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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Toronto Police Chief Says Mayor Appears in Video Uncovered in Criminal Investigation

Video of Toronto’s police chief, Bill Blair, speaking to reporters on Thursday.

Toronto’s police chief, Bill Blair, revealed at a news conference on Thursday that Mayor Rob Ford “does appear” in a digital video file uncovered in the course of a criminal investigation into his friend and sometime driver.

Pressed by reporters, the chief refused to say if the images would substantiate allegations made earlier this year that the mayor had been caught on video smoking crack cocaine with drug dealers, but he called the file recovered from a hard drive this week, “consistent with that which had previously been described in various media reports.”

In May, the editor of Gawker, John Cook, reported seeing an excerpt from a video that appeared to show Mr. Ford using drugs and his site began asking for donations to raise $200,000 “to buy and publish the video.” Two reporters for The Toronto Star also described viewing a brief snippet of video “being shopped around Toronto by a group of Somali men involved in the drug trade.” The newspaper reported at the time that the video “appears to show Ford in a room, sitting in a chair, wearing a white shirt, top buttons open, inhaling from what appears to be a glass crack pipe.”

The police chief explained that the video would be presented in court as evidence in support of a charge of extortion against Alessandro Lisi, the mayor’s friend, who has also been charged with drug-dealing. Asked if he was shocked by the video of the mayor, Mr. Blair said, “I’m disappointed.”

As Toronto’s Globe & Mail reports, “The chief’s comments come on the same day it was revealed that the mayor was one of the targets of a months-long investigation known as Project Brazen 2, which resulted in charges against Alessandro Lisi, the mayor’s friend.” Surveillance images of the mayor were also released by the police along with hundreds of pages of information on the investigation into Mr. Lisi, the mayor and 17 other targets in the investigation.

The newspaper posted those court documents online and its reporters are live-blogging as they read through them.

Court documents on Mayor Ford's friend Alessandro Lisi

As journalists at both Gawker and The Star celebrated on Thursday, media observers pointed out that the case appeared to highlight the ongoing need in the Internet age of investigative, watchdog journalism to hold public officials accountable.

On a day of fast-moving news developments, Don Peat of The Star noted that reporters were waiting for the mayor to speak before a macabre, Halloween-themed backdrop.