Even in a city used to upheaval and oddity under the reign of Mayor Rob Ford, the clash between the mayor's brother and the chief of police is eye-catching.
On the one side stands Doug Ford, the Toronto city councillor who often speaks for his infamous sibling. On the other stands Bill Blair, the veteran officer who has led the police force of Canada's biggest city for a decade.
Few North American cities have seen such a bitter public breach between a political leader and a chief law-enforcement officer. Since Chief Blair revealed last fall that police had a copy of the infamous Ford crack video, the Ford brothers have waged a concerted campaign to smear him. On Tuesday, the chief finally pushed back, serving Doug Ford with a notice of defamation.
The last straw came when Mr. Ford said that "the leadership of the police department" must have leaked the news that police were preparing to subpoena the mayor to testify in the drug and extortion case facing his associate Alessandro Lisi. Mr. Ford called it "payback." Chief Blair has just learned that the police board will not be renewing his contract.
When the chief declared that "Doug Ford is lying" and threatened legal action, the councillor could easily have apologized. As of Tuesday evening, he had not, except to tell the Toronto Sun that he gets "a little rambunctious sometimes."
Chief Blair cannot have made the decision to launch legal action lightly. It is not every day that a chief threatens to sue the mayor's closest associate. But the Fords left him little choice.
They have been claiming for close to a year now that, for one reason or another reason – resentment over budget cuts, bitterness over not having his contract renewed – the chief is out to get them. Just as the Left is out to get them, the media is out to get them, the unions and the downtown elites are out to get them. Even the police chief, an official of high integrity and sterling reputation, is part of the plot.
To play the victim is a classic from the Ford playbook. But if anyone has the right to feel under attack it is Chief Blair, who has been the target of a calculated assault on his reputation and his leadership.
Doug Ford once accused Chief Blair of appointing himself the mayor's "judge, jury and executioner" and trying to put "a political bullet right between the mayor's eyes." He later said that the chief had "gone rogue" and involved himself in the current election campaign. He might as well stick a John Tory button on his lapel, Mr. Ford said, referring to the mayor's rival in the Oct. 27 vote. "Imagine if the police chief was after your family. Imagine if he was after you. Who is holding him accountable?"
There has never been a scrap of evidence to support the theory that the chief was conspiring against the Fords. He was only doing his job when he launched an investigation into the mayor and his associates over the crack-video affair. He could hardly have ignored it and would have been rightly criticized if he did.
It was only a human reaction when he said that he was disappointed over what was uncovered on the video, a remark that the Fords claimed was proof of his bias against the mayor. In March he even took the sensible step of handing oversight of the Ford investigation to the Ontario Provincial Police, just to guard against any accusation of bias.
Yet the Fords keep at it. After the famous Steak Queen incident, in which the mayor was shown in a video unleashing an obscene rant against the chief, the mayor refused to apologize. It was the chief, he said, who owed the city an apology for spending millions on tailing and investigating him. "That is absolutely game playing. It's politics," he said.
Chief Blair has acted with dignity and restraint in the face of this unjustified barrage. But enough is enough. The Fords' pattern is to bluster and bully and twist the facts until someone calls them on it. It is about time someone did.