Ford's struggles with drugs and alcohol preceded his time in office

By Alex Heigl
March 22, 2016 12:50 PM

Former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, one of the most polarizing figures in Canadian politics, has died at 46 after a battle with cancer, his family said Tuesday.

Ford was a popular figure for his outsized personality and decidedly atypical political demeanor. But his gaffes ultimately made more headlines than his political career, and his behavior alienated many people, though after leaving the mayor’s office, he was elected by a landslide to a seat on the city council.

Ford’s earliest troubles with substance abuse dated to 1999, when he was arrested in Miami, Florida, for driving under the influence. Police found marijuana on his person, and Ford reportedly told the arresting officer, “Go ahead, take me to jail.”

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In 2006, while a city councilor, Ford was ejected from a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey game for causing a disturbance and drunkenly insulting a tourist couple from Ontario. Ford initially denied even being at the game, before reversing his position and apologizing. “Being in politics, you’re in the spotlight all the time. I made a mistake. I made a major mistake. I really regret it,” he told the Toronto Star.

Ford’s way with words caused as many problems as his behavior. A brief timeline of his notable gaffes as a city councilor follows:

2001: Ford argues against spending money on a suicide prevention barrier on Toronto’s Bloor Viaduct and instead use the money to prosecute child molesters, “who are the main cause of people jumping off bridges.”
2002: Ford calls councilor Giorgio Mammoliti a “Gino-boy.” Mammoliti, calling the epithet a slur against Italians, files a complaint with Toronto’s human-rights office.
2006: Ford speaks out against the city donating $1.5 million in AIDS-prevention funds. “If you are not doing needles and you are not gay, you wouldn’t get AIDS probably, that’s bottom line … those are the facts.”
2008: At a City Council meeting, Ford makes the following statement: “Those Oriental people work like dogs. They work their hearts out. They are workers non-stop. They sleep beside their machines. That’s why they’re successful in life. I went to Seoul, South Korea, I went to Taipei, Taiwan. I went to Tokyo, Japan. That’s why these people are so hard workers [sic]. I’m telling you, the Oriental people, they’re slowly taking over.” His comments led to protests at City Hall by Toronto’s Asian-American community.

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But Ford’s troubles with the law during his time as a city councilor (2000 to 2010) weren’t limited to his substance abuse or sound bites. He was charged with assaulting and threatening to kill his wife, Renata Brejniak, in 2008, though no conviction was made due to inconsistencies with Brejniak’s testimony. The pair reportedly sought marital counseling, but police were called to Ford’s home in October and December of 2011, and again in 2012 and 2013 for a variety of domestic disturbances. No charges were filed in any of the incidents.

Ford was elected mayor of Toronto in 2010. Though he garnered points with voters and bolstered his populist reputation by refusing a personal driver and car, he also made headlines for, at various times, reading while driving, talking on his cell phone while driving and arguing with a streetcar operator while driving.

Information about the depth of Ford’s drinking problem trickled out at various points during his term. He threw a St. Patrick’s Day party at City Hall in 2012 during which he was visibly intoxicated and knocked down a junior staffer before eventually leaving the building and winding up at a bar, where he “flailed around” on the dance floor before being corralled by staffers. On the way back to City Hall, Ford reportedly made racial remarks to a cab driver while screaming and throwing business cards at him. Ford, after “crying at one point,” was eventually discovered at the building’s security desk around 2:30 a.m. “with a half-empty bottle of St-Remy French Brandy” according to security emails. He was eventually driven home that night around 3 a.m.

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“It’s an open secret at city hall that the mayor has battled alcohol abuse,” the Toronto Star wrote in March 2013, after Ford was asked to leave a gala celebrating the Canadian Armed Forces. In May of that year, American gossip site Gawker revealed it had been offered a video that showed Ford smoking crack cocaine. By October, Toronto police chief Bill Blair confirmed that he’d viewed a video that “depicts images that are consistent with those previously reported in the press,” adding that “It’s safe to say the mayor does appear in the video.”

Ford made his statement on the video on November 5, 2013: “Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine but … am I an addict? No. Have I tried it? Um, probably in one of my drunken stupors, probably approximately about a year ago.” He apologized and reiterated previous statements that he intended to stay in office and run for re-election.

Ford’s alcohol-related incidents continued into 2014: In January, he was filmed in a restaurant speaking in Jamaican patois; in February he disappeared into a bathroom stall at a bar for over an hour and emerged “speaking gibberish;” and in early April he was “belligerent” at a Maple Leafs game.

Ford was grilled by Jimmy Kimmel about his drinking during a March appearance on Kimmel’s show. On April 30, he announced he was taking a leave of absence from his duties as mayor to enter rehab. He returned to office on June 30, 2014.

“I had convinced myself that I did not have a problem,” Ford said at the time. “But it soon became obvious that my alcohol and drug use was having a serious impact on my family, on my health, and on my job as mayor.” His term as Toronto mayor ended on November 30, 2014, over a year after he’d been stripped of his powers by the city council.

As of December 2014, two months after he revealed he’d been undergoing cancer treatments, Ford said he was planning on running for mayor again in 2018. “If my health holds up, my name will be on the ballot,” Ford told CP24. “I’m plotting it as we speak. I’m ready to go, I just got [sic] to make sure my health is okay and first and foremost my health and my family – and we’re ready to go.”

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