Toronto mayor Rob Ford has refused to resign amid immense pressure to step down as leader of Canada’s largest city, after admitting for the first time that he smoked crack “probably a year ago” when he was in a “drunken stupor”.
Mr Ford said he loved his job and “for the sake of the taxpayers, we must get back to work immediately”.
Claims that the mayor had been caught on video smoking crack cocaine surfaced in news reports in May. Mr Ford initially insisted the video did not exist, sidestepped questions about whether he had ever used crack and rebuffed growing calls to leave office.
But the mayor was forced to backtrack last week after police said they had obtained a copy of the video in the course of a drug investigation against a friend of his.
“Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine,” Mr Ford, 44, told reporters yesterday. “There have been times when I’ve been in a drunken stupor. That’s why I want to see the tape. I want everyone in the city to see this tape. I don’t even recall there being a tape or video. I want to see the state that I was in.”
Later, at a news conference, he said acknowledging the drug use made him feel as if he had “1,000lbs off my back”.
Authorities have said the video, which has not been released publicly, does not constitute enough evidence to charge the mayor with a crime. Police have said they want to talk to the mayor, but his lawyer has so far declined.
Police spokesman Mark Pugush said Ford’s acknowledgement of crack use would be passed on to investigators. Several Toronto city councillors called on Mr Ford to step down and Canada’s justice minister urged him to get help.
The controversy has drawn comparisons to the 1990 arrest of then-Washington mayor Marion Barry, who was videotaped smoking crack cocaine in a hotel room during an FBI sting operation.
Barry served six months in prison for misdemeanour drug possession, but later won a fourth term in 1994.
Earlier in the day, Mr Ford walked out of his office and asked reporters to ask him the question they first posed back in May. He then acknowledged he smoked crack, but said: “Am I an addict? No. Have I tried it? Probably in one of my drunken stupors a year ago.”
Municipal law makes no provision for the mayor’s forced removal from office unless he is convicted and jailed for a criminal offence.
City councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, a member of Mr Ford’s executive committee, said he would put forward a motion asking him to take a leave of absence.
“My first reaction was ’Wow’,” Mr Minnan-Wong said. “He’s lost the moral authority to lead.”
Another councillor, Jaye Robinson, said the mayor needed to step aside and address his problems, saying: “We have become a laughing stock of North America, if not the world.”
Canadian justice minister Peter MacKay said it was “a sad day for the city of Toronto”.
“As a human being, I think the mayor of Toronto needs to get help,” he said.
Populist Mr Ford has been dogged by allegations of bad behaviour since becoming mayor three years ago, promising to end what he called wasteful spending at city hall.
The crack episode is not the first time he has been forced to admit drug use. During the campaign, he admitted after repeated denials that he was arrested for marijuana possession in Florida in 1999.
And he apologised at the weekend for excessive drinking, saying he should not have been “hammered” drunk in public when he appeared at a street festival in August, calling it “pure stupidity”.
He also said he got “a little out of control” after St Patrick’s Day last year, when city hall security guards said they witnessed a “very intoxicated” Mr Ford having trouble walking and swearing at aides.
The mayor has also been accused of making an obscene gesture from his car and texting while driving. In 2011 he angered the city’s gay community by refusing to attend Toronto’s gay pride parade, breaking with tradition observed by three previous mayors.
And earlier this year, Mr Ford was sacked from his cherished side-job as a volunteer high school football coach after he made disparaging remarks to a TV network about parents and their children.