Deep breaths are important right now.
Two publications—the New York-based site Gawker, and the Toronto Star—report that they have seen a video that allegedly shows Toronto mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine. Both say they were approached with the video by a man who was seeking a six-figure sum in exchange for the footage; both report that they did not pay money to obtain the video, but were able to meet with the tipster and view the video on a cellphone.
As soon as the news broke a great many people started saying a great many things—about how this shouldn’t be surprising given the Ford’s known history, about how his mayoralty is clearly finished, about how they were excited to see him fall. The jokes about addiction came in a torrent, some wry and many gleeful.
Most of those things are both wrong and wrong-headed.
The truth is that right now we know almost nothing. We know that there is a video, that some reporters have watched it, and that they agree about what they saw in it: that Rob Ford appears to be smoking out of a crack pipe, and also making some fairly offensive remarks. Neither outlet was able to independently verify if the events that appear to be shown in the video took place. Neither was able to confirm when the events that appear to be shown in the video took place. (Gawker’s editor says the man who got in touch told him it was within the last six months.) Neither was able to confirm that if Rob Ford was smoking out of that pipe, he was smoking crack. Neither was able to confirm whether there is a larger pattern of behaviour in question.
Rumours about Rob Ford’s drug use have been swirling around City Hall for almost as long as he’s been mayor. More publicly, his long record of making off-putting, erratic, and sometimes detestable statements has made many wonder—sometimes idly, sometimes less so—about his judgment, and whether it might be impaired. Rob Ford has driven drunk, has been kicked out of a hockey game for drunken rowdiness, and most recently was asked to leave a public event apparently because he was drunk. For almost everyone hearing about this video, surprised though they might be by its gravity, there’s also an extent to which it seems to fit into a larger narrative, and to that extent, it is widely being accepted not only as plausible but as unquestionably true.
That context may certainly incline us to believe the story, but it isn’t actually decisive. The allegations, not just about drug use, but about the remarks Ford made—that he called Justin Trudeau a “fag” and that he said, of the players on the high school football team he coaches, that they are “just fucking minorities”—are serious. If true they would render Ford unfit for public office by almost any standard, but especially in a city which is widely known as one of the most diverse in the world, and which prides itself on its leadership in this regard. Toronto cannot and should not abide an elected official who says such things.
If he said them.
The allegations are serious, and they need to be treated as such. We can’t sacrifice evidenciary standards just because the story sounds right, or because it comes on the heels of other lapses, or because we disagree with Rob Ford’s politics and would be glad to see him forced out of City Hall. And we should not, no matter our politics, and no matter how fed up we are with a mayor whose term of office has been a long sequence of fiascoes and failures, stoop to the level of celebrating this ending, if an ending it proves to be.
Consider what it would all mean, if the allegations turn out to be true. We’d have one man, a drug dealer, secretly making a tape to either extort a large amount of money from one of his customers or to sell, paparazzi-style, to the highest bidder. We’d have another man, our mayor, in the midst of utter collapse, and possibly battling serious drug addiction. And we’d have an entire city left even more rudderless than it already is, the past two years of bad governance compounded by personal tragedy.
Whatever reasonable relief many Torontonians might feel if and when Rob Ford ceases to be the mayor—and we have been among his staunchest critics since well before he assumed that office—the vindictive delight with which many first met the news needs to end.
We don’t know yet if these allegations are true. We do know that if they are, Rob Ford is a man who more than anything needs help. So will the city he’s supposed to be leading. If we’re all to overcome the worst of Rob Ford’s tenure as mayor, the divisiveness and the ignorance and the failures of due process that he—regardless of what may be on this video—can justly be charged with, it can only be through demonstrating other values. Now would be an excellent time to start.