An east-end Toronto park was inundated with fans, and a few foes, of Rob Ford on Friday for the mayor’s scheduled Ford Fest bash.
Hundreds of people started to line up at Thomson Memorial Park at 1005 Brimley Rd. in Scarborough at least two hours before the event started at 5 p.m.
The mayor sparked a frenzy upon his arrival, with some appearing to be trampled by the enthusiastic mass that clamoured for his attention.
Unlike previous editions, the 19th anniversary of the party — which ended at 10 p.m. — didn’t feature any alcohol, as the province turned down the organizers’ application for a liquor licence.
The event was also supposed to be a campaigning-free zone, due to its location in a public park, but that didn’t prevent strong pro and anti-Ford sentiments from emerging.
There were a few tense moments when six demonstrators protesting what they termed Ford’s homophobia turned up. They held up signs and called for the mayor’s departure from office.
Rob Ford supporters jeer as a LGBT-rights supporter speaks to a police officer after claiming he was assaulted at Ford Fest in Toronto on July 25, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese
“He needs to be held accountable,” said Poe Liberado, who faced loud jeers from Ford fans.
“His buffoonery is dangerous, his positions are dangerous and he needs to be taken seriously.”
Ford raised eyebrows in recent weeks when he remained seated while city council gave a standing ovation to organizers of Toronto’s World Pride festival.
He did not answer questions from reporters outside his office about why he didn’t stand along with fellow councillors, but said he’s not homophobic.
“He’s a disgrace,” said protester Kevin Speight. “He’s embarrassing our city.”
The mayor’s supporters, however, weren’t pleased with the anti-Ford sentiment, with a number of individuals getting into verbal confrontations with the protesters.
At one point, a few Ford fans grabbed the signs being held by the protesters, tore them up, and threw them on the ground, stamping on them in the process.
“Go home,” they yelled. “This is Ford Nation!”
People lining up to get into Ford Fest two hours before the event started on July 25, 2014. CITYNEWS/Cynthia Mulligan
— Cynthia Mulligan (@CityCynthia) July 25, 2014
Ford Fest a campaign event?
There has been debate whether Ford Fest is actually a campaign event in disguise.
City officials approved a permit for the bash despite concerns the party would flout municipal rules about politicking in public parks.
According to a bylaw passed in 2012, a campaign event cannot be held at a city park.
However, mayoral candidate Karen Stintz showed up at Ford Fest wearing a “Karen Stintz for Mayor” T-shirt, but said it does not violate the rules about campaigning in a city park.
“You’re not allowed to pass out campaign paraphernalia. The city manager was very clear and he said you can’t actively promote yourself through passing out pamphlets and leaflets, and we’re not doing any of that. We’re just out today to say hello to people and I am wearing a T-shirt,” Stintz said.
— Cynthia Mulligan (@CityCynthia) July 25, 2014
Another mayoral hopeful, Sarah Thomson, showed up to the event on a white horse, but was booed by the crowd. The city confirms it is illegal for her to ride a horse in a park, and she could face a fine.
Mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson is yelled at by Rob Ford supporters as she rides a horse through a party being thrown by Rob Ford’s family called Ford Fest in Toronto on July 25, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese
City bylaw rules on event
The party was under close watch by city bylaw officers.
On Friday, Tracy Cook, the executive director of Licensing and Standards, said there will be two Municipal Licensing and Standards officers and one manager at the event to make sure that the “park’s bylaws [are] adhered to and there are no issues in the park.”
Staff will also assist the Parks, Forestry and Recreation division to ensure that the “conditions of their permit are followed.”
The mayor’s office has been warned there can be no campaigning at Ford Fest. He is also not allowed to hand out any campaign literature or merchandise.
“One of the conditions in the permit speaks to no signage and also speaks to not handing out political campaign materials,” Cook said.
However, items stating Ford Nation or Ford Fest will be permitted, Cook said.
“As long as there is no electioneering language being used, such as ‘vote for’ or ‘re-elect.’ If it simply says ‘Ford Nation,’ ‘Ford Fest,’ business card or magnet that’s considered informational, then that is fine,” she said.
Cook said that if “someone is putting up signage or distributing, handing out political or campaign material” then they “will be asked to cease.” It can also be escalated to a fine or a ticket.
However, the permit does not speak to people giving speeches and the content of them.
“If there is an issue of what is said by anybody at the event, then they have to follow it up with the integrity commissioner,” Cook said.
Ford’s press secretary, Amin Massoudi, said “organizers are doing everything to comply with the directives from city staff.”
In an interview with Breakfast Television on Friday morning, the mayor’s brother, Coun. Doug Ford, said there will be another Ford Fest in Etobicoke later this summer and it’ll be on private property, so alcohol will be served.
Mayor Ford tends to resident issues
On Friday afternoon, the mayor, with a bylaw officer at his side, stopped by a private apartment building at 15 Cougar Court, near Eglinton Avenue East and Markham Road, and ordered the pothole-riddled road in front the building to be fixed within seven days.
The mayor was called to the apartment on Wednesday by the residents who said they’ve been complaining for months about the potholes.
Voters go to the polls Oct. 27 and Rob Ford has vowed to remain in the race, saying it would help his recovery to stay on as mayor.
With files from Cynthia Mulligan and Momin Qureshi