Toronto (Canada) (AFP) – The mayor of Canada’s largest city admitted Tuesday that he once smoked crack cocaine, in a stunning turnaround following repeated denials of the explosive allegations.
Mayor Rob Ford, 44, however denied he is an addict, in brief comments that came months after a video surfaced that allegedly showed him consuming the illicit drug.
Ford, who has not been charged with a crime, did not say anything about his political future. In the months since reports about the video first emerged, he has insisted he will run for re-election next year.
“Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine,” Ford told reporters outside his office.
“Am I an addict? No. Have I tried it? Probably in one of my drunken stupors,” he added.
Ford said he believed the incident happened “about a year ago,” but admitted: “I don’t know exactly.”
“I’ve made mistakes. All I can do now is apologize and move on,” he said. “It is what it is.”
Ford had until Tuesday steadfastly denied the drug allegations, calling them “ridiculous,” and rebuffed calls for his resignation.
The existence of the 90-second clip at the center of the scandal was first reported in May.
The daily Toronto Star and American gossip website Gawker said they had seen the footage, which reportedly showed a man resembling Ford lolling back in a chair in a room, inhaling from what appeared to be a glass crack pipe.
But after Gawker raised more than $200,000 in an online campaign to buy the video, it said it was told by its unnamed source that the video was “gone.”
Last week, Toronto police chief Bill Blair said technicians had salvaged the deleted video and other data from a hard drive seized in an investigation of the mayor’s longtime friend Alexander Lisi for extortion, related to Lisi’s attempts to recover the video.
The controversy over the video led to the departure of six of Ford’s key staffers, including his chief of staff.
Allies including Canada’s finance minister subsequently appeared to distance themselves from Ford, despite coveting his so-called “Ford Nation” of supporters based in Toronto’s suburbs.
All the while, his refusal to explain himself further fueled speculation, as he jousted with journalists — calling them “maggots” — and assailed his critics.
This week, Ford’s brother Doug, who is a Toronto city councillor, demanded Blair’s removal for showing “bias” against the mayor in comments to the media.
Blair had confirmed for the first time that the mayor appeared in the video and added that he was “disappointed.” On Monday, he also uninvited the mayor to his annual charity gala.
Ford and his lawyer called on police to release the video, but Blair declined, saying it was evidence in a criminal case now before the courts.
“I want everyone in the city to see the tape… I want to see the state I was in,” Ford said Tuesday.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who previously warned that she might remove Ford from office, meanwhile called on police and prosecutors to “take action.”
Canada’s attorney general, Peter MacKay, said it was “certainly a sad day for the city of Toronto,” adding that Ford “needs to get help.”
Toronto city councilor Jaye Robinson, a former ally who was booted from Ford’s inner circle in May, called for Ford to step aside, saying his antics had turned city hall into “a circus.”
“We have become the laughing stock of North America, if not the world,” she said, adding that the scandal was disrupting city business.
“He needs to step aside, take a leave of absence and address his personal issues, which are clearly escalating,” she continued.
Robinson speculated that Ford finally came clean because he faces being dragged into an “unfolding criminal investigation” of Lisi and the video.
Blair last week dismissed the possibility of drug charges against Ford, but left open the possibility that prosecutors may lay more charges in the extortion case.
Robinson said: “I think he’s under pressure… For the mayor to come forward and say that, there must be some underlying issue.”
“Nobody is exempt from this criminal investigation — not even the Fords,” she added.
Tom Szczerbowski / AFP