Mayor defiant amid new claims

By Rob Gillies in Toronto

Rob Ford's council has voted overwhelmingly in favour of him taking leave of absence but it can't get rid of him unless he commits a crime. Picture / AP
Rob Ford's council has voted overwhelmingly in favour of him taking leave of absence but it can't get rid of him unless he commits a crime. Picture / AP

Ford says sorry for obscenities but still refuses to step down

Toronto's Mayor denied that he pressured a female employee for oral sex, in an obscenity-laced statement on live television in which he also threatened to take legal action against former staffers who spoke to police about his drinking and drug use.

Rob Ford, who admitted last week to smoking crack, later announced he was getting professional help. But he once again refused to step down and used a typical mix of contrition and defiance in several public appearances yesterday.

He wore a football jersey to a City Council session, where outraged councillors turned their backs each time he spoke and again called on him to step aside.

Later, Councillor Karen Stintz said the city had suspended all school trips to City Hall indefinitely because staff deemed it unsafe.

Ford drew gasps from reporters when he used an obscenity as he denied telling a staffer he wanted to have oral sex.

"I've never said that in my life to her, I would never do that," Ford said on live television.

The father of two school-age children said he is happily married and used crude language to say he enjoys enough oral sex at home.

Ford later apologised for his remarks at a news conference. He explained he was "pushed over the line" by newly released court documents that included allegations against him involving cocaine, escorts and prostitution. He called the allegations "100 per cent lies".

He said his integrity as a father and husband had been attacked, prompting him to "see red".

"I acted on complete impulse in my remarks," Ford said. He also said he didn't want to comment on the particulars of the health care support he's receiving and asked for privacy for his family.

The Mayor said he would take legal action against his former chief of staff, Mark Towhey, and two other aides over their interviews with police that were detailed in court documents released on Thursday. He did not specify what the aides might have said that was untrue. He also said he would take action against a waiter who said he believed Ford and a woman were snorting cocaine in a private room at a restaurant. "I have to take legal action against the waiter who said I was doing lines," he said. "Outright lies, that is not true.

The conservative Ford, 44, was elected in 2010 on a wave of discontent from Toronto's outer suburbs over what voters considered wasteful spending and elitist politics at City Hall. But his term has been consumed by revelations of bad behaviour.

The court documents are part of a drug case against Ford's friend and occasional driver.

Police interviews with Ford's ex-staffers revealed their concerns about his drug use and drunk driving, with one staffer alleging another saw Ford "impaired, driving very fast," and frightening the female employee in the car with him.

In another incident, Ford was described by a former staff member as being "very inebriated, verbally abusive and inappropriate with" a female staff member on St Patrick's Day.

Another former staffer reported seeing the mayor drunk in his office about 15 to 20 times in the year he worked for him.

Ford acknowledged to reporters that he might have consumed alcohol while driving in the past. But he immediately went on the defence.

"I'm not perfect. Maybe you are but I'm not, okay? I know none of you guys have ever had a drink and got behind the wheel."

The council voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to ask Ford to take a leave of absence, but the motion was non-binding because the council lacks the authority to force the Mayor from office unless he is convicted of a crime. The council is set to consider another motion today to strip Ford of some of his powers.

"This is one of the most stubborn, pig-headed people I think we have ever seen," Councillor Janet Davis said. "He seems to have no self-awareness, no core of moral character. It is stunning."

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said the provincial government would be willing to step in and approve legislation to remove the mayor, but only if the council voted unanimously to seek that step and the provincial legislature supported it.

- AP

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