Rob Ford saga: Why is the mayor not facing criminal charges?
Published Thursday, December 5, 2013 9:29AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, December 5, 2013 10:03PM EST
The latest allegations against Rob Ford have led many to wonder why the Mayor of Toronto isn’t facing criminal charges.
Wiretap information released Wednesday suggests that Ford may have tried to buy the alleged crack video two months before news of the video broke. According to documents, police wiretaps overheard alleged gang members suggest they could use video images they had of Ford using drugs to blackmail him.
The documents suggest that the mayor made an offer to allegedly obtain the infamous crack video in exchange for $5,000 and a car. While Ford did not comment on the latest allegations at City Hall Thursday, he appeared on a U.S. sports radio show earlier in the day calling the wiretap allegations an “outright lie.”
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Lack of evidence
Criminal lawyer Boris Bytensky said the wiretap information on Ford may not be substantive enough for police to file criminal charges.
“If all police have is the word of somebody on a wiretap that Rob Ford did something or other, that’s effectively no evidence against Rob Ford,” Bytensky said.
Media lawyer Peter Jacobsen said if police are to lay a charge, there has to be reasonable and probable grounds that Ford possessed illegal substances.
“He has the right to remain silent. So what does the Crown do? They present their case, the defence lawyer gets up and says there’s no proof of what was in the pipe or whatever, and that’s the end of it. And that’s why they haven’t laid a charge,” Jacobsen said.
However, Bytensky said that because criminal law largely operates through inferences, cases are often circumstantial.
“They’re based on things that we don’t actually see, but we can logically conclude,” he said.
Mayor receiving special treatment?
Police may be holding off laying charges because of Ford’s position as mayor of Toronto, Bytensky said.
“There also may be a number of investigations that are still ongoing that, by definition, are going to be more sensitive when you’re investigating the mayor,” he said. “He may be getting special treatment, but it’s not necessarily better treatment.”
In the event of an ongoing investigation, police have a “wide discretion to hold off laying charges,” Bytensky said.
“There’s obviously a public safety component in many cases that would lead them to act quickly, but in a case like this, there’s no reason to rush ahead to lay charges until the investigation is complete -- and I’m certain it’s still ongoing,” he said.
Project Brazen 2 still ongoing
Toronto police spokesperson Mark Pugash confirmed Thursday that Project Brazen 2 -- out of which accused drug dealer Alessandro Lisi was charged -- is still ongoing.
Lisi, Ford’s friend and occasional driver, was caught under surveillance in suspicious circumstances with the mayor, and is now accused of extortion in an attempt to obtain the infamous crack video.
And while Pugash wouldn’t discuss details of the ongoing investigation, he said police will “follow the evidence wherever it goes.”
“That was the case when we discovered that we were able to rescue the video that had been on a hard disk, but that work continues,” Pugash told CTV News.
Police say there is an open invitation for the mayor to sit down with the lead investigator, but Ford’s lawyer has advised him not to talk to the police.
“Very often people do believe that if you really have nothing to hide, then you should be forthcoming with the police,” Bytensky said. “It is a very poor strategy in terms of a being a potential defendant in a criminal case to be giving statements.”
But Michael Harvey, vice-president of Investigative Solutions Network, believes Ford wasn’t the focus of the Toronto police investigation, and was simply “caught up” in the investigation as a result of wiretaps.
Harvey said Toronto police were “looking for murders, major drug dealers, not a guy selling a little bit of marijuana or a mayor, as it turns out, smoking crack.”
However, Harvey says that once the possible larger investigation is complete, there will be room to pursue other charges.
“Once you have a number of people under fairly serious criminal charges, they may be willing to come forward and say something about the mayor that would in fact give them a substantive charge -- something that could take to the courts,” he said.
Ford still in office
Despite the new allegations, municipal lawyer John Mascarin said city councillors are “beholden to their powers,” and can’t forcibly remove Ford from office.
“They’ve stripped him of just about everything that he could possibly be stripped of,” he said.
Mascarin said the only way to remove the mayor from office would be through criminal convictions and actual imprisonment.
“You would need incarceration in a penal institution in order to have him physically removed from office and we seem to be a very long way from that,” Mascarin said.
Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, who has taken over many of Ford’s key powers, said Thursday that the latest allegations against the mayor don’t have any impact on city business.
"This really now has become a very personal issue," Kelly said. "But for the city of Toronto, it's a go-forward basis of doing city business."
With a report from CTV Toronto’s Austin Delaney