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Toronto’s Unsolved Mysteries of 2011

As the year winds down, a roundup of lingering questions.

The year is almost over and everyone is in a celebratory mood, but what about all the loose ends? Here are four 2011 mysteries, and estimates of our chances of seeing them solved in the future.

Rob Ford’s Telephone Manners

When Rob Ford repeatedly called 911 on a CBC crew that had arrived unannounced at his Etobicoke home to interview him for This Hour Has 22 Minutes, he used some strong language with the dispatchers he spoke to. That much he’s admitted.

But in the version of events recounted to CBC by their anonymous inside sources, Ford also hurled a personal insult at at least one dispatcher—allegedly, the word was “bitches”—and called himself “Rob Fucking Ford, the mayor of this city.” Ford denied saying both of those things.

The closest any members of the general public have come to knowing what was actually said was a few days later, when Police Chief Bill Blair issued a press release saying that the “mayor did not use the word ‘bitches,’” and “did not describe himself as the original account claimed.” No concrete proof was offered.

The Question: What did Ford actually say?

The Prognosis: We may never know. There’s supposedly a recording of the call, but if someone was going to leak the tape they’d certainly have done it already.


Jack Layton’s Terminal Illness

Jack Layton was a very sick man in the months leading up to his death. In February 2010 he announced that he was fighting prostate cancer. In July 2011, when he told reporters he’d be taking a temporary leave of absence from leading the federal NDP, he said was coping with a “new, non-prostate cancer that will require further treatment.”

“My battle against prostate cancer is going very well,” he said in his statement to the press.

When Layton died, in August, his family chose not to disclose the exact cause—they revealed only that it was cancer-related. Olivia Chow later told CBC’s Peter Mansbridge that the secrecy was to “give hope to other cancer patients” who might be suffering from the same disease, and whose spirits might be dampened if they were to find out that a prominent person had died of it.

“That’s why he wanted to not talk about what cancer, what treatment,” said Chow.

The Question: What, ultimately, brought about Layton’s death?

The Prognosis: Layton is sure to be the subject of biographies in the future, so we may find out more in years to come.


The Empress Hotel Fire

When the Empress Hotel, a brick building near the corner of Yonge and Gould Streets, burned down in early January, the whole city was perturbed, and not just because the blaze destroyed the storefront formerly occupied by Salad King, a popular Thai lunch spot that had the misfortune of being one of the structure’s ground-floor tenants, and that had closed down months earlier when a chunk of the building’s wall crumbled onto Gould Street.

The Empress was an historic structure that opened for business in 1888. The City designated it a heritage property when its owner, the Lalani Group, applied for a demolition permit. The heritage designation would have made it significantly more difficult for the Lalanis to have knocked down the Empress, and so the fire was immediately suspicious. Could someone with a vested interest have burnt it down to skirt the protests of Toronto’s preservationists?

Sure enough, weeks later, police announced that arson was the suspected cause of the blaze. They released grainy images of an individual seen lurking in the laneway beside the building, hours before the fire. This week, a few more details about this mystery person emerged, but investigators still haven’t determined who might be to blame.

The Question: Did someone intentionally burn down the Empress Hotel, and if so, why?

The Prognosis: Police are still on the case, so presumably we’ll have more news about this in the coming year.


Rob Ford’s Campaign Finances

In May, two activists filed for an audit of Rob Ford’s campaign finances. They claimed that public records of Ford’s expenses during his mayoral campaign showed evidence of illegal campaign contributions from Ford’s family’s holding company, possible spending in excess of legally mandated limits, and other violations of the Municipal Elections Act.

When the City’s independent review board decided the audit could go ahead, the mayor’s reaction was to lawyer up and appeal that decision. Now, months later, the process is only marginally closer to any kind of conclusion. Ford’s team is seeking to have the audit set aside in favour of a court trial. Failing that, Ford will likely need to press on with his appeal. A hearing is scheduled for April.

Among the possible penalties for violating campaign finance rules is forfeiture of office. It has never been entirely clear what consequences Ford would face if convicted, in part because the relevant law has not been tested much before the courts and there is little precedent to draw upon.

The Question: Did Rob Ford spend improperly to get himself elected mayor? And what will happen to him if he did?

The Prognosis: Assuming Ford’s attorneys aren’t able to quash the audit, we’ll find out someday. But not necessarily someday soon.

CORRECTION: December 22, 2011, 9:37 A.M. This article originally stated that Salad King closed down when the Empress Hotel burned. In fact, Salad King closed after the April 2010 partial collapse of one of the building’s Gould Street–facing walls.

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