Former Toronto mayor Rob Ford dies aged 46. Here are his greatest hits

Mayor Ford in action. Image: Getty.


Rob Ford – businessman, transit fan, football coach, and from 2010-2014 the most colourful mayor Toronto ever had – is dead. His chief of staff confirmed that he died this morning after an 18 month battle with cancer.

Ford managed something that only a handful of mayors ever achieve: becoming famous beyond his own city limits. This wasn't for his enthusiastic support for subway expansion, nor for his straight-talking approach to politics – it's just that, when you're the only mayor ever to have admitted to smoking crack cocaine, then word's gonna get around.

When Ford pulled out of his last mayoral contest in September 2014, after being hospitalised with an abdominal tumour, Barbara Speed covered the event in an article entitled “Rob Ford's greatest hits”. And so, to celebrate the life of the great man, here they are again.

1. He admitted to smoking crack cocaine.

Yeah, okay, we all know about this one (booooooooooooring). But Ford is the only mayor on the record books who’s actually admitted to smoking crack while doing the job, so we felt the story worth retelling.

In May 2013, Gawker ran a piece accusing Ford of smoking crack cocaine in his local area, claiming they’ve seen a video. Shortly after, the Toronto Star published a story claiming their reporters have also seen the footage.

After months of angrily denying that he’d ever smoked crack cocaine, Ford finally admitted in November that he “tried it” in a “drunken stupor”. The video was never released, despite Ford claiming, a little improbably, "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."

2. He pushed over a council member.

During a heated council debate in November 2013, Ford rushed across the chamber and grabbed council member Pam McConnell, apparently trying to push her to the floor. Some argue that he was trying to reach his brother Doug, and that McConnell was simply “in the way”.

Afterwards, Ford helped McConnell up and walked away. What a gentleman.

3. He really respects “Orientals”.

At another debate, this time about Christmas shopping, Ford made clear his admiration for the residents of Seoul, Taipei and Tokyo, all of which he has visited: “Those Oriental people work like dogs. They work their hearts out... They sleep beside their machines... I’m telling you, the Oriental people, they’re slowly taking over.”

4. He spoke out against AIDS-prevention programmes. 

In 2006, while serving as a city councillor, Ford attacked a $1.5m city fund for AIDS prevention, on the grounds that “if you are not doing needles and you are not gay, you wouldn’t get AIDS probably, that’s the bottom line.” Bravo. He just said what everyone was thinking, right?

5. He got fired from his school football coach position. Twice.

Ford began his high school coaching career with a stint at Newtonbrook Secondary School in 2001, where he was dismissed within the year after a confrontation with one of the players. Details are hazy, but Chris Spence, director of education at the Toronto School Board, confirmed that “something did happen” and Ford was dismissed.

Ford then moved on to Don Bosco Catholic School, where he coached alongside his local government duties for ten years. He was dismissed in 2013, apparently for comments he made about the school in an interview. However according to documents released by Don Bosco to the Star under the Freedom of Information Act, there were other problems, some of which tended towards the, er, scatological.

“Mayor Rob Ford made his high school football players ‘roll in goose sca’, threatened to beat up a teacher, showed up intoxicated to the final practice before the Metro Bowl, ignored requests to complete criminal background checks, stuck the school with a $5,000 tab for helmets he promised to pay for, and held an improper summer practice at which a player broke his collarbone.”

It’s like the plot of Friday Night Lights 2, isn’t it.

6. He’s a great multitasker.

In 2012, a resident posted a picture on Twitter showing Ford reading while driving on the Gardiner Expressway. In later tweets, he claimed Ford was driving at around 70mph at the time.

Image: @RyanGHaughton via Twitter.

When challenged, Ford said he was “probably” reading on the expressway because “I’m a busy man”.

7. He hates cyclists.

In 2010, while still a council member, Ford argued that if a cyclist gets hit then, well, they were asking for it:

“What I compare bike lanes to is swimming with the sharks. Sooner or later you’re going to get bitten. My heart bleeds for them when I hear someone gets killed, but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.”

Once he became mayor, Ford set about tackling the issue of cyclist safety by removing bike lanes. 

8. He’s not a fan of the homeless, either.

In a speech, Ford said he would not hold a public meeting about setting up homeless shelters in each ward, because any such meeting would be an “insult to my constituents”. “Why don't we have a public lynching?” he concluded. Why indeed?

In July of this year, he was also the only council member to vote against a motion to allocate 25 per cent of beds in a youth shelter to LGBTQ homeless people.

9. He loves fridge magnets.

There are numerous reports of Ford skipping out on boring council meetings in favour of flitting around the parking lot, slapping “Rob Ford: Mayor” fridge magnets on cars. The Star reported on one such occasion:

When a reporter told Ford that some people might find his behaviour strange, he retorted that some people find the reporter strange... The mayor slowed down only twice – once to calmly address the reporters who followed him, once to shout urgently to aide David Price for more magnets, his arms outsretched.”

His staffers also handed the magnets out at the funeral of Peter Worthington, founding editor of the Toronto Sun newspaper.

One of Rob’s magnets. If you’re interested, they occasionally pop up on auction websites.

10. He didn’t attend Toronto Pride once during his four years in office.

Every year, Ford has bowed out of attendance, claiming that it’s a Ford family tradition to spend that weekend at their cottage. In 2014, however, he confirmed that he would never attend: “I’ve never been to a Pride parade. I can’t change who I am.”

Doug Ford came to Rob’s defence, saying that he, too, would rather not see “buck naked men running down the street”.

However, a Rob Ford impersonator did attend this year’s parade, and appears to have had a wonderful time.

Image: Getty.



In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 

The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.