TORONTO, May 20 (Reuters) - The mayor of Canada’s largest city, facing allegations that he smoked crack cocaine, and made racial and homophobic slurs on video, must either refute the accusations or step down, fellow city politicians say.
“If the allegations are false, then the mayor is owed some apologies,” said Councillor Josh Matlow, who has clashed with Ford on transit issues, but who usually takes a centrist line in a polarized city council.
“If the allegations are proven true beyond a reasonable doubt, then the mayor should resign.”
An editor from U.S. media outlet Gawker and two reporters from the Toronto Star said separately they saw a cellphone video that appeared to show Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine.
Ford, who is no stranger to controversy, was elected mayor of Toronto more than two years ago after serving as a councillor for 10 years. He called the allegations “ridiculous” on Friday and suggested they were part of a broader campaign against him by the left-leaning Toronto Star newspaper.
Dennis Morris, Ford’s lawyer, told Reuters on Monday that it was still too early to consider legal action over the allegations and that if there is a video, it needs to be made public so that Canadians can judge the content for themselves.
“We’re all waiting to see whether there’s anything within this video and whether or not it’s been doctored, edited, altered, that type of thing,” he said.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the existence of the video or its contents.
Ford’s brother, Doug, his closest ally on City Council, broke a brief and uncharacteristic silence on Saturday, telling local radio station Newstalk 1010, “I have never seen my brother involved with anything like coke.”
The brothers canceled their regular Sunday appearance on a radio show at the same station.
The controversy made headlines across Canada and around the world, although some focused as much on Ford’s crude remarks as the allegations of crack use.
“The allegations that have been leveled at Mayor Ford are not just serious, but they are also criminal,” Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam told CBC News. “I would encourage the mayor to resign and to seek help as soon as possible should this be true.”
The Toronto Star reporters who watched the video said Ford calls Liberal leader Justin Trudeau a “fag” and derisively refers to players on the high school football team he coaches as “minorities”.
“If the mayor the of world’s most diverse city is proven to have uttered racial and homophobic slurs, then he’s not fit for the office,” Councillor Matlow told Reuters.
Toronto City Council contains both left-leaning councillors, mostly from the city’s core, and right-leaning candidates like Ford, who are mostly from suburban areas like Etobicoke.
The two groups tend to take different approaches on issues from transit to unionized labor, with often comical policy flip flops. In one example, City Council imposed a 5-cent fee on plastic grocery bags, then ignored Ford’s plea to remove the fee and voted to ban the bags completely.
They then reversed that decision, leaving the issue exactly where it was before the whole debate started.
Elected on a platform to stop the gravy train at City Hall, Ford has courted controversy on many occasions; the Toronto Star on Friday published a list of 42 “extraordinary moments” in his political career.
The list includes accusations that Ford skipped City Council meetings to coach high-school football and engaged in a confrontation outside his home with a reporter.
He was briefly ordered out of office in 2012 after he was found guilty of conflict of interest, but won an appeal and was allowed to finish his four-year term as mayor.
In 2008, assault charges brought against Ford by his wife Renata were withdrawn by the Crown because of inconsistencies in Renata’s story. The couple later reconciled.
The rumblings of scandal have eroded Ford’s popularity, although polls conducted before the reports of the video still enjoyed support from some 50 percent of the population, most of them from in Toronto’s suburbs.
Both Gawker and the Star say the video is being shopped around by people with connections to the drug trade.
In an effort buy the video and post it online, Gawker launched a “Crackstarter” campaign last week to raise $200,000. It has so far raised more than $76,000. (Reporting by Julie Gordon; Editing by Janet Guttsman and Leslie Gevirtz)