By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Senior Editor
Toronto Police held a news conference last week Thursday to announce the arrests of 348 people, part of a huge child porn ring centered right here in Toronto.
More than 100 Canadians were among those arrested in some 50 countries, including the United States, Germany, Spain, Mexico and as far away as Australia.
Among those arrested were teachers, police officers, doctors, members of the clergy and even newspaper editors, according to news reports.
The alleged ringleader was identified as 42-year-old Torontonian, Brian Way, who has been charged with “making, possessing, distributing, exporting and selling the explicit images of boys – who range in age from toddlers to teens – in videos that investigators say were edited, packaged and sold from (Way’s) west-end (Toronto) home”.
Police also announced that 386 children were rescued from abuse and exploitation including 24 in Canada and 330 in the U.S.
This story, however, was number three in the lineup of the one news channel I viewed that evening. What was the lead story about? Rob Ford!
My search the next day of my two favourite morning dailies didn’t fare much better initially. One carried a small story at the bottom of page 1 which might easily have been missed. However, it did carry extensive coverage much later in the paper if one bothered to turn to page 23, 24 & 25. The other carried one story on page 5 among 12 pages on, you guessed it, Rob Ford.
In fact, for the last six months or so, we have been bombarded with news – if one could call it news, it seems to border most of the time on gossip – of Toronto’s mayor.
So, was the Ford story more important last Thursday and Friday than the child porn bust, which is basically a Toronto story with real international implications?
How did we get to this?
Many of us have watched in dismay the images on the television screens of media personnel chasing after the mayor; camping out on what appears to be the front lawn of his home in which he lives with his wife and two young children, waiting on him to emerge on his way to work so they can yell and shout questions at him.
One paper acknowledged that it was its reporters following Ford around one day recently when he drove into a police station to report that he believed he was being chased by someone. What were they doing? Following him to see if he was buying crack or drinking?
The paper claimed the reporter was just doing his job. Really?
Do you understand how it must feel to be driving and come to the realization that someone is chasing after you? Do you understand how panic could set in? What if he got into an accident and killed somebody? Would you and your staff have accepted responsibility?
Remember how Princess Diana died?
Look, Rob Ford brought this all on himself. Nobody forced him to live the life he has admitted to. And, as a story, his behaviour was fair game. Questions needed to be asked. And, when he refused initially to answer those questions, the media would, of course, have pressed further. They had enough to go on to suggest there was much more to the story. And they have been proven right.
But the story eventually took on a circus-like atmosphere and became much larger than it deserved to be, attracting the attention of media from around the world.
At least, now they know where Toronto is.
It must be acknowledged that there are people in this town – politicians, folks in the media and others in high places – who never wanted Ford to be mayor. In fact, when he won the job three years ago, there were fellow councillors who stated clearly that they would work around him even going as far as to suggest they could appoint their ‘own mayor’. So, when we hear some of them feigning concern for his health or for the embarrassment he has brought to the city, take it all with a grain of salt. They don’t care about him and never did.
Ford does not fit the image of what some folks think a Toronto mayor should look like. For one thing, he is a big, fat guy. He can be, for want of a better word, uncouth. He is also not very articulate especially when he is dealing with the media or trying to defend himself against his foes on council. Although he is a millionaire, he seems to be more comfortable associating with the ordinary guy, the ordinary joe than with the silk stocking set. Maybe that’s how he got involved with the kind of folks with whom he ended up smoking crack.
Of course, these were the wrong ‘ordinary joes’. There are ordinary joes and then there are ordinary joes. As our parents used to drill into our stubborn little heads when we were growing up, ‘You are known by the company you keep’. Ford kept the wrong company.
Just to think that some of these people he was hanging around with were egging him on and videotaping him so that they could try to make money off of his shame.
But, as I noted earlier, Ford brought this all on himself. From what we have seen and heard, he seems to be very stubborn, and refused to take advice from those closest to him at a time when it could have mattered. Even as his behaviour (or, more accurately, news of his behaviour) escalated and drew international attention there was a lot of opportunity for him to dial back.
Was it also a bit of naiveté? Did he really believe it would all just go away? That would mean that he didn’t really understand the depth of hatred that had been harboured against him in some quarters. (Come to think of it, maybe he did. That may explain his sometimes erratic behaviour. Can you imagine what it must be like to find yourself constantly surrounded by a bunch of haters?)
What cannot be disputed is that Ford, as mayor, has saved the city a lot of money. Not as much as he sometimes claims, but significant savings have been realized and will continue to be realized for years to come – unless those who have now succeeded in defeating him open again the purse strings. That will be worth paying attention to.
And that is why he received so much support. A significant number of voters had grown tired of the way in which the city was being run and the priorities of those who ran it.
For them, he was a breath of fresh air, an outlier of sorts who would look after their interests and not some narrowly defined interests of a small class of downtown folks.
They cannot be happy that their mayor, the one they chose to represent them, the one they chose to watch how their tax dollars were being spent, has been so unceremoniously dethroned in such a high-handed and questionable manner, especially since he has not been charged with a criminal offence. Not yet, anyway.
Politics in the city will be very interesting to watch over the next year.