How Canadian Niceness (And Terrible Accountability Laws) Helped A Crack-Smoking Mayor Get Away With It For Six Months

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Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has finally admitted that he has smoked crack. Back in May, Gawker broke the story of a video that allegedly (can we stop saying allegedly yet?) showed the mayor smoking crack, but those reports had done little to damage his credibility.


Reporters from The Toronto Star have also been dogged in reporting the story, despite attacks from Ford on the papers' reporters. Back in May, On the Media spoke to Star reporter Robyn Doolittle about how Canada's less press-friendly accountability laws have helped Ford survive so long. Also, its culture of general niceness. 

ROBYN DOOLITTLE:  Yeah, I mean, I've been covering this Mayor for three years. I've never seen the media go after him so hard. Typically, a Star investigation brings something to light, and he says, oh, this is just the Toronto Star out to get me, and everyone kind of runs with this, oh, it’s the Star and the Mayor at it again. This time, everyone is really holding him to account, and he so far hasn’t offered any sort of substantive statement about this.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  It is interesting because the kind of aggressiveness that you're talking about - and I watched some of the footage on your site - is relatively mild by [LAUGHS] American standards.

[TAPE] REPORTER:  Mayor Ford, do you smoke crack?

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Even when he was heckled by some protesters at a public meeting sometime back and they were marched from the room, they were just sort of expressing skepticism from their seats, nothing like what we see here. And I just wonder, do your press and politicians have a different relationship of accountability because of that niceness?

ROBYN DOOLITTLE:  Absolutely. Canada has absolutely atrocious accountability laws, and I think a lot of Americans don't realize how great they have it. I know that a lot of people complain about, you know, infringement on privacy, but in Canada, like for City Hall, a story that I've been beating a drum on, besides this, has been City Counselor records are not public documents. I can't get their emails, I can’t get their schedules. I don't know who they’re meeting with. All of that in the States is very public. So, for instance, the Mayor of Toronto was arrested for drunk driving and marijuana possession in Florida, I think in 1999, and I –

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Not this mayor.



ROBYN DOOLITTLE:  And that came out during his election but because it was the States, we just called up the, the court office and they sent us the arrest sheet. And he was saying, no, I wasn’t arrested for DUI, it was for not providing a breath sample. And then we were able to pull up the charge sheet, along with his mug shot and say, no, it says right here DUI. That sort of stuff can’t happen in Canada. Those records are all sealed, and that's something that journalists come up against all the time.

Mayor Rob Ford doesn’t release a schedule every day. No one has any idea where he is. It's extremely frustrating. [LAUGHS]