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Tempers flare before mayoral debate even starts

Things became heated before a Toronto mayoral election debate even began Monday as Mayor Rob Ford and his team drew police intervention during a dispute with organizers.

As the mayor arrived at the East York church for the debate, his brother and campaign manager Councillor Doug Ford began to argue with organizers. Because of space limitations, the five leading candidates in the race for the mayor's chair – Mayor Ford, Olivia Chow, John Tory, David Soknacki and Karen Stintz – were told they could have only one staffer join them. But the mayor was accompanied by his brother, his press secretary and his driver. Councillor Ford argued with organizers when told he could not enter, though the mayor's team members were ultimately all able to go inside.

"Is this a joke? Either we're coming in, or we're going," Councillor Ford said.

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Police officers, who were already on hand for the event, intervened to defuse the confrontation between Mr. Ford and organizers.

The mayor and his brother also argued that the debate was biased because the president of the group hosting it is a supporter of Mr. Tory. Justin Van Dette, president of the Parkview Hills Community Association, has publicly supported Mr. Tory and has a "John Tory for Mayor" image on his Facebook page.

"You can't have the person that's in charge of the association partisan to a candidate," the mayor said after the debate.

"This is a partisan debate tonight, but if that's how they want to play, that's fine."

Mr. Van Dette did not moderate the debate or ask questions of candidates.

The mayor and his brother also took issue with the fact that one of the journalists in the media panel posing questions to the candidates, Jim Richards, worked at radio station Newstalk 1010, where Mr. Tory formerly hosted a talk show.

Other candidates said they did not feel the debate favoured any one candidate.

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"I mean, everybody's going to vote for somebody," Ms. Stintz said of Mr. Van Dette's support.

Mr. Soknacki agreed, saying it was just as fair as any other debate.

"I didn't detect any bias and frankly that's the stuff and nonsense of elections that I don't think matters much to anyone on [election day] October 27," he said.

Once actually engaged in the debate, candidates were less heated as they fielded questions about transit, road maintenance and emergency weather plans and grilled each other over policies and track records.

The debate was only the second since Mayor Ford returned from a two-month stay in rehab.

With 13 weeks until election day, Monday night's debate was just one of dozens scheduled by various community groups throughout the remainder of the campaign.

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