Toronto police learned of an alleged video that appears to show Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack-cocaine as part of a year-long investigation into drugs and gangs, The Globe and Mail has learned.
A source familiar with the investigation said police became aware of the alleged video before it began surfacing in published reports.
The revelation comes on the same day that the investigation culminated in a series of co-ordinated raids. Most were at the apartment towers that have become a focal point of the controversy that has cast a shadow over city hall in Canada's largest city.
But what would usually be considered a routine execution of search warrants – the sort of anti-gang project that Toronto police launch several times a year – has become another chapter in a political scandal that continues to dog the city's mayor, who denied on Thursday that the raids have anything to do with him.
Mr. Ford has declined to answer questions about his relationship to three young men who appeared with him in a now-famous photograph taken at night outside a northwest Toronto home occupied by a childhood friend of the mayor. The house is just a few hundred metres from the site of the raids – apartments that police believe are the geographic base for a violent street gang known as the Dixon Bloods.
Two of those men were among the 28 people arrested Thursday as part of Project Traveller, an investigation that involved the execution of 39 search warrants in Toronto and Windsor, and one in Alberta. One of the men in the photograph with Mr. Ford, 19-year-old Mohammed Khattak, was criminally charged on Thursday with participating in a criminal organization and trafficking in a substance passed off as marijuana.
Another man arrested in the raids who also appeared in the photo is Monir Kasim, according to a source with knowledge of the people in the photograph.
The third young man in the driveway photograph, 21-year-old Anthony Smith, was shot to death in March in downtown Toronto. Mr. Khattak was injured in that shooting.
On May 16, the Toronto Star and Gawker, a U.S.-based gossip website, detailed how journalists from both publications were shown a video by drug dealers that appeared to capture Mr. Ford smoking crack-cocaine from a glass pipe. In an effort to prove their bona fides, the drug dealers gave both publications a photograph of Mr. Ford with the three men linked to the probe.
Police have declined to explain what roles they suspect Mr. Smith, Mr. Khattak and Mr. Kasim played in the Dixon Bloods, or whether they have questioned Mr. Ford about what he knows of them. At a press conference on Thursday afternoon, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair said he was "aware of that picture." He explained that the men with Mr. Ford "form part of this investigation, but I'm unable to disclose who has been interviewed, what information's been obtained."
Chief Blair declined to answer repeated questions about whether the mayor came up in the investigation, explaining that it could taint the evidence that would be presented at the trials of the accused gang members. The Globe has learned through a source with knowledge of the probe that investigators became aware of the alleged video as part of the project.
Mr. Ford, whose response to the alleged crack video has been a brief statement – "I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict of crack cocaine" – said on Thursday he was proud of the police work in his city.
The chaos that has enveloped the mayor's office – which has seen six staffers leave since the alleged crack-cocaine video was first reported – is harming the city despite the mayor's insistence that everything is fine, Councillor Josh Matlow said.
"It's certainly not business as usual, although business is getting done. It's just getting done in a very surreal atmosphere," said Mr. Matlow, a centrist on council. "I'd rather people come up to me at a garage sale or supermarket and say, 'Hey, let's talk about your seniors strategy, let's talk about transit, let's talk about our city's priorities, let's talk about gridlock,' rather than get into conversations about whether our mayor's on crack. That's not what I thought I'd be doing here."
Thursday's raids, which temporarily shut down a portion of the road from which the gang takes its name, involved scores of police officers descending on six apartment buildings in Etobicoke, the west-end Toronto suburb that is Mr. Ford's base of support.
Heavily armoured tactical officers used small battering rams to force their way into each apartment, splintering doors and waking neighbours. Once inside, police detonated flash-bang devices, or stun grenades, designed to disorient occupants with a loud bang followed by smoke. The devices left large burn marks on the floors of several apartments. At 320 Dixon Rd., Hame Ramsumeer woke up to police breaking down a door with a sledgehammer just a few feet down the hall from his unit.
A source has told The Globe that the mayor's office received a tip that a copy of the alleged crack-cocaine video was briefly held at the apartment complex. Less than 24 hours after The Star and Gawker published stories about the video they had been shown, Mr. Ford's then chief of staff, Mark Towhey, was told by one of the mayor's aides, David Price, that an informant had told him the location of the video, right down to the unit number at 320 Dixon Rd., the source said. Mr. Price also said he was told the video's original owner had been killed by someone hoping to obtain it, the source said.
Mr. Towhey contacted the police, the source said, and was interviewed by two detectives. Toronto police have said the interview was not connected to a homicide. Mr. Towhey was fired less than a week later after he quarrelled with the mayor over whether Mr. Ford had an addiction problem, a suggestion that the mayor has repeatedly denied.
With reports from Sunny Dhillon and Elizabeth Church; Shannon Kari is a freelance writer