When asked whether an alleged recording of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking from a crack pipe was connected to a massive drug and guns bust in Toronto this week, the city's police chief said forcefully and unequivocally that he would not comment on that.
Chief Bill Blair told reporters there was a time and a place to discuss the evidence gathered in Project Traveller, a year-long investigation into the gang scene in Toronto's Etobicoke neighbourhood. That place was court; that time was at trial.
"The Criminal Code makes it an offence to disclose that information. So I’m certainly not going to confirm or deny that," Blair said at a Thursday press conference.
His words came as CTV News sited high-level sources that confirmed the tape was embroiled in the massive investigation. The network reported that wiretaps captured conversations surrounding the video in question well before reports of its existence became public.
Over the past three weeks, as the allegations swirled through Toronto City Hall, Ford has avoided most questions on the matter. He has stated he does not smoke crack cocaine and publicly denied the existence of any video tape.
He complimented the police department on their hard work on Thursday, after 28 more people were arrested in raids centred on the community at the heart of his own brewing controversy.
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An apartment building where he had once reportedly told staff a copy of the video was being held was at the centre of the raids. A home where he was photographed with three young men linked to the video was also the subject of a search warrant. One of those men was also snatched up in the raids.
Ford maintains that he is in no way connected to the investigation and didn't find it the least bit odd that he wasn't briefed before the raids were held.
On that front, Blair was able to speak candidly. "I don't answer to the mayor," he said.
The relationship between the police and the Mayor’s Office is a tricky one. Blair indeed does not answer to the mayor. He answers to the Police Services Board, a seven-person committee that includes three city councillors – all Ford allies.
Blair’s decision not to address questions surrounding Ford was a careful one. And it has been read in various ways.
The Toronto Star’s Rosie DiManno points out that police frequently use their own discretion when sharing evidence with the public. She wonders why, if he could have, Blair simply didn’t let the mayor off the hook.
Blair could have easily removed Ford from the equation by clearly stating what the investigation is not pursuing, the angles that have no merit or traction, which wouldn’t compromise the case when it’s prosecuted. This Blair painstakingly avoided doing.
The National Post’s Christie Blatchford, however, stressed that the investigation was about more than Ford’s possible indiscretion. But that the brass certainly knew a connection would be explosive.
To confirm the force was investigating a link to the Mayor would give credibility to the questions reporters were asking the police almost daily. To deny it might appear the force was giving the Mayor a pass.
Thus the line that became the force’s mantra for the past three weeks plus: Whenever the Chief or force spokesmen were asked about the Mayor, the answer was that the police were “monitoring the situation”— an almost deliciously non-committal response that added fuel to neither version.
Blair trying to avoid commenting on a possible connection to Ford was tantamount to him refusing to address an elephant in the room while staring it straight in the eyes. His refusal to refute claims was evenhanded, but it left the public hearing all the things he didn’t say.
Toronto’s police chief was at least honest in his unwillingness to address the elephant in the room. It isn’t his fault elephants are hard to ignore.