford. In fact, his name pops up only five times as counsel on Canlii, an online database that, for the past decade, has reported most criminal law judgments.

But don’t tell that to Rob, for whom bragging is an art. He says he is the best mayor Toronto has ever had, and his brother Doug is going be premier some day.

Really, it’s a relief that he didn’t call Morris the best criminal lawyer in the world.

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Dennis Morris parody account. Or is it….

Toronto: Meet your Candidates!

It’s taken a few months, but Toronto now has a full slate of major, big ticket candidates vying for the mayoralty in October. With apologies to those who are not as well known, there are five names most likely to be on your radar in October.

And with tongue planted somewhat in cheek, here is my take on their defining political characteristics, as it appears at this early stage of the race.

The Professional

The last mayoral aspirant to enter the race is also the one most likely to win. Under appreciated by most, Olivia Chow has decided to run for an executive position in politics at the best point in her career, politically speaking.

With each passing decade, Chow has learned more lessons about how to run a campaign. While sitting and winning elections in Toronto as a city councillor for more than a decade, she fought two tough battles to unseat Liberal MP Tony Ianno, before finally beating him the third time around.

In addition, with husband Jack Layton, Olivia fought two national campaigns against the take no prisoners opponent, Stephen Harper. Thomas Mulcair may not be prime minister right now, but it’s because of Layton that he’s got a shot and it was Jack who really won the election that got him there in 2011.

Now, almost three years after Jack died and ascended into political heaven, Olivia Chow has assembled a heavy hitting, bi-partisan campaign team, not before releasing her political biography and re-introducing herself to city politics as the prodigal daughter returned to rescue the city from ignominy.

Chow’s the professional. She’ll be the only candidate on the left, the only one to represent real change in a city begging for it, and someone who’s fought and won at a level that will make city politics seem relatively tame.

The Ditherer

Tory

John Tory has many positives going for him, but decisiveness is not one of them. His defining political characteristic is the lack of vision that prevents him from stating, with clarity, his position on even the least contentious of issues.

Like food trucks.

Or, why is he running for mayor? When a caller asked him recently if he had a vision for the city, he reportedly answered, “not yet”. As a legendary sage once asked, if not now, when?

John wants to be liked and many people who like him have evidently told him for years that he should be leading a political entity somewhere. As a result, he’s entered into election after election, only to lose every one that counted.

It may be because Tory is a very smart person but unfortunately, so smart, that he wants to think things over ad nauseum until they are denuded of all meaning. On the other hand, very smart people are sometimes plagued by over preening self-confidence that leads them to make rash judgments over the advice of those who actually know better.

The next seven months or so will see Tory support positions that appear wise and therefore need no explaining, but in fact do, like another subway line to support the downtown, how in the hell Toronto will afford it, and what to do in the meantime.

The Flip Flopper

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Karen Stintz looks like the mayor Toronto always wanted. A younger June Rowlands. Barbara Hall with a right wing agenda.

Her main allure for many are the right wing policies that she trumpets, which allowed her to support Rob Ford in his early days before it became evident that his policies were not going to get anything done.

Karen then made one of the most inspiring moves in the pre-crack days of the Ford administration. She rallied city council around her vision to expand the transit system based on David Miller’s vision of a network of light rail transit that would get the city moving faster and cheaper than subways.

It was a move that made her look like a maverick, a candidate that could work across party lines in the name of positions that over time, would become more and more popular, even if they represented change. And it was fiscally responsible.

Unfortunately, all of that was for naught the next year when Stintz announced her refocus on a subway extension in Scarborough that would serve less people, cost more money, and take more years to complete than an LRT. She then lined up alongside Ford in August of 2013, when he secured some federal dollars from his friend in Ottawa, Jim Flaherty.

Of  course, this was after it had come out that Rob Ford had smoked crack with gangsters, but still, you gotta wonder what Karen Stintz was smoking. In retrospect, it looks like an opportunistic grab at the mayor’s voters in preparation for her current mayoral bid. Hence, Stintz has earned the political distinction of being this campaign’s flip flopper in chief.

The Geek

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Filling the political vacuum that Stintz’s about face on the Scarborough LRT left, former budget chief under David Miller and self-made businessman David Soknacki occupies the policy wonk section of the mayoral campaign.

By promising to cancel the debt-dependent Scarborough subway in favour of a fully funded LRT, Soknacki managed to distinguish himself early on as the sole truth-teller amongst the campaign. In doing so, he’s earned some true believers and hard-working volunteers, despite his uphill battle for name recognition.

Soknacki does not try to gain points for charisma. Instead of barnstorming speeches, you’ll more likely find him going into the algebraic nuances of a fair and equitable reworking of the land transfer tax.

Soknacki has somehow found a way to export spices to the middle east, so you should really listen to what he has to say about most things, because he’s probably right. Except maybe about building another subway to serve the downtown, for which there isn’t any money or the time. Really, David would be the perfect person to pitch some of the ideas found in this 139 page report about how to get Toronto moving, but perhaps another day.

The Addict

Rob's sister
Family therapy session with Rob’s sister and mother

Rounding out our top five contenders for mayor is the current occupant of the executive seat and perhaps the least likely to replace himself, Rob Ford.

Most of us know Rob Ford as the bumbling, Chris Farley-like character who smoked his way onto the world stage last October, when he admitted to what everyone already knew for a while, that he had smoked crack cocaine with some folks who really don’t have Toronto’s best interests at stake.

While he was drunk. Because that’s exactly the type of thing you do in your off time.

Or maybe we know Rob Ford as someone who could tragically end up like Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who really would have been the best person to portray Rob Ford in a movie about the tragedy that is his life, but unfortunately, like Chis Farley, he’s dead too.

So instead, we may simply have to watch Rob Ford lose in October then die sometime in 2015, by which time he will no doubt have gone crazy from having to go back to work at his father’s company under the condescending direction of his older brother Doug, who knows full well that younger brother Rob is going down in flames.

But what should be most evident to Torontonians by now is that Rob is an undiagnosed alcoholic. And it’s sad, because he can’t stop drinking. He drank at work. He drank in parks and then drove home. He drank and then smoked crack cocaine. He drank and then went to political functions, where he might have grabbed former mayoral candidate Sarah Thompson’s ass.

And he can’t stop. He’s the addict in this race.

A Collapse of the Ford Campaign won’t Change Race

Rob Ford is feared by his rivals for mayor.

Why else, at the start of an election campaign, would they hold back from calling his candidacy what it is, one by a morally unfit man who, every day, finds new ways to disgrace his city.

As if it’s not an issue, deserving a comment or two, once in a while.

His flaw are like an open wound. His campaign looks to be in obvious disarray.

The mayor has placed his future in the hands of a political neophyte, brother Doug. Stupidly, they paid their last campaign manager, Nick Kouvalis, so little that he kept ownership over a campaign’s most important asset, their voters’ list.

In the meantime, Doug lost his copy. To add salt to the wound, one of the mayor’s major fundraisers has bailed on him.

All of this will devastate their 2014 fundraising and voter turnout efforts. One more stress for an already stressed-out man.

Expect more public partying, partly out of stress, party desperation.

You can see panic coming out in different ways. The mayor has abandoned his attempt at sobriety and has admitted defeat.

Doug, in the meantime, continues to pick a fight with the chief of police, who had the temerity to defend himself against being called a “cocksucker” by his brother.

So why, with all of this turmoil and political dysfunction caused by a ridiculous and ostracized politician, do Karen Stintz, John Tory, and David Soknacki refuse to call a spade a spade?

Perhaps they realize that even if and when Rob Ford’s campaign collapses, it won’t change the essential nature of the race.

Good thing Ford didn't lose his transit plan.
Good thing Ford didn’t lose his transit plan.

Fantasy Football with John Tory and Karen Stintz

That’s why John Tory and Karen Stintz, putative front-runners on the right, will spend more time in the coming months debating their respective fantasy, rapid-transit plans and taking personal potshots, rather than articulate the civic angst caused by having an alcoholic mayor.

This week, Stintz and Tory trotted out Rob Ford-like talking points on curing Toronto’s congestive ills.

Subways, subways, subways.

A downtown relief line is the most popular theme these days. Stintz wants to sell off some of Toronto’s assets – its hydro utility – to fund that billion dollar effort.

Never mind that the sale wouldn’t come close to covering the costs, it’s the effort that counts these days. It’s a kabuki act.

In the meantime, Tory has kept his spending plan a secret. Smart to let Stintz have hers attacked for the reasons that will eventually undermine his as well.

Government funding is out there to help the city, but only if the city will pay part of the tab, and right-wingers are allergic to revenue tools, like “taxes”. How scary.

Realistic candidates, i.e., David Soknacki, see that this means LRT’s, light rail transit. Better than streetcars and buses, almost as fast as a subway, but cheaper and easier to build, and affordable, with little financial downside.

Karen Stintz was for them before she was against them.

What’s not to like? Perhaps they look too European, and people on the right have visions of a New York style subway map in their heads.

One is being built on Eglinton Avenue in mid-town, which should transform the crosstown commute. Two more are funded and planned for Finch Avenue West and Sheppard Avenue East.

Add a simple congestion fee for driving into the city core on on highways like the Don Valley, Highway 427, or the Gardiner, and you’d have the makings of a modern, plugged-in city.

No doubt, when these lines become more of a reality, they will be popular. At that point, people like John Tory and Karen Stintz could, if in office, do a two-step and change their policies, like folks who make unrealistic promises often do.

After all, it was a cold day in hell but even Rob Ford voted to raise taxes to fund his pathetic, three-stop Scarborough subway extension.

Here it is, an LRT. Looks scary, don't it?
Here it is, an LRT. Looks scary, don’t it?

Olivia Chow Waits like a Vuture, Ready to Swoop In

Some people might think that Olivia Chow is a lightweight, but she’s showing a tough-minded, political patience by waiting to enter the mayoral race. There’s nothing to be lost and maybe something to be gained by sitting it out for a bit longer.

Time to assess the mood, to let others try out policies that either gain traction or not, and then land with her feet running on a complete platform.

Why not let Tory, Stintz, and Soknacki bloody themselves a bit first.

If Chow is lucky though, when she enters, the field will look much the same as it does now.

Rob Ford will suck enough votes from the right to prevent anyone from gaining enough momentum to overcome Chow’s ability to win this, merely by being the only candidate on the left.

Olivia Chow is a seasoned politician. People who underestimate her abilities don’t give her enough credit. If the race is going to change, it’s not by attacking her.

The Past is not just Prologue in Politics, it’s Act One

My personal belief is that candidates are doing themselves and the city a disservice by treating the mayor with kid gloves.

While some polls have Ford hovering around 20%, others give him a fighting chance in the fall.

That means that the mayor is holding good votes hostage. Voters can be mined by attacking and defining the mayor as a threat to the city’s well being.

Tory and Stintz, not to mention Soknacki, are seemingly deaf to this reality. They’re missing the zeitgeist of the moment.

In 2000, David Miller realized that people were sick of Mel Lastman and he won based on that fatigue. He raised a broom as his symbol and married it to a stand against a bridge to the airport.

None of these policies were central to what he wanted to do as mayor. They were about getting people excited though.

Rob Ford did the same thing. He waxed on about David Miller fatigue. He was elected in part because of what people saw as Miller’s failings, being too soft on the left.

The mayor has tired out his own welcome mighty quick, but like a clue that is obvious but no-one sees, the other candidates just don’t get it.

A winning campaign, given the strange, Tory-Stintz-Soknacki political dynamic, needs more than policies and right-wing, internecine sniping. It also may need more than just coasting to victory.

It needs someone to define Ford for the race and build on that to attract a winning coalition of voters. A candidate who’s not afraid of the mayor.

Maybe not this year, but better than nothing
Maybe not this year, but better than nothing

Rob Ford’s One Year Crackiversary: Is He Home Free?

One year ago, Rob Ford smoked his way into the history books. About two months later, according to wiretaps, he went back to his favourite crack house and ordered some more.

When the police investigation into the mayor was released last October, it gave rise to public anger directed at them as much as the embattled Ford.

In response, I wrote a series of articles that defended their investigation. My last posting tried to wrap it all up in, “Answers on why Rob Ford has not been Charged.”

But now, as much of the anger has died down, many wonder if, under the radar, the police are getting ready to charge Rob Ford. I see this is a misplaced hope more than anything and wonder if it could result in a lot of dormant energy going to waste.

At the risk of getting more comments that suggest that I’m either carrying water for the police or defending the mayor, with one caveat, let me suggest that as time goes on, it’s more likely that the police will never charge Mayor Ford.

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When all else fails, attack the messenger

A Criminal Investigation is like Cake – It gets Stale

This may sound like I’m just trying to be clever, but it’s true. The colder an investigation gets, the less likely it will ever get solved. And some cases get cold mighty quick.

Right off the bat, it’s a fait accompli that Ford will never get charged for the crack he smoked, along with the marijuana and, sorry to say, any alleged drinking and driving. Those are red-handed crimes if there ever was one. They’re in the past and they’ll stay there.

I’m not going to defend the police here. If you disagree with my three articles on this issue (one, two, and three), that won’t change what happens in the future, which is nada.

There are other possible crimes that will never be prosecuted too. The suggestion that Ford sniffed cocaine at the Bier Market on St. Patrick’s Day. The allegation that he took a run at his former policy advisor Brooks Barnett and then pushed his then senior aide Earl Provost into a wall that same night.

These things may have happened.

Eye-witnesses made statements under the threat of criminal charges if they lied. But there are time limitations (six months for some charges) and realities (like you need the victim’s support) that apply in court. But not in the court of public opinion.

Then there are the non-criminal activities, if you will. Like having your staff bring you mickeys of vodka to your office twice a week, drunk-calling them at midnight from your father’s grave-site, or smoking a joint in front of one of them and his date when you’ve called them over to your house to do a personal job.

I know, marijuana is still technically illegal.

But more to the point, lying to your constituents, calling the media maggots for pursuing a true story of public interest, or bowling down a fellow councillor in chambers are just a few examples of the kind of aggressive, narcissistic, delusional, and bullying acts that justify anger against this mayor.

But don’t look to the police. Just remember that they happened.

Ford on Pam
Civility, a la Mayor Rob Ford

The Last Vestige of Hope is the Unknown

There is one major caveat that I would hold out and that is, there is much that we don’t know. That said, most of what is unknown just isn’t worth knowing. And most witnesses lie.

Jailhouse witnesses are no more likely to turn now than they were last summer, and more likely to be disbelieved. Sandro Lissi is not going to testify against his good friend, Rob Ford. The mayor’s latest drunken escapades at the Steak Queen restaurant prove that, if nothing else.

The crack video that led to extortion charges against Lissi, a cloud of suspicion over the mayor’s office, possibly a shooting at a Rexdale apartment building and a shake down a few days later got us no closer to a charge against the mayor. There’s nothing to say that Ford ordered Lissi to do what was necessary to get that video.

I’ve tried to set out what happened during this crazy time in, “A Video, A Shooting, and Hallal Meat: the Origins of the Ford Investigation,” but with so much smoke, still, no fire.

But there is one reason why Toronto’s red-faced mayor should think twice the next time he lets his mouth run off, and that is because there’s probably been a wire on him for the last four months.

This isn’t the United States. There are actually some barriers to putting a wire on someone here, thank God. But sometime around October 29th, 2013, the police were in a good position to get over them.

By then, they had the mayor on video smoking crack and enough evidence to charge Lissi with extortion, but the mayor had eluded their grasp.

Maybe for good reason. Maybe, despite Ford’s incentive to hide his criminal conduct, Lissi acted on his own here. But the cops could now get a wire on the mayor if they wanted to. Hard to believe they passed that up.

Lissi drop centennial
Criminal Law 101: Look away

One Helluva Caveat

So that’s my caveat. Forgive me if this sounds crass, but the mayor may be a first grade asshole, still, even he probably realizes that his calls have been taped since November.

Any charge, I think, depends on a wire alone. Witnesses against a person like Ford can’t get you too far. Too many incentives to lie at this point. The police need a smoking gun.

One thing is for sure though. Political foes who hope that the mayor’s downfall will come at the hands of the police are relying on a narrative that could ultimately benefit the mayor himself.

Ford has been spinning rhetoric against the police for months, anticipating a potential charge. If it comes, it’ll take years to get to court. He’ll use it as another example of the police being out to get him, and it won’t stop him from running in October.

In the meantime, voters and candidates know all they need to about how this mayor is unfit for office. The perception of his conduct, as much as what to do about rapid transit in Toronto, is an issue facing this city.

If candidates running for mayor treat Ford with kid gloves, they’re missing an opportunity to define him in a way that would connect with voters. It would also show that Ford’s bullying succeeded.

ford and renata
Renata, Toronto feels for you. We’ve been used too.

Myths and Realities about the Race for Toronto’s Mayor

At this stage in the race to become Toronto’s next mayor, the only candidate with serious wattage power remains the embattled and disgraced Rob Ford. For that reason alone, given his steady refusal to bow out in shame, he remains a force to be reckoned with.

Yet, the fact remains – Mayor Ford is perhaps the weakest incumbent in political memory. His strength lies merely in the myth that as long as he remains on the stage, unashamed after repeated floggings to his credibility, he has a chance at winning.

This misconception has its origins in truly gifted politicians like Bill Clinton, whose peccadilloes were much more circumscribed than Ford’s, and the fact that we live in the age of reality television, where hubris is perceived as a kind of invulnerability.

Of course, myths can become self-fulfilling, so long as everyone believes them.

Thus, the central myth in the race for Toronto’s mayoralty is perhaps best personified by one of Mayor Ford’s most credible right-wing challengers, David Soknacki: attack Rob Ford on the issues, not his character.

Jan. 2, 2014: Why is this man smiling?
Jan. 2, 2014: Why is this man smiling?

Character is Destiny. Rob Ford’s is to be Vanquished. 

The idea that Toronto’s race for mayor should be fought in the lofty arena of policy alone betrays both a fear of Rob Ford’s ferocity as a candidate and a complete rejection of the fact that to win in politics, you have to engage in political battle.

David Soknacki has some great things going for him as a candidate: fiscal bona fides as former Mayor David Miller’s right-wing budget chief, an entrepreneurial background, the fact that he is a suburban, Scarborough native, and his principled stand on transit that would enhance ridership in a cheaper, faster way than the stupid three-stop expansion of Toronto’s two-dimensional subway map.

But that’s where his political smarts stop, at least at this point. Today on radio, Rob Ford called him a complete disaster, and he’s right. As a candidate, Soknacki is headed for a big fail unless he reverses himself on one of his first political pledges: to stick to the issues, rather than Rob Ford’s character.

The thing is, the main attack against Rob Ford is just that – he’s unfit for office. As things stand, Rob Ford is unfit for any office, elected or private, dog catcher, lawn mower, you name it. An inveterate and pathological liar with serious, untreated and unacknowledged substance abuse issues, he simply needs to go away before he self-destructs, like a similar predecessor on the world stage, Chris Farley.

Former Saturday Night Live funnyman Chris Farley had weight issues, just like Ford. He smoked drugs and drank, again like Ford. However, unlike Ford, at least Farley wasn’t weighed down by a serious personality disorder and an older brother who turned a blind eye to his substance abuse issues. That didn’t prevent Farley from dying from a drug overdose.

Toronto could be headed for the same fate if Ford is re-elected.

The reason why all of this is political, as if it isn’t clear enough for high-minded policy wonks like Soknacki, is that Ford has made it political by repeatedly lying about how much money his policies have saved the city (not a billion dollars), whether there’s been a strike under his watch (library workers), the state of the city’s unemployment rate (10%, not 7%), the the city’s taxes (they were lower under Mel Lastman), his attendance at city council (not the best). It goes on and on. You can’t trust this guy to even tell you what time it is.

The media, both right and left wing, has called Ford out on these lies time and time again, but that hasn’t stopped him from running a campaign based on a blatant attempt to deceive voters.

The mayor also lied to the city for months about whether he had ever smoked crack cocaine, whether a crack video existed, how often he smoked crack cocaine during his mayoral term (the evidence clearly points to at least two times), and whether he has a drinking problem. A person who cannot stop drinking, despite repeated pledges to do so, and will not go into treatment is lying not only to himself, but to everyone around him.

Rob Ford’s character, as exhibited over a lengthy period of observation as mayor (which includes sending his staff out on bi-weekly mickey runs, during the day, to buy him vodka) disentitles him to being a serious candidate for mayor. He needs a lengthy period of residential treatment for his pathological lying and drug and alcohol abuse issues. Any mayoral candidate who fails to point this out repeatedly and attack Ford on this basis is similarly disentitled to being considered as mayor.

Machiavelli

The City is Looking for a Champion

A political candidate’s job during a campaign is two-fold: to point out why he or she is the best person for the job, and secondly to highlight the reasons why, if any, another person would be a bad choice for the city, province, what have you. Occasionally, it is simply a choice between two or more visions. That is not the case here.

David Soknacki, or any other candidate who fails to point this out is putting the city at risk. Voters will not trust them to be there to defend their interests or their family if they are afraid to fight at this instance, now, to protect the city from the disaster that is Rob Ford.

David Soknacki has shown tremendous smarts and courage in making a stand against the Scarborough subway as a main issue in this election. That project has to be one of the dumbest decisions the city of Toronto could have made, but depending on who gets elected, we may have to live with it. LRT’s are cheaper, faster to build, and serve more people. A three-stop subway extension is simply wrong.

But as wrong as it is, if a candidate like Karen Stintz wins, it will become reality. At least Stintz recognizes the allure of LRT’s when it comes to expanding the rest of Toronto’s public transit. And at least Stintz looks like she might be readying herself for a fight. She’s started by making cheap shots at John Tory’s unelectability, being the three-time loser that he is, and she started a fight with Olivia Chow over the federal budget.

Stintz has a lot to learn about attack politics. But if she learns quickly, she could start taking the shots that matter, which would deter Ford’s possible voters and impress the voters she needs – fiscal conservatives, car owners, suburbanites, and the middle of the roaders that she hopes to pull from the centre and downtown.

With Ford’s former campaign manager Nick Kouvalis now working for John Tory, it may be Tory who gets the aggro-makeover that is needed to beat up on Ford. Or maybe the undeclared, sole left-wing candidate, Olivia Chow, for whom the mayor’s chair is sitting there, might wake up, get a little jacked up and attack Ford like he deserves.

It doesn’t matter who. The city is looking for a champion. Vision and policies are not enough this time around. Toronto needs someone who will take down Rob Ford, make him pay for what he has done to the city’s morale, and hang his failings around his neck like a necklace.

That is what is going to define this election. That’s the zeitgeist of the moment. Over time, voters will become cheered up as they perceive an electoral humiliation in the making.

As to who will actually win, like I said, at this point it’s Chow’s for the taking. But win or lose, the real winner in the minds of everyone will be the one who makes Rob Ford pay for what he has done to this city.

Maple Leaf Gardens, Feb. 11, 1973
Maple Leaf Gardens, Feb. 11, 1973

Harper: L’État, c’est moi and the Supreme Court

Back in law school, one of the first things I learned, to my surprise, was that political activists saw the courts as a legitimate avenue for social change. That’s strange if you think that elections are supposed to the only way that laws are shaped in a democracy.

This is often where the right and left part ways. Prime Minister Harper and those on the right  believe strongly in, or at least that it’s necessary to wage battle for, limits on judicial activism. The idea that unelected, even if increasingly Harper-appointed, judges would strike down laws passed by Parliament strikes them as absurd.

Do as I say, Not as I Do

“My own view is the judiciary should be restrained of the exercise of overturning a democratic consensus.” Jason Kenney said this about Bedford, the decision that struck down Canada’s prostitution laws, but it could be applied to many more.

Except, or course, when it’s politically inconvenient to apply the law. Increasingly, Harper is seen as one to ignore laws when they don’t fit his agenda. After all, with the Duffy scandal still on everyone’s lips, in September Harper appointed Marc Nadon to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Nadon’s pick was odd for many reasons, but also probably illegal. The high court is mandated to include at least three judges from Quebec, either its superior court, court of appeal, or a practicing member of the bar.

Nadon hasn’t practiced law in Quebec since 1993. Up until Harper picked him in September, he was a semi-retired judge on the Federal Court. He’s best known as an expert in Maritime law and for ruling, in a lonely dissent, in the government’s favour in the Omar Khadr case. Clearly, a politically-minded appointee.

Once Again, Cleaning up Harper’s Mess

So here we are in the new year and Harper’s justice department was in the Supreme Court yesterday trying to defend their boss’s actions. Their first line of attack was that the law should not be read as it appears.

Clearly Nadon was never a Quebec judge, so instead, the feds argued that he was qualified because he once practiced law in that province. Now the law actually says that he had to be picked from “among the advocates of that Province.” Nadon wasn’t a part of that group for the last 20 years.

Harper’s fall-back position was that the federal government enjoyed the unilateral right to change the rules regarding who could be a member of the Supreme Court.

You’ve got to hand it to Harper and his team. Making this argument is the legal equivalent of putting a dead horse in the Chief Justice’s bed in the morning. Give her an offer she can’t refuse.

I’ll stop and explain. In 1982, when Canada enacted the Charter of Rights, it also imported the rules governing the makeup of the Supreme Court into our constitution. Any changes to the rules of who can and cannot be appointed has to be agreed to by all ten provinces and Ottawa.

Essentially, Harper is saying, either you take my first argument and ignore the written law, or my second argument is that I am state. I’m in charge now.

In yesterday’s Globe, four constitutional experts from Quebec lacerated Harper for setting the court afire with politics and divineness. Nadon may in fact already have an office in the Supreme Court’s building. Harper got retired supreme court judge, Ian Binnie, to write an opinion in favour of the appointment. He set up judge against judge.

Fortunately, one thing he hasn’t done is set up region against region. Quebec and Ontario both opposed Harper’s power grab yesterday and it was an Ontario lawyer that set the entire process into motion.

Harper might win this battle in some way. He’s raised the stakes, but in doing so, he’s also revealed a side of himself that, as with the Senate scandal, shows an aggressive streak to his incrementalist style of moving the country to the right. Like a frog you slowly boil, the key is not to turn the temperature up too much all at once, or the frog will sense what is going on and jump out.

Harper’s trying to stack the court with judges that will do what he wants. That’s somewhat par for the course. What’s new this time around is his attempt to rewrite the constitution at the same time.

What's the big fuss?
What’s the big fuss?

Olivia Chow’s Irresistible Temptation

Olivia Chow spent yesterday swatting down a rumour that she’d be Ontario’s upcoming Lieutenant Governor. Next, Harper will offer her a Senate seat.

But neither post would be quite as attractive to Ms. Chow as being the mayor of Toronto. The mayoralty is an irresistible temptation for Chow and is hers for the taking.

That may seem odd, given that the only prominent, self-declared candidates right now are Rob Ford, former city councillor and budget-chief David Soknacki, and current city councillor Karen Stintz. They’ll all get tons of media attention, yet they each court the same political demographic: right wing voters.

If they remained the only viable candidates to run for mayor, that would leave a serious vacuum on the left; but that is just not going to happen.

The Left Wing Vote in Toronto

The reason is that there is stable block of voters in this city who consistently back one or more candidates on the left, just as there is a block that supports one or more on the right.

Pictorally, Ford's "loss" to Smitherman and Pantalone
A map of Ford’s “loss” to Smitherman and Pantalone

Perhaps people forget, but in 2010, Rob Ford got less votes than his two main, left-wing opponents combined. He “lost” to George Smitherman and Joe Pantalone by almost 2,000 votes. In 2006, David Miller won in a cakewalk, but then too his biggest majorities came from the same areas of the city that Smitherman and Pantalone would take four years later.

2003 was much more competitive and similar to 2010. Politics in this city is a dynamic that is won on the fringes. The majority of voters in the old city of Toronto will largely support a centre-left candidate and those in the old boroughs will do the opposite.

Given these fairly solid patterns, there are several reasons why 2014 is shaping up to be the year a left-winger is sent back to city hall, and Olivia Chow in particular.

Number One: Chow’s Right Wing Opponents

That’s opponents, plural. None of them, save for Rob Ford himself, are particularly weak. In fact, there is some serious candidate power on the right.

But the biggest factor in favour of Olivia Chow will be the vote-splitting that will happen when right wing voters consider their options.

Will it be crack smoking, right-wing populist Rob Ford, who is dedicated to dismantling city services and reducing the government’s job to asking others to pay for his dreams of subways, subways, subways?

The mayor has become a celebrity, for sure, but politically he is a phantasm to those who can’t see his lies, both personal and political. His core supporters believe that the “media party” has wrongly pursued him. Apart from misrepresenting his record, his campaign looks like it will be based on forgiveness and a new love of the church.

Screen shot 2014-01-06 at 10.41.48 PM

Still, Ford will draw votes away from David Soknacki and Karen Stintz, who will do same to each other. Soknacki and Stintz will probably run strong campaigns and appeal to those who liked John Tory. Stintz, for example, showed agility and panache when she overcame Rob Ford’s attempt to sabotage her chairmanship of the TTC.

Yet, none of this will matter if Olivia Chow runs as the sole candidate of the left.

Make Way for the Queen

In truth, there are several councillors on the left who could run strong campaigns. Shelley Carroll and Adam Vaughan come to mind. Yet lately, their names have not been raised as serious candidates.

Perhaps because even before the crack scandal, Chow easily out-polled any combination of Ford with Carroll and Vaughan on the bill. More recently, Chow has topped any potential right-wing opponent.

This could lead progressives to smartly avoid mimicking the circular firing squad that’s shaping up on the right. No need to be a spoiler in 2014 if Olivia Chow is the inevitable victor.

And Chow simply is the strongest candidate on the left. She’s been in elected politics since 1985. She has huge name recognition in Toronto and would carry voters in the centre that supported Miller in 2003 and Smitherman in 2010.

The key to Chow’s success, though, would be in replicating what David Miller did in 2003, and that would be to make major inroads in places like Scarborough and Etobicoke.

Obviously, it’s not all demographics here. Miller’s message of anti-corruption and urban livability resonated after the Mel Lastman years. Any one of Soknacki, Stintz and Chow will look great in comparison to Rob Ford.

But Olivia Chow can do something that no-one else on the left can. She’ll reach beyond her political constituency and get huge amounts of right-leaning, new Canadians to vote for her in places like Scarborough.

According to a 2011 survey, 46% of the people who live in the riding of Scarborough Agincourt are of Chinese background. In neighbouring Scarborough-Rouge River, 33% are South Asian and 30% are Chinese. Over in Rob Ford’s old ward of Etobicoke North, 31% are South Asian and 20% are Black.

David Miller won the most votes in two of these wards in 2003. Rob Ford won all three in 2010. In 2014, I think its safe to say that Olivia Chow will turn back the clock.

It’s Not You, You Candidates of Wealth and Privilege, It’s Me

Is it merely an ethnic thing? People may say that it trades on stereotype to predict that a voter of Chinese or South Asian background will vote for someone who looks more like them than David Soknacki or Karen Stintz.

But Olivia Chow can speak to these voters, both literally and figuratively, in a way that others can’t. People who’ve started new lives in this city will see her as someone who will look after their interests, since she too was a newcomer.

Barack Obama got record numbers of Blacks not just to vote for him, but to get to the polling booth on election day. Progressives also saw him as embodying the change they wanted in their society. Optics are always important.

Olivia Chow’s candidacy would energize newly settled ethnic communities to participate in a civic election. It would be cathartic to those still wounded by Jack Layton’s premature death. And it would galvanize a huge block of voters who are sick and tired of Rob Ford and will do almost anything to see him out of office.

That’s quite the hat trick. Let’s see someone else do that.

Chow: if she runs, she wins
Chow readies herself: if she runs, sure looks like she wins

Ford Abandons His Nation during Ice Storm

Doug Ford was in sunny Florida during the ice storm. Rob, left all alone to come up with a political strategy, did two things that were against type.

First of all, he didn’t attack anyone for an entire week. Despite being sniped at by fellow councillors for deciding not to declare an emergency, he kept his rhetoric at bay. Hell, he even thanked the media.

Secondly, he abandoned Ford Nation. At least that’s my take on his decision to portray the mass power outage of 250,000 hydro customers, for days on end in late December, as a mere problem to be rectified by a public utility.

There was no emotional connection to those hundreds of thousands of potential voters who suffered without heat during the lows of cold winter days.

Now, that might work for the rich and educated who had the resources to make do with such deprivations, but they’re not exactly Ford’s usual constituency.

Where does Ford Nation live? 

To answer this question, one of the best resources we’ve got is Zack Taylor, a Toronto researcher who drew a map of where Rob Ford’s 2010 voters primarily lived.

Turns out there’s a pretty significant geographical divide in this city that arose last election, and in others too. Taylor’s map showed where Rob Ford got most of his votes, versus George Smitherman.

The outer ring of Ford Nation
Toronto’s outer ring that was Ford Nation

His analysis also revealed other facts about Ford Nation. Overall, they made less money than “Smitherman village,” were less educated, and more composed of visible minorities and first generation Canadians.

In other words, Ford Nation was more likely to be poor and outside of Toronto’s various establishments. They didn’t value public resources so much as doubt their fair spread. And they had to travel long distances to get to parts of the city where there was a high concentration of jobs.

They certainly didn’t depend on bicycles and streetcars to get around.

Fast forward to the Ice Storm and its discontents.

The Ice Storm Froze Out Ford Nation

As of today, all of the 600,000 or so Toronto residents who lost power should be back online. Now’s the time to clean up and to ask what the hell happened.

The mayor announced that the city will ask the province for disaster relief. No doubt that’s a good thing, but for many, the trauma of last week was compounded by the fact that he refused to call the ice storm a disaster at a time when people struggled to make it through each day.

Many believe, rightly or wrongly, that had he done so, their burden would have been lifted. No doubt, it could have provoked more people to volunteer, brought the haves and the have-nots together, and lifted many hearts.

The fact is, Ice Storm 2013 affected the poor, minorities, and new Canadians the worst. Take a look at Toronto Hydro’s power outage map from Christmas day:

Toronto Hydro power outage map, Dec. 25
Toronto Hydro power outage map, Dec. 25

Maybe it looks familiar, since to a large degree, it replicates the map of Ford Nation. The outer ring of the city suffered the highest per capita power outages, while the inner core made it through mostly ok.

The mayor’s natural constituency became a nation of refugees. Doug Ford, like the privileged can often do, opted out of the disaster zone while younger brother Rob downplayed it, saying, “that’s mother nature for you”.

Talking out of Both Sides of his Mouth

Now the mayor has to convince the province that the ice storm was a disaster, despite saying for a week that it wasn’t.

He could have had it both ways. True, a state of emergency wouldn’t have deployed more resources, but the mayor could have still called it the disaster, or emergency, that it was.

Emergency status wasn’t necessary to get the city’s response committee, TEMPC, activated. It coordinated first responders and came up with a plan to deal with the city’s problems.

While Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly chaired TEMPC, the mayor posed for photo ops and defended his decision not to declare an emergency.

That didn’t mean much to those who were poor, had elderly parents, or were new to the country. For them, spending days on end without power during the winter was potentially fatal.

Had Ford declared an emergency, the city’s political position vis-a-vis the province would be enhanced, now that it is asking for disaster funds. It shouldn’t make a difference, but it will.

Ford Nation didn’t cared much that the mayor smoked crack, had his staff buy him weekly mickeys of vodka, or physically ran down another councillor in chambers. The stuck by him was because they believed he had their backs.

But maybe not when it counted.

You abandoned us, Mr. Ford
You abandoned us, Mr. Ford
Not voting for Ford next year
Not voting for Ford next year

The State of Rob Ford and Ice Storm 2013

If not for crack cocaine, Rob Ford would have had his Chris Christie, Hurricane Sandy moment these past few days. And Premier Kathleen Wynne would have been standing by his side, playing the role of Barack Obama.

Ford: when's it my time to play mayor?
Rob Ford: when is it my turn to play mayor?

Welcome to the political aftermath of Toronto’s Ice Storm, 2013.

The question on everyone’s lips, as the city’s powerless hydro customers slowly get turned back on, is whether the mayor took advantage of this Christmas disaster for political reasons.

Some city councillors, like Josh Matlow, James Pasternak, and Krystan Wong-Tam, have criticized Ford for failing to declare a “state of emergency”.

On the other side is Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, hardly the mayor’s ally these days. He said that making the declaration “will not turn the lights on any faster or start your furnace any sooner.”

It’d be nice to clarify what exactly would have happened had the mayor acted differently.

Emergencies, the State thereof, and the City

The truth, I believe, is that the city would not have gained a single iota of power, real or political, by declaring there to be a “state” of emergency. It would not have put more hydro crews on the ground or opened up an additional warming centre.

Heroes of Ice Storm 2013
Heroes of Ice Storm 2013

The city’s emergency by-law shifts power from council to the mayor, or in Toronto’s case, the deputy mayor, Norm Kelly. It results in a “super mayor” on steroids, along with various committees intended to bring together an assortment of first-responders, such as police, fire, and waste management.

The important thing, in light of the largely one-dimensional nature of the ice storm, is that the city’s emergency powers do not give it anything it does not already have. It’s not clear how this would have helped to turn on the lights.

A state of emergency would have let the deputy mayor act as a one-person council, as long as it pertained to fixing the problems caused by the ice storm. It also would have added a multi-layered bureaucracy of emergency management committees.

The overlay of these committees, as set out in the emergency by-law and the official plan, is complex, to say the very least. It seems to have in mind a similarly complex civic emergency, not necessarily one like the effects of the ice storm.

In fact, it’s arguable that the emergency plan as called for by the city could have added a burden, instead of a help to the various departments doing their jobs.

The State of Emergency as a State of Perception 

It’s possible that, due to the mayor’s unique ability to alienate friends and win enemies, Rob Ford did not get the leeway that his political opponents would otherwise likely have granted him this holiday season.

It’s important to note, some people obviously disagree with my analysis.

Deputy City Manager John Livey was quoted as saying that a state of emergency would “assist the staff at the province to make resources available to us — crews, generators, facilities for warming centres”.

Almost the opposite of what I am suggesting here, but two things should be noted.

First, there is no law, regulation, or by-law that prevented the province of Ontario from doing anything to help Toronto, despite the lack of an official emergency. In fact, crews have come in from Sault Ste. Marie, Windsor, Ottawa and Manitoba to help restore power.

Secondly, the province has its own ability to declare a state of emergency in any part of Ontario to “prevent, reduce or mitigate a danger of major proportions”. Furthermore, they always have the power to trump civic authority.

In this case, the province didn’t declare an emergency, but that did not stop Premier Wynne from working with Toronto and taking credit for doing so.

So I think Livey was wrong here. But perhaps what he meant was that it would have raised the stakes and simply made it easier for the city to make requests to the province.

The Ice Storm’s Main Political Victim was Ford

Personally, I think the prize for most outlandish and exaggerated characterization of the mayor’s actions goes to Esquire magazine, which blasted, “People might freeze to death because Rob Ford won’t quit being mayor”.

This highlights the fact the ice storm was a unique event of the kind that was tailor made for a right-wing politician like Rob Ford.

Politicians who decry government spending usually spare that rhetoric for exactly this kind of problem. Crime, natural disasters, any tragedy that involves life and death is one that brings people together. It eliminates political divisions and almost always elevates the politician who happens to be at the centre of power.

If Ford had not squandered his mayoral powers, no doubt he could have declared a state of emergency without any criticism and mounted a Rudy Giuliani-like defence of the city’s powerless.

Instead, he chose to smoke crack cocaine. Ford impugned the motives of the chief of police for investigating him. He insulted his natural political allies on council. He drove almost all of his staff to abandon him.

He must appreciate the photo ops that could have happened over the past week. They could have lifted him to victory next October on the wings of an ice storm.

But that does not change the reality of what should have happened in Toronto over the past few days. It simply highlights the chickens that continue to come home to roost for the mayor, no matter what he does or does not do over the next eleven months.

A beautiful city covered with ice
Toronto: A beautiful city covered with ice

Sex Work: the Message Governments Refuse to Hear

Last Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada gave sex workers and the media an early Christmas gift, when it struck down the criminal laws that regulate prostitution in this country.

By way of reminder, sex work has not been illegal in Canada for a long time. Since 1985, however, almost every safe way of doing so has been criminalized.

For example, communicating on the street between vendors and potential clients. Running any kind of business where sex is sold at a permanent location. Employing receptionists, security systems, or renting an office or apartment to a known sex worker. All of these acts are criminal.

After the decision, which is known as Bedford, the justice minister, Peter MacKay, signalled his intention to draft a new set of criminal laws that will again target sex workers. He has twelve months to do so, or the laws are gone.

Perhaps they will follow the “Nordic model,” which criminalizes clients, not sex workers. Whatever the “model,” the strategy is the same thing that’s been going on for years.

Money and Sex – an Honest Discussion Awaits

Nothing will stop people from using sex for commercial gain. The sale of sex for money is at least an honest exchange of what goes on at so many levels of our culture.

Burger King
Burger King – words fail

Many get offended by the notion that a women could rent her vagina out for an hour, or even five minutes, to a man who could not, by hook or crook, obtain sexual comfort the traditional way. But both men and women rent out their bodies for the visual pleasure to others “legitimately” in pornography all the time.

And sexual titillation lies at the heart of both advertising and fashion in a pervasive way.

When it comes to the actual sale of sex acts in an explicit manner, criminal laws help create dangers to the traditional vendors of these acts, women. Which is why they were struck down by the courts.

The fact of the matter is that what the Supreme Court did in this case was suggest something that government-run commissions have said for more than 30 years, which governments have routinely ignored.

Yes, government-sponsored commissions have made the same recommendations again and again. They have told politicians, who asked them to look at the issue, to drop the laws that prevent women from selling sex safely to men.

The 15 judges who looked at the Bedford case for the past three years were men and women, appointed by Liberals and Conservatives, mostly Conservatives, mostly Stephen Harper. They unanimously stated that our criminal laws endanger women.

They listened to witnesses, reviewed constitutional principles, our basic notions of human rights, and came to the same conclusion.

For the past 30 years, federal governments have turned a blind eye to reason and evidence. It looks like Peter MacKay will honour that tradition once more.

The Laws are not Enforced Anyway – they Just Heighten the Danger

One thing is certain, and that is that no matter what happens, prostitution, massage parlours, and sex work at homes, hotels, cars and offices blocks, is not going away.

This, supposedly, is illegal
This, supposedly, is illegal

The important power that the federal government has is to bring the work out into the daylight. If sex work is legalized, it will be taxed, sex workers will be protected by the police and the courts, and municipalities will license and attempt to regulate rules such as location, hygiene, and sexual health.

Maybe, as a result, fewer street workers will be murdered.

Because the reality is, the police are not able or willing to enforce the laws that are on the books right now. Illegality simply affects the way it is done.

Most sex work is conducted indoors to begin with. Look at the back pages, online or print, of any major arts and entertainment weekly, such as Now Magazine, and you’ll see ads for what are essentially brothels.

Add in craigslist to the mix, plus an assortment of other online resources, and it’s easy to see that sex work is all over the place.

Imagine the same degree of ubiquity for heroin, or advertisements in the local paper for murder for hire. That simply does not happen, because it would not be tolerated by the community. Sex work is, and what we have today is what happens when you criminalize something that coexists pretty well with the way society works.

The community at large does not care. Massage parlours can be right in our midst; they simply do not offend or disrupt our lives.

What does offend are laws that prevent sex workers from taking measures to protect themselves. What is offensive is the creation of an unregulated, cash economy, heightened danger for poor women, and a market for human trafficking. These facts, hidden from view, are offensive.

Ideology Trumps Facts for Social Conservatives

There are people who want to turn this issue on its head. They say that if we criminalize sex work, we save women from human trafficking and protect children from exploitation. They argue that our laws should aim to “abolish prostitution.”

I’m not sure what world these folks live in.

Sex work has flourished despite all attempts to snuff it out. Criminal laws send it underground and feed a market for human trafficking. They give rise to exploitation because the business itself is illegal.

The evidence from the Bedford case is proof in point. Police find it next to impossible to investigate “bawdy houses,” convictions are hard to obtain, and so charges are almost never laid.

The women who work in these establishments are completely unprotected and they always will be so long as they are technically illegal.

If MacKay and the Harper Conservatives use Bedford as an excuse to bring in new criminal laws, it is clear that three things will probably happen: a greater demand for female slaves from developing countries; increased dangers for street workers who ply their trade in dark alleyways; and continued immunity from prosecution for the 80-90% of the market that is conducted behind closed doors.

If that is not what these social conservatives want, when they talk about the evils of prostitution, perhaps they should abandon ideology and look at the facts in Bedford and take a close look at history.

This may represent too much of an opportunity for Harper to change the conversation after months defending himself from the Senate scandal. Given how he pounced on Justin Trudeau’s admission of marijuana use, it seems likely that he will try to use Bedford to vilify his opponents and rally his political base.

That is a shame. The system is broken. Time for those in power to listen for a change.

The Supreme Court of Canada agrees
The Supreme Court of Canada agrees

A Moustache for All Seasons

I think I never saw what a bit of facial hair can do until I spent the last two months with a moustache.

The frightened glances as I passed mothers with their babes in tow. The nervous twitches of otherwise calm, well-dressed businessmen. The subtle nods of recognition from hipsters in plaid jackets with guitars hanging from their shoulders.

It all started with the relatively inauspicious circumstance of date and proximity. Halloween was around the corner.

At once cornered with the prospect of failing yet again to come up with a costume that mixed masculine reticence at masquerade with the appropriate social grace of husband and party-goer, I immediately turned to Matt Dillon.

A once in a lifetime performance
A once in a lifetime performance

Matt Dillon, who so memorably inhabited the role of private investigator Pat Healy in Something About Mary. Some may not have cared that he was passed over by the Academy, but I had not forgotten.

There was something about Matt Dillon. But then my mind was drawn back to the timeless, pre-Sopranos classic of Magnum PI. For if ever there was a manly, heterosexually positive image of moustachioed man in recent times, it was Thomas Magnum.

In your face with stache
In your face with the stache

Off to the internet I go. For though I could recall a line or two of that trend-setting tv, film-noire classic, I wanted authenticity, which could be had, I discovered, on the cheap. I quickly purchased some faux chest hair, an Aloha shirt, and a Detroit Tigers baseball hat.

But when Halloween had come and gone, behold, the month of Movember had taken its place as a reason to keep my facial line of scrimmage. My better half, the mother of my only child, would not have objected had I shaved the stache, but she was still beside herself in a state of well-earned, post-beardial bliss and could not summon the strength to lobby for full withdrawal of my hirsute manhood.

And so, I persevered through the eleventh month, deriving an almost physical pleasure from the admiring glances that I attracted from the presence of a socially acceptable moustache.

For a November moustache does not just free the man wearing the stache, it liberates those who long for the visually resplendent sight of a single line of difference, a je ne sais quoi that arises from the separation of cerebral cortex from the rest of our earthly coil.

Oh, Movember, that month of wonder.

But Movember soon disappeared into the crowd of the remaining eleven months that surround it and now, here we are in December, and as much as I have tried to redub it Moudember, it does not seem to be catching on. The fear of the stache has arisen once more, even here, in my small, newly hip Toronto neighbourhood of Brockton.

It is only in the months of what I like to call Moudember, Manuary and Moustebruary that one can really feel the true stigma of the stache. The worried glances. Clean-shaven men and women who cling tightly to their handbags and manpurses as we pass by on narrow sidewalks.

Little children who cross the street. Conversations that dim. Eyes that look the other way.

Only last week, my wife and I walked into a Christmas party that honoured the work of a prominent not-for-profit and a shock went through the room. The general assumption for many was that my wife had brought another man, no doubt a member of the Charlie Daniels Band, to the party.

Once that confusion was cleared up, I had a whole table of pigs in blankets to myself, which truth be told, wasn’t all that bad.

I now know that that there is a price to pay to fight for moustache awareness and, knowing that there are others out there, I take solace in the role models that have preceded my fight.

Neil Peart from his days as a keen devotee of Ayn Rand and also a proud stacheman. Doubly persecuted for both his faith and his stache, he soldiered on.

Stached out Neil Pear
Stached out Neil Peart

Most of the members of Kansas; carry on, my wayward sons.

So many pioneers
So many pioneers

And of course, the redoubtable Thomas Magnum, patron saint of Movember, hallowed be his televised name. He just stuck it in your face.

So happy new year and onward to 2014. Each month can build upon the triumphs of the last. Stick by the stache, for someday you may want one too.

A stache may be someone you love
A stache may be someone you love

Rob Ford v. Daniel Dale: The Comment and the Damage Done

Just don't say anything Rob.

Notorious gangster Al Capone was brought down by his inglorious conviction for tax evasion. Bill Clinton was impeached because of a blue dress. Martha Stewart was convicted not of insider trading, but because she lied to investigators.

Ah, hubris.

And so it goes, Rob Ford. His ultimate take-down may come at the hands of humble Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale, not the Toronto Police. Ford smeared Dale in a Vision TV interview this week as having pedophilic tendencies.

“I have little kids. When a guy’s taking pictures of little kids, I don’t want to say the word, but you start thinking, you know, what’s this guy all about?”

Hmm. What’s that word again?

You can read what Dale says really happened here. He plans to sue Ford and Vision TV for defamation, or in legal terms, libel and slander.

Conrad Black writes that all of this is blown way out of proportion. He told the Canadian Press, “They raised the pedophilia question; Ford didn’t.”

Yes, Ford must think the same thing. Best to insult through innuendo.

Rob Ford's Concept of Subtelty
Rob Ford often demonstrates an adept ability at subtlety

Ford Loves a Good Innuendo

You see, Rob Ford has already found that a good innuendo can get him far in life.

Back in August of 2010, he used that strategy when he ran for mayor. He met with the Toronto Sun’s editorial board and lashed out at city council for a 20-year contract awarded to Tuggs Inc. to run a pub in the Toronto beaches.

Ford, at his innuendo best, implied that the kind of politics that happened here smacked of corruption.

“Absolutely. It’s in camera, obviously, its confidential, I wish that you guys knew what happened in camera, which a lot of you do, obviously, but these in camera meetings, there’s more corruption and skullduggery going on in there than I’ve ever seen in my life. And…and if Tuggs isn’t, I don’t know what is. And I can’t accuse anyone, or I can’t pinpoint it, but why do we have to go in camera on a Tuggs deal?…..

So a lot of these issues…sorry Andy…A lot these issues don’t have to go in camera. And if that Tuggs deal doesn’t stink to high heaven I…I…”

And you’ve gotta know that it pained Rob Ford to say it, since he stressed that he simply could not “accuse anyone” or “pinpoint it,” although it sure did “stink to high heaven”.

These were very smart words and they served Ford well when he was sued by Tuggs’ owner, George Foulidis, for libel. The judge ruled in Ford’s favour, saying Ford hadn’t libelled anyone, since he neutralized his allegations with some carefully worded caveats.

It just stunk, you know what I’m saying. Great innuendo, Rob. Well done.

When a guy’s taking pictures of little kids, I don’t want to say the word…

Oh, oh, pick me, pick me. I know the word!

If I could have coached Rob Ford to repeat his Oscar-winning performance from back in 2010, I’d have advised him that if he really wanted to hurt Daniel Dale without exposing himself to a losing lawsuit, he should have said it this way:

“I don’t know if the guy is taking pictures of little kids, but if he was, I don’t want to say the word….”

That strategy worked for him the last time around. This time though, not only has Ford doubled down on his accusations, he tripled down yesterday. The man’s backed himself way in a corner.

Convicted felon Mr. Black has suggested that there was nothing defamatory in what Rob Ford said. I beg to differ.

You see, you defame someone when you falsely describe them in a way that makes them the object of hatred, contempt, fear or ridicule. You defame them when you imply improper or disreputable conduct. Ford should know these definitions; they come straight out of the case he won against Foulidis.

I can tell you without fear of contradiction from my history practicing criminal law that being a pedophile is the worst insult you can level at anyone.

People give you a break if you’re a drug addict. They try to understand you even if you’re a murderer. But try to defend a pedophile.

I’ve yet to see a movie glorify their exploits, even the funny ones. In jail, they’re the lowest of the low, the bottom rung of a system that despite its population of the ethically challenged, still has its standards.

The Damage Done

Daniel Dale is obviously not suing the mayor for the money. Until you’ve been slandered in public, it’s imposible to comprehend the damage done. When you are a public figure like Dale, you imagine that everywhere you go, people bring to mind the false accusation levelled against you.

As a journalist, Dale depends on his reputation. The mayor’s lies could easily seep into the subconscious of people who work in the media, not to mention the public. They quickly spread what the Supreme Court of Canada has called their “cancerous evil”.

Dale had no choice but to defend himself. And if and when this goes to court, I predict Ford will pay big time.

Given his predilection towards lies, he’ll have no credibility.

Given the fact that this lie was broadcast to the world via Vision TV and then through hundreds if not thousands of news outlets, the damages would be in the hundreds of thousands.

Obviously, money is not the  point here. A verdict for Dale will reverse the stench with a positive finding that Ford slandered him. Once that happens, the blowback is real.

The accusations against Ford have been ferocious at times. As of late though, he’s been reduced to talking about the weather and saying, “next question”. Such a muted state of affairs for a politician who threatened war just weeks ago.

Just don't say anything Rob.
Just don’t say anything Rob

A Video, A Shooting, and Hallal Meat: the Origins of the Ford Investigation

Rob Ford has alleged that the police launched a corrupt investigation against him because he had threatened their budget.

Yesterday, when he talked to convicted felon Conrad Black on Vision TV, Ford said that Chief Blair “wasn‘t happy when I told people to find efficiencies. I think he was quite upset at that.” He then said that the entire investigation into him was “political. I think they used (Sandro) Lisi as a prop to get to me.”

These allegations aren’t new. Ford’s brother Doug made them last Friday, when he engaged in a now infamous scrum and called Toronto’s media the modern day equivalent of Stalin’s Pravda.

But it’s a patently ridiculous smear. It insults the reality of what caused the police to investigate our mayor in the first place.

9134464
Ford gives you something to remember

April 20, 2013 and the Mayor’s Grand Entrance into Project Traveller

On March 18, 2013, Judge Ian Nordheimer authorized a wiretap on alleged members of the Dixon Bloods. It was the last part of what is known as Project Traveller.

On April 20, Rob Ford made what looked like his first entrance onto the stage of the project. Wires had him going to 15 Windsor Road, a house frequented by members of the Dixon Bloods. Traveller targets Liban Syad and Abdullahi Harun were listened to as they made arrangements to provide the mayor with drugs.

Syad and Harun were also taped later that night when they bragged about how they had pictures of the mayor “on the pipe”. The mayor was said to have smoked his “rocks” that night, along with other euphemisms for hard drugs. These files helped calm their nerves over what happened next.

In the morning after the party, Sandro Lisi was intercepted when he talked to Liban Syad. Lisi was upset because someone had stolen mayor’s telephone. Lisi engineered its quick return through a combination of threats to have the mayor bring the “heat” on Dixon and the reward of some marijuana.

There’s an unknown about these events, and that’s when the police knew about them. On the one hand, there was the requirement of “live monitoring” during the intercepts. On the other, live monitoring is never an ongoing thing.

Conversations get monitored to ensure that the police are not taping privileged conversations or ones involving innocent third parties. Once that is negated, its impossible to have every conversation live monitored.

But if we’re looking for reasons for the police to investigate the mayor, here’s reason number one: evidence that he was said to have purchased crack cocaine from members of the Dixon Bloods on April 20.

Alleged Members of the Bloods Try to Sell Crack Video

Fast forward to May 16, 2013, at 8:30 pm. Gawker, then the Star, published their stories on Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine on video. This caused the police to start a separate investigation to substantiate the story.

Two days later, the mayor’s chief of staff, Mark Towhey, called the police to report a tip that he got from the mayor’s “chief of logistics,” David Price. Both were questioned.

Price told the police that the day after the crack video story broke, he got a call from a man telling him the location of the video, 320 Dixon Road, unit 1703. The caller said that it was in the hands of drug dealers named “Gotti” and “D”.

The caller’s number was shown on Price’s phone. It matched the number of a Project Traveller target named Mohamed Siad. “Gotti” was also Siad’s nickname and “D” was known as Mohamed Farah.

Price’s interview helped more information fall into place. Calls that had been made on May 13 and 14 by Siad and Farah now seemed to refer to their meeting with John Cook from Gawker.

Gawker fundraises for a good cause
Gawker fundraises for a good cause

The police now had a second connection between the mayor and members of the Dixon Bloods.

Efforts are Made to Get the Video and Abdullahi Harun is Shot

On May 21, 2013, Abdullahi Harun was shot in the hallway of the 17th floor of 302 Dixon Road. He was helped out of the building by none other than Liban Syad.

If you were looking for a third reason to investigate the mayor and his circle, this seems like a pretty good one:

  • One day after the crack video is reported in the news, the mayor’s chief of logistics gets a call from someone claiming to know its location.
  • The claim is that the video is in the hands of drug dealers, at 320 Dixon Road, unit 1703.
  • Two days after that, a person the police believe to have supplied the mayor with drugs is shot on the 17th floor at 320 Dixon Road.
  • That person, Abdullahi Harun, is then helped by another, Liban Syad, who is also believed to have supplied the mayor with drugs.
  • Both of these men had bragged that they had pictures of the mayor smoking crack.

Maybe I’m missing the political nature of the police investigation, but so far it seems to be linked to drugs, gangs, and now a possible shooting. But there’s more to back that up.

The Video being “Taken Care of” and Hallal Meat 

On June 20, 2013, the police interview the mayor’s now ex-chief of staff Mark Towhey, for a second time. Towhey tells them about a troubling comment made by David Price.

A few days after Price told Towhey about the tip and 320 Dixon Road, the two men spoke again about the crack video. Price told Towhey that, “the video was being taken care of as they spoke”. The ITO suggests that it was after this conversation that Abdullahi Harun was shot.

While I emphasize that these are unproven allegations, this is what spurred the police to action:

  • A clear suggestion that Harun may have been shot because of the crack video.
  • Evidence that actions being taken to take care of the video were known to people in the mayor’s office.

I can’t imagine a better reason to thoroughly investigate the mayor and interview every one of his staff. But there’s more.

At some point prior to June 21, 2013, the police listened to a conversation involving Harun and another target, Ahmed Dirie. Harun tells Dirie that the mayor’s driver told him that “Gully” was “hallal meat”.

Hallal meat, the ITO explained elsewhere, is a death threat, the Somali equivalent of “you’re dead meat.” “Gully” was Mohamed Siad, one of the vendors of the crack video. The mayor’s driver in this context would obviously be none other than Sandro Lisi.

We’ve now got some more great reasons to investigate the mayor as well as Lisi. The mayor’s driver may have threatened Siad which, it seems to reason, would be in order to get the video or have it destroyed.

Of course on October 31, Lisi was charged with extortion over attempts to retrieve the crack video. Chances seem pretty good that those charges relate to the alleged “hallal meat” threat. But as always, there’s more.

Siad is “Kidnapped” and the Possibility of Two Crack Videos Emerges

On May 30, 2013, the police intercepted conversations involving Siyadin Abdi and Adbinaim Hussein. Abdi told Hussein that the day before between, between 7:00 and 8:00 am, he had “kidnapped” Mohamed Siad.

The kidnapping that Abdi desribed sounds more like a shake down. He and another associate, Abdi Farah, grabbed Siad and took him to the back of a building where they talked to Siad about “the video”.

Siad cried and said that he had destroyed the video and that his family was in trouble. He was held for about an hour and then allowed to run away. The ITO then goes on to produce some panicky text messages sent by Siad at around 8:30 pm.

Now we go ahead to August 29, 2013, when the police rescued, from the thousands of intercepted communications, a call made between none other than Mohamid Siad and Syadin Abdi. That would be the same Abdi who would later threaten and shake down Siad in May.

The call was dated March 27, 2013. In it, Siad and Abdi talked about the video they had of the mayor smoking crack and their plans to sell the tape to either the mayor or a website.

They reminisced about the offer the mayor had made to buy the tape for $5,000 and a car. Siad’s preference was to press the mayor for more money; Abdi favoured dealing with the media.

This conversation raised the tantalizing prospect that two videos may have been made: one dating from before March 27, 2013, and the other from later, on April 20. At the very least, there was now evidence of at least two discrete dates during which the mayor partied with members of the Dixon Bloods and allowed them to record him smoking crack.

The Mayor Had it Coming

I’ve explained elsewhere why it was that the police had to include all of the details that they did in the ITO: allegations that he drank at city hall, smoked marijuana, abused his staff, and on and on. The mayor brought Lisi into his professional orbit and with him, the police.

But the two Fords have now upped the ante by suggesting that the entire investigation was political. That’s a direct allegation of criminality: using a public office for personal gain.

If “political” is redefined as an investigation into drugs and violence, extortion and allegations of drug dealing by one of the mayor’s closest friends, then perhaps the mayor is right. If not, he’d best be served by retracting his comments. Not only are they defamatory, but every time he does this, he provides another reason to review the police investigation, which never ends up looking any good on him.

hallal

The Fine Art of Screwing Up a Criminal Case

Today’s Toronto Star outlined a story about radio personality Dean Blundell and his side-kick and producer Derek Welsman’s most recent foray into on-air homophobia.

You can about read the story here, but the short and quick of it is that Welsman was a jury foreman in a case that convicted a man named Joshua Dowholis of three counts of sexual assault and two counts of forcible confinement. That was back in September, but now the conviction may be nullified because of Welsman’s comments on the radio.

The Two Big Duties of a Juror

There are two things that were important in this case that make what Welsman did a problem. First of all, since it dealt with gay men and since gays have historically suffered from discrimination, when jurors were selected, it appears that they had to undergo what is called a juror inquiry.

In this case, the jurors would have been asked, under oath, whether the fact that the accused was gay, or his alleged victims for that matter, would mean that the he or she would be unable to perform their functions in an impartial manner. It’s a given that everyone has biases and can find themselves reacting to stereotypes at least in their minds, but that’s not the question here. The question is whether a person could set those aside and remain impartial.

All of that is part and parcel of a juror’s duty to remain impartial until the very end of the case.

Welsman, like everyone else on the jury, would have had to sign up for that ability. As an aside, it’s worth noting that jury inquiries are a very good opportunity for people to get out of jury duty if that’s what they want. All they have to do is admit in front of a large group of people that they’re racists or homophobes.

The other thing that Welsman would have had to do is swear an oath to secrecy. Section 649 of the Criminal Code makes it a criminal offence to disclose anything about what happens in the jury room to anyone. Subject to very limited exceptions, that rule is absolute and sets us apart from what you see in the States.

A good reminder that criminal trials are serious business.

welsman et al
Welsman & co-hosts. Maybe not your ideal jury.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Welsman

What we see in this Star article and the recordings they obtained from 102.1 The Edge was that during the trial, Welsman was giving some play by play for entertainment purposes on the air. Not a good way to maintain your impartiality, if you’re using your experience as a juror to make people laugh.

Welsman got disciplined for that by the prosecutor and was able to shut up for the time being.

Then, once the trial was over, he started joking again and talking about the case with his on-air buddies like Blundell and others.

It’s a good example of something that most people who work in the courts learn pretty soon. One of the main characteristics about these stories is that at the heart of them, there’s at least one person doing something really stupid.

In this case, Welsman did some really stupid things.

Stupid because in the quips that were being told about gay sex, Blundell joked that by helping to convict the accused man, Welsman had damned him to “five of the greatest years of his life,” referring to all the gay sex he’d presumably have in jail. Welsman joined in, saying that he had done his “civic duty.”

Civic duty? Why, because he had sent a gay man to somewhere he could have lots of gay sex, behind bars? Sounds very much like the guy might not have been able to set aside his homophobic attitudes. As you can read in the Star, this isn’t the only one of his troubling comments. In another, Blundell made light about the injuries that one of alleged victims might have suffered. Welsman joined in.

But this case has more bad news for Welsman. The same day he made his comments about his civic duty, he talked about what happened inside the jury room, saying, “We kind of determined that though these people are not the smartest individuals in the world…they probably couldn’t hold up a fake story.”

Pretty rare to hear about juror deliberations, but that sounds a lot like them to me.

When Meghan Scott, the prosecutor of this case, heard about this, she must have hit herself in the forehead in exasperation. This looks like a pretty good way to screw up what she must have thought was a solid conviction.

This was an obviously tough case to boot. One of the alleged victims made bizarre calls to the police the night before the trial, claiming to have been drugged then recanting those allegations. All three men who made their complaints took crystal meth on the nights in question. A tough case to win.

And now that’s up in the air.

What the Judge Can do Now

Scott has been quoted by the Star as saying that the judge in this case cannot recall the jury because they’ve been dismissed and therefore the matter is closed. Kathryn Wells, the accused’s lawyer, disagrees and she’s got the law on her side.

The law is that a trial judge has the ability to recall a jury even after it has been dismissed and after a conviction has been entered. The Supreme Court has ruled that in cases where  something happens that gives rise to a “reasonable apprehension of bias,” the trial judge can declare a mistrial.

This could certainly be one of those cases and I’d be surprised if the judge didn’t recall the jury. If that doesn’t happen, the accused will have a guaranteed ground of appeal. In any case, the conviction has been left with an awful stench.

    • Update: On December 10, the trial judge in this case dismissed an application to re-open the case by the defendant. That is not the end of the matter, but it does make it a matter for appeal, which could drag on for some time.
    • On the Dean Blundell side of things, on January 6, 2014, Corus Entertainment officially pulled the plug on the Dean Blundell show, taking it off the air.

Answers on why Rob Ford has not been Charged

In my naiveté, I had assumed that most Torontonians had by now realized that one of the only civic institutions to really care about Mayor Rob Ford’s criminal behaviour was the Toronto Police Service.

In the time that passed between May 17, 2013, when the Star and Gawker published their crack video stories, and October 31, 2013, when the police announced that they had the video, Ford had bounced back.

A subway victory with pictures of smiling colleagues. Political cover from the Finance Minister. Silence from the business community.

Finance Minister with Mayor Ford, September 23, 2013
Finance Minister with Mayor Ford, September 23, 2013

Eyes on the Ball

All the while, the Toronto Police were hard at work interviewing, surveilling, getting court orders, and scouring the mayor’s life to turn up evidence that could either confirm or exclude his participation in criminal conduct. Evidence that could stand up in court.

The latest revelations just confirm that the police were right to keep their eyes on the larger investigative goals that, at least now, it seems obvious for them to pursue.

The police needed to secure the crack video to ensure that the mayor was not tempted to give in to or become the victim of extortion. They investigated whether the mayor was involved in attempts to secure the video through extortion. They investigated the links between the video and the murder of Anthony Smith.

They discovered that one of the mayor’s closest associates was allegedly involved in trafficking of marijuana. They looked at whether the mayor was a party to that criminal conduct.

The investigation bore fruit, both in a positive and negative way for the mayor. He was not involved in trafficking marijuana with Sandro Lisi. He has not been charged with extortion, whereas Lisi has. The crack video was not the motive for Smith’s murder. The video was obtained. The mayor was revealed to be a drug user, on a scale that could only be described as low level.

The Fallacy of the Double Standard Argument

Yet yesterday, Councillor Joe Mihevc said, “I would certainly urge the police to do what they need to do if he has broken the law, and not look at the title ‘mayor’ in front of Rob Ford’s name.”

As if the police hadn’t spent more than five months on a project, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to investigate Mayor Rob Ford.

Councillor Adam Vaughan said pretty much the same thing. “The concern a lot of us have, and I think the police need to talk about this publicly to assure the city, you cannot live in a city where your last name or your office or the size of your trust fund dictates how you get policed.”

Councillor Janet Davis suggested that “any ordinary person who participated in this kind of activity, if it’s founded, would find themselves in very serious trouble.”

As if Rob Ford hasn’t found himself in serious trouble.

The problem for Rob Ford’s opponents is that they haven’t seen him in handcuffs yet. They seem to think that a double standard is being applied, yet in fact, the double standard would be if the police actually charged Ford at this point.

Consider what they could possibly charge him with. The idea that a successful drug prosecution could be launched on the basis of someone saying they smoked drugs is ludicrous. And you don’t get any further with a video or eyewitnesses to the alleged act.

You need a sample of the drug. Every successful prosecution for possession of drugs in this country is founded on a sample of the alleged drug sent to Health Canada for analysis. I once won a case where the only thing lacking was a certificate of analysis. The Crown had police officers who described what looked like drugs. They had fishy behaviour. But no go.

You could always have a reasonable doubt as to whether an alleged drug was in fact cocaine, marijuana, or just something similar. Everyone benefits from the presumption of innocence. Even people you don’t think deserve to.

Extortion? It’s not illegal to be the victim of blackmail, which the ITO now alleges Ford might have been. There is no evidence, not at this point, that Ford participated in any attempt to threaten the vendors of the crack video or somehow obstructed a police investigation.

Drunk driving? Like the matter of drugs, you can’t simply charge someone because they say that they had a drink and then drove, like Ford does. Nor can you charge someone when you have an eyewitness, like Ford’s assistant Chris Fickel, state that they saw you drink and drive. Having a drink and then driving is not illegal – being drunk is or being “over 80″. You need to be caught in the act.

Sure, a lot of people want to see Rob Ford punished. But I think what this comes down to are a number of unresolved ideas that underly the notion that he should have been charged by now.

The Perception of Ford's Attitude
The Perception of Ford’s Attitude

First, you can’t treat Ford more harshly than anyone else just because it appears like he’s laughing in the face of the law. On the basis of what evidence exists right now, any defence lawyer or Crown for that matter would probably laugh the charges out of court.

It’s not as if the police aren’t getting advice from Crown attorneys.

Secondly, it is true that on an objective view, there were incidents involving Lisi and Ford that fit the classic appearance of a drug buy. Yes, there were grounds for the police to stop Ford, conduct what is called an investigative detention, or legally search him or his vehicle.

But that is hindsight. The police were playing a long game. They did not know they had the crack video until October 29. They did not collect all of their evidence and decide to charge Lisi with extortion until October 31. On October 31, Judge Nordheimer opened up the ITO and by that time, it seems pretty clear that Project Brazen 2 was over. They were engaged in the standard operating procedure that applies in serious cases.

This wasn’t a couple of cops observing a drug buy at the corner of Dundas and Sherbourne, regardless of how you feel about that kind of policing.

In the End 

So in retrospect, perhaps the police would have had nothing to lose had they blown their cover and swooped down to make a minor arrest on Rob Ford. Perhaps they could have found him in possession of a small amount of drugs. But at the time, they were conducting an investigation with larger goals in mind. Legitimately, it seems to me, and with a huge benefit for the city.

As every police officer knows, when you’re dealing with a serious criminal investigation, you don’t screw it up by arresting your target for some minor offence. You don’t know what you’re losing if you do.

Finally, it is worth considering what the consequences would be if Ford was caught with a gram or two of marijuana or even crack cocaine. A conviction for those types of offences usually merits a fine.

If charged now, not only would it seem politically motivated, it would drag on for at least a year if not more. If the argument is that Ford should be treated no differently than any others, then he’d get a slap on the wrist. He would not get jail time. He would not be held for bail. He would not be booted from office.

The real consequences for Ford’s behaviour will be political ones, like the ones he has already suffered, and like the ones he’s likely to suffer next October 27, 2014. And if the consequences are similar to the ones he’s already endured, then there is one civic institution that you have to thank for all of that. And it isn’t the mayor’s political opponents.

Chief Bill Blair, October 31, 2013
Chief Bill Blair, October 31, 2013

New ITO Alleges You Really Don’t Know Rob Ford, do you?

One of the most amazing allegations revealed in yesterday’s newly unredacted ITO (Information to Obtain) tells you more about Mayor Ford’s personality than maybe anything heretofore revealed.

This little doozy is a piece in two parts.

First: The Video was Offered to Ford Before Anyone Else

On March 27, 2013, two young men, Mohamed Siad and Siyadin Abdi, were caught on a wiretap talking about their “friend,” Mayor Rob Ford. Ford had just made news for being inebriated in public.

Siad and Abdi talked about that and then about the time that the mayor had offered them $5,000 and a car in return for the notorious crack video. Abdi scoffed, “What the fuck is that?”

They then discussed what they should do with the video. Siad wanted to demand $150,000 from Ford. Abdi recommended that they shop it around to the Toronto Star or the “other website,” presumably Gawker.com. Siad wasn’t convinced. The conversation ended.

Important point: these two guys weren’t talking out of their asses here. Mohamed Siad was one of two people, along with another individual named Abdullahi Harun, who were later identified by the police as the ones who tried to sell the video to the Star and Gawker. This lends a great deal of credibility to the content of this conversation. It would also mean that the mayor knew about the video far earlier than anyone in the media.

Second: Ford Didn’t Hold a Grudge

Fast forward to the early, early morning of April 20, 2013. Note to all those who don’t celebrate marijuana holidays. April 20 is like the new years’ of marijuana. Its numeric date is slang for weed. It’s also Adolph Hitler’s birthday, which I guess is an unfortunate coincidence that just goes to show you, you shouldn’t make important decisions when you’re high.

Mayor Rob Ford, Anthony Smith, Mohammed Khattak, Monir Kasim
Mayor Rob Ford, Anthony Smith, Mohammed Khattak, Monir Kasim

That night, Ford dropped by the house of his legally challenged friends, Elena and Fabio Basso, who lived at 15 Windsor Road. This is the address of the notorious gangbanging photo that pictured Ford in the company of people the police identify as members of the Dixon Bloods. Really, you can never see that picture enough.

Since we know that one of those pictured, Mohammed Khattak, was killed on March 28, 2013, that means that the shot wasn’t taken on this night. It was yet another night and could have been the same night as the crack video.

In any case, the call quickly goes out: Rob wants to party. And who does the call go out to? Hell, why not members of the very gang who are trying to blackmail the mayor in the first place?

The call goes to Liban Syad. He decides to co-ordinate, according to the ITO, delivery of the mayor’s drug needs with the afore-mentioned Abdullahi Harun. Yes, Harun, the person the police identify to be one of the co-owners of the crack video.

About one hour later, Liban Syad gets a call back from Abdullahi Harun telling him that he has pictures of Ford smoking “dugga” and doing the “hezza”. These words are slang for crack and heroin, respectively, although I don’t think it’s a given that “hezza” is a universally accepted word in the Somalian community in Toronto for heroin alone.

In fact, later that day, Liban Syad brags on the phone about how he had a picture of Ford smoking “rocks” at the “princess’s house”. The ITO identifies the “princess” as Elena Basso. He says he’ll post them to Instagram.

So yet again, Rob Ford may have compromised himself, leading to pictures this time, of him smoking crack.

For those keeping track of the narrative, April 20 is also the night when someone in Liban Syad’s group of associates stole the mayor’s cell phone. This sent the mayor and Sandro Lisi, who was with the mayor that night, into crisis mode. Lisi secured the return of the cell phone later that day through a combination of threats to bring the “heat” on Dixon and by giving Liban Syad some marijuana.

What a melodramatic farce.

What. The Fuck. 

Farce aside, there are some important clues to Rob Ford’s personality in all of this. If these allegations are true, I don’t think anyone has really had the evidence, up until now, that suggested just how screwed up Ford may be. He is the kind of guy who will party with very people who have already blackmailed him over a compromising video that could end his career.

There’s a recklessness here that is difficult to fathom. We’ve seen this in politicians before. These are people who, perhaps because they’ve been elected and had their egos validated, believe that they are immune to the dangers associated with being caught in flagrante delicto. Elections become kerosene that fans the fire of their narcissism.

Or perhaps they just can’t handle it.

Anthony Weiner sends nude pictures of himself to a girl he meets on the internet. Elliot Spitzer spends thousands of dollars on high priced hookers. Gary Hart runs for president, taunts the media to follow him, and they do, catching him in some well named monkey business. Then there’s Bill Clinton.

But Ford has taken it one step further and becomes the template that helps us understand all those who came before.

One Word: Narcissism

A person on Twitter responded to a comment I made yesterday with one word: Addiction.

Addiction it may be, but at a deeper level I’m wondering if it is what was once but no longer is a manageable personality disorder, narcissism.

Here’s how it is defined in the DSM IV, the bible of psychiatry (along with examples, which are my paraphrases):

(1) A grandiose sense of self-importance, e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents: “I saved the taxpayers a billion dollars“;

(2) Preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success: “I’m going to be Prime Minister one day”;

(3) Believes that he or she is “special” and unique: “I’m the best mayor ever”;

(4) Requires excessive admiration: likes to surround himself with people who have criminal records;

(5) Has a sense of entitlement or expectations of especially favourable treatment: “the press are maggots“;

(6) Interpersonally exploitative: numerous reports of Ford being an abusive boss at City Hall;

(7) Lacks empathy: “What should we call them, the Cleveland Aboriginals?”

(8) Believes that others are envious of him: ok, I ran out out of examples for this one;

(9) Shows arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes: well, they did call it Project Brazen.

You’ve got to have five out of nine for a diagnosis.

Rob may have a lot more on his hands than merely losing 40 to 50 pounds. Perhaps his downward spiral is a call for help, or a call to be rescued from the job of mayor, which he simply could not handle. Whatever it is, I don’t think we’ve seen this level of self-destructive behaviour ever before in a politician.

Criminal Corruption and the Senate Scandal

corruption-in-the-government

Canadians aren’t used to looking at politics through the lens of political corruption. In 2012, we ranked 9th least corrupt in the world according to Transparency International, an organization that monitors the area.

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Corruption Perception Index, 2012

Statistics like these help shape our perceptions. It’s not surprising that just weeks after the RCMP alleged corruption in the Senate and Prime Minister’s office, some have called for us to move on, there’s nothing to see here.

But the Senate scandal is a great opportunity to think about what political corruption is and how it’s criminalized in this country. Only then can we appreciate the allegations in the RCMP’s Information to Obtain or ITO.

The Traditional Quid Pro Quo, Brown Paper Bag Corruption

The conventional notion of political corruption is caricatured as money in a brown paper bag. It happens when a government official profits from their office in return for a favour; easy to understand and pretty easy to identify.

political-corruption
The Canadian view on Corruption

This can include influence peddling, nepotism or misappropriation of public funds. At its core is a relationship between someone on the inside providing an advantage to someone on the outside in return for a payoff.

An unapproved and illicit, public-private partnership, if you will.

Because it’s the most identifiable form of corruption, it’s no surprise that it shows up in most sections of the Criminal Code that deal with corruption. There are ones that apply to judges, members of Parliament, police officers, and government officials and employees. They all follow the same model.

In the Senate scandal, the RCMP has cited grounds to believe that both Mike Duffy and Nigel Wright committed this type of good old fashioned corruption.

It’s important to remember that none of these allegations have been proven in court. Nonetheless, they are not a lot of grey areas. 

According to the RCMP, Senator Duffy and Nigel Wright, acting as the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, negotiated the terms of how Duffy would publicly repay his housing expenses. In return for his open act of compensation, Duffy would be privately reimbursed and politically exonerated. Duffy did just that, Nigel Wright gave him $90,000 and the Senate removed its criticisms of Duffy’s conduct. 

From the perspective of the RCMP, this fits neatly within typical model of corruption: an act by Duffy in his capacity as a senator in exchange for money. Accordingly, they’ve cited potential charges of bribery under sections 119 of the Criminal Code and accepting a benefit under sections 121.

Distinguishing Between Improper and Criminal Conduct

What makes this all somewhat strange is that if these were crimes, they were committed under the watchful eyes of the Prime Minister’s legal counsel, Mike Duffy’s lawyer, and others in the PMO.

This would not exonerate Duffy or Wright, but it does raise questions. You’ve got to wonder whether these lawyers were so blind as to the realities anti-corruption law that they actually helped facilitate such acts, or whether the acts are criminal at all.

According to the RCMP, all of the Prime Minister’s key advisors were aware of what was going on with respect to Duffy’s demands and Wright’s agreement to them. In addition, the Conservative party paid for Duffy’s legal expenses, which was one of the items that Duffy had demanded.

harp.mulc.trud
Maybe it’s just politics as usual

From a legal perspective, there is really no difference between what Wright did and what the party did, through Senator Irving Gerstein, in paying for Duffy’s legal fees.

All of this is context for what may not fall within the standard definition of corruption. The argument could be made that this was politics at play. 

After all, it was not a payment by someone on the outside for a benefit from a government official. These were acts by two government officials.

Furthermore, Wright did not benefit personally from Duffy performing the public act of paying back his Senate expenses. If Wright had rejected Duffy’s demands, neither he nor members of the Prime Minister’s office would have lost anything – the loss would have been in public opinion.

The only reason why Wright accepted Duffy’s demands was because Wright did not want the Prime Minister and the party to suffer more political heat, which Duffy was willing to take. This gave him the upper hand vis-a-vis the PMO. What happened, then, was a political transaction.

I’m not saying that it is black and white. It’s amenable to multiple interpretations.

But arguably, Duffy was not going to pay back his housing expenses if he wasn’t reimbursed. He did not have the money, plus, he did not think he had done wrong. 

Therefore, you could say that Duffy did not profit from the fact of his senatorial office. That is why he thought of the whole thing as making himself “whole”. He saw himself as doing the Prime Minister a favour.

If seen through this lens, Wright and Duffy’s actions do not fit the traditional notion of political corruption.

Limiting the Reach of Criminal Law

In fact, one of the leading cases on corruption from the Supreme Court, R. v. Hinchey, backs this up.

This case restricted the notion of “dealings,” which are at the heart of a relationship between the two parties to an alleged corrupt transaction, to persons who “are in the process of having commercial dealings with the government at the time of the offence.”

Wright and Duffy were not on opposite sides of a government service. They were not engaged in the type of commercial dealings that the standard political corruption seems to require.

This could offer a full defence to about half of the charges that the RCMP set out in the ITO: the giving and taking of a bribe, and the accepting of a benefit.

Quite possibly, that may lead to hesitation on the part of the police or the Crown to charge Wright and Duffy. A charge of political corruption is one that you want to win. 

But it does not mean that what occurred between Duffy and the PMO was justified; not to mention the Prime Minister, whose position rings hollower everyday. 

If you restrict corruption to something analogous to “commercial dealings,” you exclude a host of actions that could damage government institutions. However, there is another definition of political corruption that covers acts that degrade the government. 

Acts that Bring the Government into Disrepute

There’s no doubt that the deal between the PMO and Mike Duffy smells bad.

corruption-in-the-government

The RCMP tells the story of a senator’s conduct for sale. It shows a Senate committee kowtowing to the demands of the Prime Minister’s Office. The Senate’s “independent” report on a member’s wrongdoing became a commodity that was bargained over between that senator’s lawyer and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff.

As a result, the public was deceived and the institution of the Senate undermined. It was literally “corrupted”. 

The concept of institutional corruption addresses this type of situation. It occurs when a government official is induced to act in a way that undermines the institutions of government itself. 

Canadian law responds to this type of corruption in two ways. First, it forbids giving a gift to a government official with whom one has “dealings of any kind,” under section 119(1)(b) of the Criminal Code. That covers a wide spectrum of transactions; wide enough, one should think, to encompass the deal took place between Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy. What’s at stake is the “appearance of integrity of the public service,” to quote the Supreme Court.

To give another example, imagine if someone paid an MP to ask certain questions in Parliament, for no specific “gain” except political satisfaction. Those atypical “dealings” would be covered.

The ITO references this possible charge in relation Wright.

The Code also makes it an offence to commit a “breach of trust” under section 122. That’s been interpreted to constitute a “marked departure” from the standards expected of someone in public office. That could apply to the negotiations that took place between the PMO and Senator Duffy, which is why the RCMP referenced that offence in its ITO. 

Justice May not Come from the Courts 

The RCMP deserves credit for raising the stakes over the Senate scandal. That said, a bit of realistic caution is in order.

First of all, the traditional notion of corruption looks like it would set aside about half of the charges that could be laid against Mike Duffy or Nigel Wright.

That would leave two offences on the table. One of those is breach of trust. Yet the standard of a “marked departure” from proper conduct in office seems awfully similar to Judge Potter Stewart’s famous definition of hardcore pornography, “I know it when I see it.” Not exactly bright lines here.

One offence left – the charge of conferring a benefit. The rules appear clear enough, but given the way the Criminal Code is drafted, it would only apply to Nigel Wright’s conduct. It is hard to square an outcome where this was the only finding arising out of the Senate scandal.

Surely we need better outcomes than one similar to the Valerie Plame affair in the U.S, where Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, was the only person sanctioned for what looked like politically motivated treason.

Surely Nigel Wright does not deserve to be the scapegoat in this affair.

The RCMP has emails  from Wright that bring the Prime Minister into this scandal. There are lies detailed by the RCMP, told to them by sitting senators during their investigation.  

There is the Senate itself: a body that redistributes money and status to the politically connected. Arguably, it is legitimized political corruption in our very midst. The House of Commons has not done much to outshine its unelected counterpart. The government has mocked questions put to it in what passes for political accountability.

The Senate scandal is real, that is true. But perhaps what is needed is more than just a judicial outcome, but rather, a better means of dealing with political corruption, in all its forms.

Conferring a Benefit: Nigel Wright’s Tight Fix

Harper Wright2

There is some confusion about the charges that Nigel Wright, Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff, could face by paying Mike Duffy’s housing expenses. They have been called fraud, bribery, or breach of trust.

Harper Wright2
Stephen Harper and Nigel Wright

Those all require some degree of deception. Yet it’s clear that apart from the dubious claims of Stephen Harper, no-one is saying that Wright was duplicitous. You’re not trying to hide something from the PM when you’re telling it to all of his key advisors.

That’s why I see the main allegation here as s. 121(1)(b) of the Criminal Code, which forbids conferring a benefit, any benefit, on a government official. No corrupt intent is required, no deception necessary.

The Supreme Court came down hard on this offence in 1996, saying that perceived integrity was as important as actual transparency:

“For a government, actual integrity is achieved when its employees remain free of any type of corruption. On the other hand, it is not necessary for a corrupt practice to take place in order for the appearance of integrity to be harmed. Protecting these appearances is more than a trivial concern. This section recognizes that the democratic process can be harmed just as easily by the appearance of impropriety as with actual impropriety itself.”

That’s the way the court saw it. The way I see it, this would mean a lot in the Duffy scandal.

First of all, it would likely include the $32,000 that the Conservative Party was originally going to pay Duffy for his expenses. That had the ok of Senator Irving Gerstein and the Prime Minister’s advisers, until the figure rose to $90,000.

It also, according to Wright, had the approval of the Prime Minister. Wright passed this on in emails he sent to members of the PMO, including Harper’s legal counsel, at the time, not after the fact.

Seems like a stupid tactic if it was a lie. 

Secondly, Duffy received a benefit when the Conservative party paid for his legal expenses in the amount of $12,000. Yes, that’s a benefit too.

Duffy’s lawyer helped him get the money that he would have had to pay for his invalid expenses. His lawyer also laid down conditions that included a whitewash of the Senate report. The Conservative party paid for that help. It was a benefit.

Nigel Wright told the government leader in the Senate, Marjory LeBreton, that the party would pay for these costs. She responded that her office would work closely with the PMO.

Now LeBreton’s response is interesting. There is actually a defence to “conferring a benefit,” and that’s when you have the written consent from the head of the branch of government that Duffy worked for.

In this case, that would be Senator LeBreton. The Senate is a branch of government and she was the government leader. It’s hard to believe the police would actually charge Duffy or Wright if LeBreton had simply neglected to write her consent down.

It also makes sense to think that LeBreton must have known that her own party was going to pay for Duffy’s $32,000 housing expenses. From my read of the police ITO though, that’s unclear. 

That’s the lay of the land; you can see how it applies to Wright’s $90,000 payment to Duffy as well. Absent LeBreton’s written consent, it looks like an offence simply because it’s a benefit. No deception, bribery, or fraud required.

Some might say that the Senate wasn’t the real branch of government in this case; that in reality, Stephen Harper is the head of the government in Canada. If he agreed to the overall plan, most people would find it offensive to have Wright suffer the consequences.

That’s why Harper’s conduct in the past six months has been so striking. He’s gone from praising Nigel Wright as acting in the public interest to saying that Wright deceived him, pushing him further and further out to sea.

Quite the deception going on here when you tell the head of the Conservative party fund, the Prime Minister’s special adviser and counsel, his director of issue management and keep seemingly everyone else in his office in the loop.

If it’s a deception going on, as Andrew Coyne wrote in today’s National Post, it involved everyone, and if it’s a deception that happened, everyone was equally guilty of misleading Harper. Further, if Harper was so disengaged about what was going on in his own office, at some point it speaks to a larger incompetence.

Perhaps people need to appreciate the legal issues here and the tight fix Wright may be in. Harper’s evolving comments on his former chief of staff might then appear to be a vicious payback to someone who was such a loyal employee.

Stephen Harper Self-destructs Over the Senate

The Triple D Senate: Dumb, Defective, and Disproportionately Ontario
harper detonator
Pretend Cowboy Harper Self-Detonates

Do you remember the slogan, “the West wants in”? It was popular back in the late 1980’s, along with the notion of a Triple E Senate. Both were as key to western political alienation and self-regard as state’s rights and “separate but equal” were to pre-civil rights South.

The Democrats lost the South after they sent troops down to Mississippi and Alabama, and passed civil rights legislation. Harper has self-immolated after ransacking the Senate and annexing it to the Prime Minister’s Office.

A Senate You Can Believe In

The PM once believed in this vestigial remnant of the English bicameral parliament, or at least he parroted the right lines to wear the mantle of an Alberta politician. In 2006, he became the only Prime Minister to ever speak before the Senate and supported an elected Senate, one that represented the regions, a sober second thought to the House of Commons.

You’ve got to wonder what he was drinking. Since then, he has appointed 59 senators. All but three were pure patronage, unelected payback to loyal Conservatives who in turn were expected to tow the party line. A nice retirement package for political wannabes like Mike Duffy.

Harper.Senate.2006
2006. Harper Tells Senate: You’re Through

An independent Senate was central to western Canada’s desire to check the power that flowed from the political strength of Ontario and Quebec. The eastern concept of Canada, one that grew to be multicultural, diverse, and even socialist, was the anathema that gave rise to the Reform party and its offspring, today’s Conservatives. The Preston Manning who founded that party would have recoiled in disgust had he foreseen what would come to pass.

Harper Comes Back Home

The fact that Harper comes from Ontario seems to make more sense these days. He has now done everything possible to lay waste to the dream of a Triple E senate, one that was equal, effective, and elected. His office has produced a documented narrative that shows just how much it undermined the Senate’s independence.

It was Harper who appointed Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin to represent PEI and Saskatchewan, even though they lived and worked in Ontario. Duffy and Wallin were Ontario through and through, baked in the television glare, money, and political connections of the eastern establishment. The Prime Minister might as well have appointed a pack of Bay Street lawyers to the Senate, although in retrospect, it seems he didn’t need to.  The Senate was open for business.

The Triple D Senate: Dumb, Defective, and Disproportionately Ontario
The Triple D Senate: Dumb, Defective, and Disproportionately Ontario

Why Duffy Punched Above His Weight

Looking back, it is understandable that Duffy and Wallin thought it necessary to say they lived in PEI and Saskatchewan. That must have seemed true to the plan if they were going to represent the “regions,” satisfy the constitutional requirement that they reside in those provinces, and provide cover for their appointment to the Senate. 

No wonder Duffy held firm. No wonder too that he prevailed in his debate with the PMO and dictated the outcome that had his expenses paid and the Senate report altered. He knew that it diminished his claim to represent PEI if he didn’t live there. He thought that he was playing the long game and PMO operatives couldn’t argue that his concerns weren’t valid. That is why they backed down and accommodated his demands that he be compensated and exonerated. He had political logic on his side; if he was wrong, Harper was wrong. Duffy was shocked when later, he was vilified by the Prime Minister.

But it does not make sense that Nigel Wright would deceive Harper. Wright openly negotiated the plan to compensate Duffy. Members of the PMO, including Harper’s own legal counsel, and Senator Irving Gerstein, who managed the party’s pursestrings, were in the loop. They knew that Duffy would publicly pay back the taxpayer’s money and privately be made whole. Wright hid nothing from the police and was corroborated by emails. He had zero motive to lie about the state of play to the Prime Minister, while the same can’t be said now of Harper’s evolving version of events. Wright’s reputation in both private and government circles is stellar. Harper’s position is fatuous, and his payback to Wright unsavoury.

Harper now appears too wedded to power to see through the ethical haze. When details of the payment came out, he blamed Wright and Duffy, perhaps hoping that before too long, the cameras would refocus on Justin Trudeau’s pot smoking, Canadian Idol ways. He cannot imagine losing an election in October of 2015 with Trudeau on the other side. But the problem lies deeper than a $90,000 payment to Mike Duffy. It reveals the sham of Harper’s position on the Senate and his taste for autocratic power, which should never be obvious. 

Mulcair.HC
Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair Sees Good Times Ahead

Two Years is a Long Time

In the meantime, if the RCMP decides to charge Nigel Wright, the matter will drag on. Mr. Wright may not stand a chance in court, given the rigours of anti-corruption law, but the factual context will be monumental to the outcome. That will mean dealing with Wright’s emails that have Harper agreeing to the plan to compensate Duffy. Harper’s aggressive post-offence conduct, if you can call it that, sounds like the lady doth protest too much.

Then there’s Mike Duffy. He won’t go quietly into that dark night. Even more, there are the lies told by Senators, as outlined by the RCMP, over the PMO’s deep involvement in the final Senate report on Duffy. They could easily support obstruction of justice charges against one or more Conservative senators. That would be a disaster for the Prime Minister. Two years is enough time for all of this to play out.  

Some have wondered why Mike Duffy was able lay down terms to members of the PMO over his expense claims. Really, the spectacle is how Stephen Harper self-destructed over a relatively easy problem, which in turn shows how far he has travelled from a pillar of western Canadian political identity. Then again, it makes sense that a person so deeply invested in an ideological convention could be tripped up when it was revealed to be a lie. 

The Mayor Gave the Police No Choice

The Brazen Mayor Rob Ford

Rob Ford has now blamed Chief Bill Blair for his downfall. On Saturday, he told CNN, “I told the chief of police I want efficiencies, you know, and obviously he wants me out.” Yesterday, just before he was stripped of his last remaining powers, he went on radio and suggested that the chief had tried to embarrass him.

Some prominent Toronto defence lawyers agree that there may be a problem here. They ask why the police included a host of scandalous Ford details in their Information to Obtain a search warrant, the ITO, for two drug dealers. Joe Neuberger spoke about it on AM640 yesterday and Friday in an article printed by the National Post.

So was there a gratuitous swipe taken at the mayor in the ITO? It’s interesting how we’ve gone from asking whether the police gave Rob Ford a pass (I say no) to now suggesting the opposite. Once again though, aspersions against the police are wrong and miss the point of what this investigation was about and how it led to the mayor’s good friend, Sandro Lisi.

A Chutzpahdik Kind of Guy: Project Brazen

The Brazen Mayor Rob Ford
The Brazen Mayor Rob Ford and friends

There is a great word in yiddish called chutzpadik. It means arrogance, not showing due respect, being impertinent, and being brazen. Not surprisingly, when Rob Ford’s chutzpadik criminality came to light last May by virtue of a crack video and gang banger photograph, the police launched Project Brazen to track the video and look into the mayor.

This is key. Let there be no doubt, the investigation that resulted in the Lisi ITO was aimed at obtaining the crack video and investigating Rob Ford’s criminal behaviour. It just so happened to clear him of major criminality and led instead to the arrest of his good friend.  

When lawyers appeared in front of Judge Ian Nordheimer to have the Lisi ITO unsealed, the main issue was whether all of Project Brazen would come out. Ironically, it was the Crown who opposed and indirectly tried to save the mayor’s reputation. Crown Counsel argued that most of the investigation was irrelevant to the focus of the Lisi warrant and should remain sealed.

Judge Nordheimer said, essentially, that the horse had already left the barn:

“…if the narrative was truly non-essential, it ought not to have been included in the ITO. What a proper ITO requires are the “material facts” necessary to satisfy the test for the issuance of a search warrant informed by the requirement to make “full, fair and frank disclosure”. It must therefore be assumed that if material was included in the ITO, the police officer who swore the ITO considered that the included material was necessary to achieve either or both of those purposes. While I am aware that there is a tendency towards being overly inclusive in affidavits used to obtain judicial authorizations, I do not believe that it is proper on an after the fact application such as this one to start parsing out what is or is not “essential” and thus attempt to restrict public access to portions of an ITO on that basis.”

Three things are worth noting here that gut the mayor’s argument that he was unfairly targeted by Chief Blair.

Lawyers and the Cult of Disclosure

First of all, yes, it was the police who decided that it was relevant but they did so based on the legal advice they received from the Crown. Yes, that Crown. That would be lawyers from the same office, since it was a drug warrant, that later tried to argue the opposite before Judge Nordheimer. Lawyers made the call.

Box of disclosure, Newmarket, Ontario. Photo: Chris Bolin, National Post
Box of disclosure. Photo: Chris Bolin, National Post

Secondly, as anyone knows who works the grind of criminal law, big police projects routinely involve ITO’s that are overinclusive to the point of brain numbing. Wiretaps, murder investigations, guns and gangs, they’re notorious for the bankers boxes of disclosure they result in. ITO’s in cases like these run into the hundreds of pages. When they are renewed, which often happens in wiretaps, they get up to a thousand pages.

The reason is a legal culture of disclosure and covering your ass on the part of the Crown and police, and asking for more and more information on the part of the defence. The Charter of Rights has made both sides overly cautious. Over time, disclosure has become the defining characteristic of our legal culture in the criminal system and as Judge Nordheimer wrote, there is a tendency towards over inclusion.

But there’s another problem with the notion that the Lisi and Ford investigation could somehow be severed in two. You simply cannot draw a line in the middle of the Project Brazen and say where where Ford ends and Lisi begins.

Ford, Lisi and the Office of the Mayor

Rob Ford and Sandro Lisi at the ACC, May 8, 2013
Rob Ford and Sandro Lisi at the ACC, May 8, 2013

When the police started investigating Rob Ford, right away they found out about his good friend, Sandro Lisi. Every one of Ford’s staff knew his name. Many had his telephone number. Most thought or speculated that he was Ford’s supplier of illegal drugs. He was the mayor’s occasional driver to political events. He went with the mayor to sports games. Into the fall of 2012, they saw him more and more.

As a result, Project Brazen constantly bled into issues relating to Lisi. As they interviewed staff, police started to look for signs that the mayor might be using cocaine or other drugs, and they also focussed on Lisi. His role as a drug supplier was relevant to the mayor’s conduct, which could be seen in his abuse of his office and frequent turbulence.

Staff saw a lot of strange conduct. For example, George Christopoulos, the mayor’s former press secretary, described incidents of obvious inebriation and midnight calls made by Ford from his father’s gravesite. Mark Towhey, his former chief of staff, described the mayor’s erratic, intoxicated behaviour at the Garrison Ball, a military event, despite no smell of alcohol on the mayor’s breath. Nico Fidani, his former special assistant, talked about being detailed to perform personal tasks for the mayor and incidents of definite intoxication.

More staffers continued to provide similar stories. Chris Fickel, a former special assistant and football team volunteer with Don Bosco, bought mickeys of vodka for the mayor along with other staff, approximately ten times a month. He once saw the mayor drink an entire bottle in a few minutes, then drive off in his Cadillac Escalade.

Ford's Reference letter for Lisi, drafted by staff
Ford’s Reference letter for Lisi – click to enlarge.

Kia Nejatian was the mayor’s former executive assistant. He alone purchased vodka for Ford about twice a week. He saw the mayor come to events visibly impaired. One time, the mayor smoked a joint in front of Nejatian and Nejatian’s date when Nejatian was called over to the mayor’s house to fix one of Ford’s computers.

The list goes on and can easily be found online. Virtually every one of Ford’s staff knew Sandro Lisi as the mayor’s friend, his driver, his companion, and, they believed, his dealer.

Ford brought Lisi into his professional orbit and his staff were exposed to the man. They saw him in the context of working for the mayor and, because Ford brought his staff into his personal life, they came across him there as well.

The mayor even got one of his assistants, Kia Nejatian, to write a character reference letter for Lisi to take to court when he was sentenced for threatening his girlfriend. This neatly symbolizes the symbiosis that had occurred between the mayor’s personal and professional lives. The tie was his substance abuse.

Ford and Lisi were an odd couple. They lived vicariously through the lives of the other and each were uniquely capable of bringing the other down.

No Bright Lines between Ford and Lisi Conduct

The complaint comes down to an argument that the police should have edited the interviews they conducted with the mayor’s staff to parse out what was essential to the drug narrative from what was not. That would not only have been very near impossible, but inevitably subjective. The facts relevant to Ford’s office culture was linked to his substance abuse, which was linked to Lisi.

Definitely, living in the culture of disclosure that we do, the police would rather be accused of disclosing too much to Judge Cole, who granted the search warrant, than too little, especially in a case that investigated a sitting mayor. The uproar if facts were buried would have been ten times greater and the police would truly be seen as giving the mayor a pass.

Really, there’s little doubt here as to what happened, or so it seems. Rob Ford chose his path when he decided to cavort with gang bangers, smoke crack on video, and made Lisi his constant companion. He sealed his fate when he brought Lisi into his professional orbit, used him as a part time driver, and gave Lisi’s telephone number to staff. When he did that, Lisi brought the police along with him.

There’s an old saying – don’t shit where you work. Mayor Ford, of all people, should have known that one.

The Police did Not give Rob Ford a Pass

Sandro Lisi about to drop something into Mayor Ford's car

Clayton Ruby, noted Toronto defence counsel, continues to assail the Toronto Police and its chief, Bill Blair, for their supposed failure to make an arrest in the course of their investigation into Toronto’s mayor. Given Mr. Ruby’s stature, it is not surprising that on Twitter and other media, you read the same criticisms and questions.

I’ve said this before, but it’s obvious that it bears more scrutiny, so I’m going to write about it again. There are good reasons why these criticisms are wrong.

Past is Prologue

It’s important to go back to May 16, 2013, when Gawker and the Star first reported that the mayor had smoked crack on video. On the surface, it seems that only the Star really believed their own reporters. The city’s business, media and political class largely tolerated the ludicrous notion that the video could have been doctored by noted CGI experts, the Somali immigrant kids who showed the video to the reporters. Yet, the police took the reports deadly seriously.

First off, there was this picture:  

Mayor Rob Ford, Anthony Smith, Mohammed Khattak, Monir Kasim
Mayor Rob Ford, Anthony Smith, Mohammed Khattak, Monir Kasim

It shows Rob Ford in the company of Anthony Smith, Mohammed Khattak, and Monir Kasim outside a residence located at 15 Windsor Road in Toronto. The broker of the video gave the photograph to the Star and Gawker as a kind of loss leader to get them to belly up the cash for the prize video.

The photograph rang some serious bells in the homicide division of the Toronto Police. At the time, they were in the midst of Project Traveller, a wiretap investigation into the criminal activities of the Dixon City Bloods, or Dixon Goonies. 15 Windsor Road was believed to be a crack house, a place where crack was sold and gang members hung out.

The wiretap had started on March 18, 2013. On March 28, Anthony Smith was shot and killed outside a nightclub on King West. His friend Mohammed Khattak was there and was shot too, though he survived. Smith’s phone was taken. The shooter fled to Fort McMurray, Alberta. On May 24, he was arrested and brought back to Toronto four days later.

The police believe that both Anthony Smith and Mohammed Khattak were members of the Dixon Bloods. Smith was known as Grenade or Buck; Khattak as Ali K.

The Investigation into the Brazen Behaviour of our Mayor

So on May 16 and 17, 2013,  when the Gawker and Star reports come out, the police were well into Project Traveller. Our dear mayor was knee deep in the muck of it, hanging out with members of the Dixon Bloods who had been shot, maybe even for the video. The mayor was involved in criminality. To what degree, the police had to find out.

Chief Blair assigned a homicide investigator, Detective Sergeant Giroux, to investigate the Ford allegations and substantiate the media reports. They called the spin off, “Project Brazen 2″. No doubt, Project Brazen 1 was unrelated, but given the nature of the mayor’s conduct, Project Brazen was an apt name for the kind of behaviour that the police would soon learn characterized Mayor Ford’s conduct.

Now remember, homicide gets the best and brightest in the police force. Of course, this may well have concerned a murder anyway. The Chief made two key decisions early on. The first was to keep the investigation within the Toronto Police. This made sense, since it dovetailed with Project Traveller, with which they had made a huge investment. There was also going to be investigative overlap. It was counter productive to outsource it to another force.

Second, the Chief realized the huge public interest involved. In the end, the mayor’s criminal activities may have been limited, but the fact that there was a video of him smoking crack cocaine was toxic to the civic health of Toronto. It opened the mayor up to extortion. It gave him a personal incentive to get rid of the video or acquire it himself. It brought him into the orbit of criminal gangs. It involved him in a murder investigation. It raised the question as to the scale of the mayor’s criminal conduct. None of this could be tolerated. The police had to obtain the video and investigate the mayor’s criminality.

A Mayor out of Control

Newly revealed documents, made public by the order of Justice Nordheimer yesterday, confirm just how extensive the investigation into the mayor was. The police attempted to interview every one of the mayor’s staff from the time of his election. They interviewed every person feasible to confirm or rebut allegations about the mayor’s public intoxication on drugs or alcohol.

Vodka seized by police investigating Mayor Ford
Vodka seized by police investigating Mayor Ford

In the end, thanks to these interviews, we now know to what degree the mayor, according to his staff, abused his office and was on a downward spiral of addiction. But as troubling as these interviews were, the picture they paint was of a probable alcoholic, bully, and political miscreant. They did not bring the mayor into the orbit of organized criminality or murder.

The fact that Mayor Ford was said to have smoked a joint at his home in front of his press secretary and the press secretary’s date did not make homicide investigators want to leap out of their seats and execute a search warrant. Nor did the mayor’s twice weekly mickey runs that he had his staff go on corroborate serious criminality or lead them to the drug video. Neither did the not entirely confident accounts that the mayor snorted a line of coke at a downtown pub.

Elite police investigators continued their investigation. Interviews led them to focus on Mayor Ford’s close buddy, Alexander “Sandro” Lisi. Lisi turned out to have a number of roles that interested the police. The first was that in the immediate aftermath of the Gawker and Star reports, he went on what looked to be a frenetic attempt to track down the video. This calmed down after May 18th, 2013, leading to speculation that he managed to acquire or delete the video.

Sandro Lisi about to drop something into Mayor Ford's car
Sandro Lisi about to drop something into Mayor Ford’s car

Second, Lisi led the police to focus on his connection to a business known as the Richview Cleaners, run by a fellow named Jamshid Bahrami, a licensed marijuana grower. Bahrami and Lisi seemed to work together, selling marijuana for more than its clinically approved uses. An undercover operation was launched. It confirmed that a partnership existed. Yet it did not give the police the video nor provide a link to the mayor.

Thirdly, mobile surveillance on Lisi confirmed his close relationship with Rob Ford. Lisi and Ford were drinking buddies. They drank mickeys in public parks. A search of the areas where they met yielded empty bottles of vodka. They called each other incessantly. The troubling accounts by the mayor’s staff of his drinking habits were confirmed.  

Fourth, just as the mayor used his staff to get him alcohol, he seemed to use Lisi to get him drugs. On more than one occasion, Ford and Lisi meet up, usually at the mayor’s neighbourhood Esso station. There, however, they scarcely acknowledge each other’s presence. Ford pretends not to be involved as Lisi approaches Ford’s vehicle, slips something inside, then leaves.

Yet still, even with this, the police have not linked Ford to Lisi’s operation nor have they obtained the drug video. Ford was much more than a casual user of alcohol and at least a casual user of marijuana. But the police did not have the drug video and their investigation has now led them to exclude Ford from Lissi’s partnership with Bahrami and the Richview Cleaners.

The Means Versus the Ends of a Police Investigation

Now, after the fact, people like Clayton Ruby say that the police had reasonable and probable grounds to make an arrest, obtain a search warrant, and seize whatever it was that Lisi provided to the mayor at, for example, the Esso meet ups. The police, it is argued, missed numerous opportunities to catch the mayor with illicit substances. 

That much is true, but it confuses the means with the ends. Busting our mayor with a gram or two of marijuana was not the goal of their investigation. Until October 29, 2013, the police did not have the crack video. The argument against the police questions their investigative goals which, with respect, is ludicrous. This investigation was as interested in clearing up the whiff of criminality as proving it. The police were right to focus on the video and whether Ford’s criminality rose to a partnership with Lisi or involved a range of other, more serious criminal activities.

Finally, without the crack video, the mayor’s present downfall would not have have happened. Without it, as Councillor Cho said yesterday in chambers, the mayor would never have admitted that he smoked crack. He would have carried on with his lie of the past six months, which, truth be told, he no longer had to spout. He was getting political cover by way of a subway success and life went on.

Without the police’s thorough and comprehensive investigation of the mayor’s his office, we would not know the degree to which the mayor has an alcohol problem and has denigrated and abused his office. We would never hear about the mayor drinking a full mickey of vodka while he drove with one of his staff, who then exited the car in horror.

Without the police surveillance and investigation of Sandro Lissi, we would never know the full extent of the mayor’s double life. Most of what we now do know is because the police kept their eye on the ball.

On October 29, the police discovered that they had recovered the drug video. Two days later, the courts blew the lid off the police undercover operation. No doubt, it was time. The Chief told us that they had the video. This led to where we are today. This led us to a crucial moment in time when we are asking, as a city, what do we do with a mayor who is rude, crude, and lacks sobriety. This is a serious political and social issue for our city, one that requires a new way forward for a growing and serious city. But it could never have been solved by an arrest that Mr. Ruby and others so bemoan.

Ford Admits: I drank Absinthe

Absinthe

Toronto’s mayor Rob Ford has admitted for the first time that he drank absinthe. The admission has intensified pressure on him to resign.

Absinthe

“Yes, I have drunk absinthe,” he told reporters outside of his office. “Probably on one of the occasions when I was mildly drunk, approximately one year ago.”

The mayor hurried into his office, then returned and made an emotional statement. “I am deeply embarrassed and apologize to the city of Toronto. I promise it will never happen again. I will not resign. I am not addicted to absinthe. I have made a promise to the City of Toronto to increase public services and I intend to keep that promise.”

The mayor’s admission came after six months of denials, following reports of a video of Rob Ford drinking absinthe. A week ago, the Ontario Provincial Police’s Alcohol and Gaming chief investigator confirmed to the media that police had recovered a copy of the video.

The Infamous Video and Photograph

Reports of an absinthe video date back to April 1, 2013, when reporters from the Toronto Sun were contacted by a confidential source, who told them that he had an embarrassing video of the mayor. Later that day, two Sun reporters met with the source in a garden behind a mansion located in the notorious Rosedale neighbourhood of Toronto.

The Sun says that in the video, Rob Ford was obviously mildly intoxicated, “and drinking from a cognac glass what appeared to be a green liquid. Mayor Ford was then seen to take a bottle clearly labelled “Absinthe” and top up the cognac glass. Later in the 90 second video, he is heard calling Prime Minister Harper a “womanizer”. He also talks about the participants in the writing class he leads, saying, “They’re just goddam elites”.

robfordmichaelholletBoth the Toronto Sun and later Breitbart.com reporters were told that the video was taken within the last six months. Reporters were also given copy of a photograph, which showed what appeared to be a mildly drunk Rob Ford in the company of noted left wing publisher of Now Magazine, Michael Hollett.

The source demanded a box of Cuban cigars in return for the video. The weeks passed as staff at the Toronto Sun mulled over  the demand. The source then contacted right wing online magazine, Breitbart.com, and made the same offer. On May 16th, Breitbart published their version of the video. By midnight, the Sun had the story online as well. Reports of the absinthe video triggered an investigation by investigators with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission.

Other Incidents of Mild Drunkenness

In the time leading up to May 16, 2013, other reports of Mayor Ford’s mild intoxication had already began appearing in the media. On February 23, 2013, Ford appeared at the Garrison Ball, an annual military gala, and was seen walking from table to table with a glass of red wine in his hand.

Councillor Joe Mihevc stated that he was approached by at least eight people who asked him to encourage the mayor to leave due to his mild intoxication. Mihevc himself said that the mayor certainly, “appeared to be somewhat jovial, and not just because it was a military ball.”

The mayor had arrived at the Ball with his new driver, Francoise Champagne, a noted Toronto wine importer and distributor. Mr. Champagne has a long history of importing wines directly from France and Italy and supplying them to high falutin restaurants around the city.

One week later, on March 8, 2013, the mayor attended another event, a fundraiser for an Art Gallery of Ontario philanthropy group, “Proud of Ourselves”. Again reports emerged of the mayor’s mild intoxication, including an allegation by former mayoral candidate George Smitherman. Mr. Smitherman stated that not only did mayor appear to be mildly drunk but, when posing for a picture with his former rival, the mayor grabbed Mr. Smitherman in the ass.

In an interview two days later, Mr. Smitherman stated that the mayor appeared to be on absinthe, although he had no proof.

The investigation by the OPP subsequently showed a pattern of behaviour involving Mr. Ford going to fashionable restaurants throughout the city with Mr. Champagne, where they shared bottles of wine over tapas. Mr. Ford has refused to comment on these allegations.

Members of council across the political spectrum have called on Mr. Ford to resign in light of his recent admission that he drank absinthe.

“He should step aside until we can clear this (thing),” Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby said. “I think he’s been lying to a lot of people, for a lot of people, absolutely, a lot of the time. Plus, he’s been mildly intoxicated.”

“It’s not a game any more,” she said. “This is real life, and it’s real people that are involved here.”

Councillor Anna Bailao said the mayor should take a leave of absence “at the very least. He should take some time away to reflect and to give some space to the city as well,” she said. “This obviously has a huge impact on the reputation of our city.”

Deputy Mayor Adam Vaughan, a key ally, has said he will meet with Mayor Ford and urge him to do the right thing. “We’re hearing that he’s prepared to take some downtime, not as much as people would like, but it’s a start. I’d rather have that than defiant rejection.”

In the meantime, demand for absinthe has risen along with Mayor Ford’s popularity.

Union Station #2

Union Station (#2), October 24, 2013, Toronto.

We’re subterranean now. The current bill for the Union Station reno is $800 million. In the words of the Globe and Mail’s Marcus Gee, it’s a “Beaux-Arts beauty in the heart of the city….a key to Toronto’s future as a modern metropolis.” This part, of course, won’t be beautiful or beaux-arts, but rather a bit more functional. 

Union Station (#2), October 24, 2013, Toronto.
Union Station (#2), October 24, 2013, Toronto.

Rob Ford’s Gonna Stick Around Folks

What happens when the media fails to hound Rob Ford out of office?

I’m not talking about the hordes of reporters who camp outside his office everyday, who’ve followed him around the city, gone onto his property, and photographed him with his kids on Halloween. It’s obvious that ordinary beat reporters have a participant bias against their prey and no doubt, over the past six months, Rob Ford, by denying that he used crack despite the existence of a video that proved otherwise, made himself a legitimate target for investigative reporters.

Have reporters at times gone overboard in their pursuit of the Toronto mayor? Certainly, but everyone of them is doing their job to the best of their ability, trying to further their nascent careers, seeing a story of a lifetime at their grasp.

Beat reporters certainly appear to delight in seeing the mayor go down, casting derisive laughter in his direction, gleeful in his pain and misery, exhibiting the kind of shaudenfreude that Thomas Aquinas described when the saints in heaven looked down and rejoiced in viewing the sinners suffering in the depths of hell. Ok, maybe not that much, and truth be told, karma and comeuppance have something to do with it, but the class and ideological divide between Ford qua politician and reporter qua voter are surely involved too.

Pathetic figure though he may be, the pathos that Rob Ford elicits has to do with a person caught red handed. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s first four stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression – finally gave way to the fifth, acceptance, and acceptance is the first stage on the road to health. Rob Ford’s admission on November 6th that he did indeed smoke crack cocaine should be a cause for lessening of pressure on him, but in fact is the opposite.

What’s amazing about the current state of play is how the media establishment has turned so sharply against the mayor. Instead of granting some leeway for taking his first step towards recovery, Rob Ford’s admission to the obvious was cause for all four newspapers to rail against him for lying and leading a double life, as if Bill Clinton, all those years ago, didn’t lie repeatedly to the public, his wife, his staff, his Vice President, on oath even, about sexual infidelity involving an intern, a person in a position of trust to whom Clinton owed a fiduciary duty towards.

Yet, what did the Globe and Mail say 15 years ago about Bill Clinton’s mendacity, his aberrant conduct:

“There are two things wrong with the impeachment of President Bill Clinton: its provenance and its relevance. It is rooted in a cynical, partisan legal trap, and it concerns a purely private matter, rather than a matter of state.”

I wasn’t a fan of Clinton’s impeachment then nor would I be now, but my guess is that no-one would appreciate the obvious double standards being exercised by the media today, if they really looked at it.

It’s also worth noting that Rob Ford isn’t going anywhere and the province of Ontario is not going to, retroactively, set the terms of removal from office if they were asked to do so by city councillors. That would simply be wrong and councillors should really step back from the edge that the press has pushed them towards. Karen Stintz said today, in an online forum conducted by the Toronto Sun, that she opposed such a  move:

“I have never called for the Mayor’s removal from office. Until the next election, only the Mayor can decide to leave office. In 2014, the people will decide.”

We’re going to have to live with this flawed individual at the helm for another 12 months. At that time, in their wisdom, Torontonians may gladly elect someone else to take over. Olivia Chow, Karen Stintz, even the perennial political loser John Tory could be all great people to lead this city as it continues to grow and shine.

Perhaps too the governing structure of the city needs some changes. The weak mayor system we have prevents unilateral executive action on a host of matters. Everything goes to council. The bureaucracy runs the city. While the present situation really has acted, in this case, as an argument in favour of the governing status quo, given that the city continues to function very well despite the mayor being under an unbelievable amount of media scrutiny, it may be that some change is needed.

But we should all be opposed to the precious posturing of the press, acting shocked now when we knew six months ago that Mayor Ford smoked crack. In the interim, did he consort with a probable drug dealer? Perhaps, but if this was because he wanted to smoke a marijuana reefer or two, like Justin Trudeau enjoys on occasion, those holding their wine glasses in self-righteous indignation should look at what they’re drinking.

This desire to take the big man down is now more of an ego thing for the four GTA newspapers than anything else. It also provides an opening for others who want to take the present crisis to further their own careers in whatever way is most suitable.

You never let a serious crisis go to waste, Rahm Emmanuel is quoted as saying. It seems to me that this “serious crisis” is seriously going to waste.

The Long Ad Hominem Attack Against Rob Ford

I like a person with flaws. I like a political leader with them. Show me a mayor who admits to having been in a drunken stupor, I’ll show you someone who knows they’re not perfect. Show me a guy who’s made a dreadful mistake; in my opinion, it adds to character.

There are some very good things to like about Mayor Rob Ford. During his 13 years as councillor and mayor, he personally responded to thousands and thousands of calls from his constituents. You may not like his policies, but he’ll tell you about them right to your face if you’d like. He’ll also make sure your issues get to the front of his agenda, when otherwise busy councillors would push them aside because they’re not sexy enough.

Members of the press may think he should answer questions on their schedule. Ford believes in being answerable and accessible to the people who elected him, even if he sets out the terms. He believes it’s his vocation. He likes people. He identifies with those who work hard.

I’ve had personal experience with this maestro of retail politics. Six years ago, I defended a former football player from Don Bosco, a young gent who got caught in flagrante delicto, committing one of the most pathetic armed robberies I had ever seen.

My client, an overweight kid barely 18 years old, held up a taxi driver with a buddy and got the driver to take him to the subway, where he hoped to make good his getaway. He was caught running away from Eglinton West subway station. He fell down while he fled on foot. The cops didn’t even have to try.

The kid had no one in his corner, except for then Councilor Rob Ford. The only thing this kid ever did that showed any promise was show up on time for football practice for two years. He told me to call Rob – he’d come to court for him. He did. Ford was easy to deal with, responsive, and on time. He supported this kid. It didn’t help with the kid’s sentence, a minimum four years in jail, but no doubt it meant a ton to my client.

I can’t get with the program being recommended here by all the press and intelligentsia. The storm of indignation is a bit precious. The issues at stake in this city have very little to do with the mayor’s major flaws. The horrible state of transit infrastructure will long outlive him unless we do something. The debt continues to pile up.

Whether or not the crack scandal has been exacerbated by the mayor certainly doesn’t excuse the harassment by the press at every corner. You can seriously endanger someone’s life by following them all over the city. The press doesn’t make a point by following him around on Halloween or by going onto his property and barely letting him into his car.

I’m not minimizing the guys’ behaviour – he smoked crack, albeit once. He has a problem with public drunkenness, binge drinking. His best friend may deal drugs. He has lied to cover up these embarrassing issues. Some folks in his social and professional circle of friends have tried to help him cover his tracks.

But you know what, these things happen to a lot of people or people they love. Maybe not to the mostly white, educated people that make up the press, but a lot of people have experimented with hard drugs. A lot of people know and even hang around with people who have criminal records. And while you may love your local distributor of vintage wine, those who like a little bit of the green stuff need a drug dealer. And there’s a reason simple possession of crack cocaine barely registers more than a fine in the courts these days – users are usually pretty pathetic and harmless.

The judgment being cast on this mayor for his personal flaws make it seems like there’s a crisis when there isn’t. These issues do not touch upon why the people who elected Rob Ford mayor elected him in the first place. They elected him because of his policies on spending, taxes, and public transit, not because he was a choirboy. Toronto has more fortitude than is being portrayed.

So you don’t want a guy like this as your mayor. Republicans didn’t want Bill Clinton as president. Clinton lied under oath. He cheated on his wife, maybe multiple times. He was caught red handed, so to speak. Republicans tried to hound the guy out of office. But the majority of American voters liked his policies. And his conduct certainly didn’t bear on them, regardless of how pathetic they seemed.

Furthermore, as in the US, our executive in question is bound by a huge amount of checks and balances. He’s one of 45 votes on council. He is a product of the “weak mayor system” that we have in Toronto. A strong-willed council like the one we have can work with or around Mayor Ford, as they continue to demonstrate.

Toronto’s position as one of the best cities to live in the world continues unabated, year after year, until today. Unemployment is down. Development is going like gangbusters. Civic minded councilors who keep their eyes on their neighbourhoods do good things to maintain their livability. Major subways and LRT’s are being built. Park space is expanding.

You may disagree with his policies, but Mayor Ford has been a consistent spokesperson for them. You may disagree with their execution, but he’s worked with council over the past three years to achieve them. He’s a principled guy who won the vote.

It’s disrespectful to the people who elected this guy, bozo at times or not, to hound him out of office. Freedom of the press isn’t honoured when you follow Ford onto his property or prevent him from driving in peace where he wants to on his off hours. The only crisis here is that it turns out the symbol of Toronto is a flawed one. The father figure is a bit pathetic. My apologies if it fails to make me overly concerned.

Chief Blair Stops the Bleeding

I practiced criminal law for ten years, during which time I handled and defended cases that fit the “true crime” definition that’s sometime used in the practice. Drugs, violence, all kinds of vice, with lots and lots of exposure to police tactics and large size “projects” like the one our mayor has found himself drawn into.

Given my practice, I find it interesting to look at the Toronto Police Service’s investigation into Mayor Ford, which culminated this past October 31st with Chief Blair’s announcement that they had seized the notorious “crack” video.

My take on the investigation now is a bit different from what it might have been had I been asked about the matter when I was in the heart of my practice. Back then, my first reaction upon reviewing the narrative of events might be to ask why the police never stopped Mayor Ford or attempted to search him at some point.

This comes from having experienced, over and over again, cases where I saw clients of mine stopped on the flimsiest of pretences to justify a once over. Sure, these were cases where drugs were found, but over and over again, I saw a high representation of young, black males being stopped for insufficient grounds. In my mind, there was no doubt that they were representative of a pattern and pointed to an abuse of power.

Now that the the “Information to Obtain” in Mayor Ford’s case has been published online, we can all see how in the mayor’s case, there were numerous occasions when items were passed between Sandro Lissi, the mayor’s purported drug supplier, and the mayor.

It would seem obvious from a neutral observer that these could well have been drug drops. Mayor Ford and Mr. Lissi were engaged in suspicious behaviour and, given what the video was reported to show, it does not take much to add two and two together. There was reasonable and probable grounds to stop the mayor, if it ever existed.

Yet I have also read many ITO’s, as they are called, which over the years show police observing similar transactions and refraining from acting. Experienced investigators know to wait until they have the requisite grounds to charge an individual. It is dangerous to act prematurely, as you can easily jeopardize an entire investigation.

I’ve often had cases like this.

Furthermore, there is criminality and then there is criminality. At its highest, Mayor Ford appeared to be a drug user, not a vendor. He was small fry – not even a dealer.

I’ll get to the public interest issue in a second – the reason Mayor Ford’s potential criminality was of interest is because of his position in the public eye, but that did not make his behavior any worse, in terms of criminality itself. The higher ups are always more important – people such as Sandro Lissi, who appeared to be a drug trafficker.

But here’s the rub – its the video itself that was of highest importance in this case, and remember, the police did not know they had it until October 29th. That video was reported to have been taken at the same time as a picture of Rob Ford that shows him in the company of three individuals, one of whom, Anthony Smith, was later murdered. A second, Muhammad Khattak, was shot at the same time as Mr. Smith.

The video then took on a life of its own. It had value and, just like illegal drugs, it spurred on further criminality. We really don’t know how much damage this toxic piece of property caused. At this point, we do not know what role it played in the murder of Anthony Smith. What we do know is that it then becomes a football that Sandro Lissi is alleged to have become involved in chasing, leading to charges of extortion against him.

Not only that, another key member of Mayor Ford’s entourage, his chief of “logistics,” David Price, got involved in chasing the video as well. He is said to have pursued leads in the Dixon Road community, where the video was shot, offering offers of assistance in exchange for the video.

Anthony Smith and Muhammad Khattak, the two fellows from the photo who ended up getting shot, were both alleged “Dixon City Bloods” gang members.

When you take a closer look at some of these moving parts, you can see that this investigation would logically have been interested in much more than simply nabbing Mayor Ford with a gram or two of crack cocaine. The video had become a prize in a high stakes game of criminal behaviour.

All of this leads to a few conclusions that we can make about Mayor Ford’s behaviour and Chief Blair’s decision to make it a priority to get the video off the streets and to assure the citizens of Toronto that it was no longer a toxic presence in the city.

First of all, the mayor is no ordinary citizen. When he compromises his integrity by engaging in criminal behaviour, no matter how petty, he compromises his ability to get his job done without the threat of being extorted himself. The existence of this video on the streets of Toronto was a wild card for this city. As some commentators have pointed out, not enough people stood up and marginalized the mayor once the video was reported by the Toronto Star and Gawker.

Doug Ford has said recently that “everyone uses bad judgment”. That’s a load of bull and its unfortunate that Mr. Ford doesn’t see the bigger picture.

When I use bad judgment, it usually results in my espresso being too sweet. When the mayor’s bad judgment makes him subject to blackmail, it gets much worse. Imagine a city where your chief magistrate is subject to the whim of threats from any corner that seek to capitalize on his or her vice seeking interests. That kind of behaviour can lead to a person to place their own interests ahead of the needs of their constituents. It can lead to corruption.

We can also see from the investigative log as revealed in the ITO that subsequent to the video coming to light in May of 2013, Mayor Ford’s relationship with Sandro Lissi overcame his attention time after time. The number of calls between the two piled up, as did their surreptitious meetings and behaviour, and perhaps an increased use of drugs and alcohol. This was a mayor who needed to be saved from himself.

After the existence of the drug video was revealed, Rob Ford was a diminished figure in the eyes of anyone who could take advantage of this vulnerability. There was no-one who was better placed to capitalize on Mayor Ford’s position of weakness than Chief Blair, had he chose to. If ever there was an opportunity to press for a bigger police budget, a private meeting with the mayor could have yielded this and who knows what else.

Instead, the Chief chose to marshal a huge effort involving hundreds of hours of manpower, surveillance, wiretaps, and production orders to pursue criminal behaviour involving the chief magistrate of the city. He recognized the big picture.

So yes, I would say to the critics of the police, the mayor was not caught red handed with his hands in the cookie jar. But this was not a mere case of chastising a child for misbehaviour. There were larger issues at stake, issues of life and death, and the civic health and morale of this city. The city of Toronto is now on its way to being healed, knowing that the video is in the safe hands of the police. Chief Blair should be lauded for having stopped the bleeding.