TORONTO — Ontario’s provincial police is now overseeing an investigation into the activities of Mayor Rob Ford, who has repeatedly attacked the legitimacy of the probe, Toronto’s police Chief Bill Blair said Wednesday.
Ford’s lawyer immediately denounced the oversight change, which leaves senior city investigators on the case, as “meaningless.”
In a letter to OPP Commissioner Chris Lewis, Blair laid out his reasons for asking his provincial colleagues for help.
“I am taking this step to avoid the distractions that have assumed such recent prominence,” Blair said in the letter.
“The only public interest here is the continued investigation, without fear or favour, into evidence of possible criminality.”
Ford did not immediately comment.
However, his lawyer dismissed the change, saying provincial police should have run the investigation from the get-go to avoid any conflict of interest.
“Only after (Blair) has been battered, beaten and bruised for close to a year has he finally done the right thing,” Dennis Morris told The Canadian Press.
“It’s meaningless now because I’d guess 99 per cent of the investigation has been completed.”
If there were any charges planned against the mayor, Morris said, police should have laid them already.
Ford, who has vociferously challenged the chief to arrest him, has branded the investigation political. He has publicly accused Blair of wasting tax money — with little result.
His most recent attack on the chief came Monday night, during an appearance on the U.S. late-night talk show “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
“They follow me around for five months and came up empty-handed. I just want him to come clean with the taxpayers,” Ford said. “It’s all politics.”
Last week the mayor pressed a similar theme.
“Why won’t (Blair) come clean and tell the taxpayers how much money has he spent on surveilling me and obviously coming up with nothing — coming up with me urinating in a parking lot? Coming up with an empty vodka bottle?”
The Toronto police investigation in question — dubbed “Project Brazen 2” — arose last spring out of a year-long guns, gangs and drugs probe.
It was during the initial probe that police uncovered a video showing Ford apparently smoking crack cocaine, and decided to investigate his activities.
Ford’s friend Alexander (Sandro) Lisi was charged in the first investigation with drug offences, and later with extortion in relation to the “crack” video. The allegations have not been proven in court.
“We’re always very concerned that nothing is said or done that could have any impact on current or future court proceedings,” said Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash.
“We’ll always err on the side of caution.”
Veteran Toronto homicide investigator, Det.-Sgt. Gary Giroux, will continue to lead the investigation, but will now answer to a senior provincial police officer rather than to senior city police officers.
The provincial inspector will have no direct involvement in the probe, but will be available for consultation or to offer advice, police said.
The OPP commissioner said the change is “semantics” but said the investigative team will no longer report up a chain in Toronto police, ultimately to Blair.
“That removes the whole senior management team of the Toronto police and the chief from any involvement — or perception of involvement — in any decision-making around this case,” Lewis said.
Lewis said Blair wanted the public to be confident that there was no interference from the chief or other senior city officers.
He also said there was no indication any charges were imminent.