National News

Ford Fest draws supporters, few protesters

By Diana Mehta, The Canadian Press

TORONTO - A beaming Rob Ford shook hands, posed for pictures and signed autographs as his annual "Ford Fest" drew hundreds of supporters and a handful of protesters Friday night.

The Toronto mayor's annual public party took over the lawns of a park in the city's east-end, with ardent Ford fans turning out to catch a glimpse of the controversial politician.

The event was 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.

"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!"

The ruckus took place out of the mayor's sight, although a man who appeared to be on the mayor's team insisted that everyone was welcome to attend Ford Fest.

The event, which featured free food and live entertainment, also gave residents a chance to briefly meet Ford, an activity which many of those who lined up waited for hours to do.

"He tells it like it is, he doesn't waste taxpayers money, he's a people's person," said Bob Hampton, who was waiting to meet the mayor.

"I supported him the last time and so long as he remains clean, I'll support him this time."

Ford recently got help for substance abuse issues, spending two months in rehab before returning to office just four weeks ago. He has said he can't guarantee that he won't relapse, but has asked his supporters to trust him.

Some of those supporters have made it clear they don't care about the mayor's personal issues.

"We're all got skeletons,"said Rick Faulkner. "The only difference between him and the other politicians is he got caught."

Ford's role as mayor has been largely symbolic since November, when city council stripped him of most of his power following his admissions of alcohol abuse and drug use during "drunken stupors.''

Those admissions came after months of denials and were followed by the surfacing of videos that appeared to show the mayor making offensive and profane comments.

Despite the rocky year he's had, Ford is running for office again in Toronto's municipal election this October.

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