Chief Bill Blair will neither confirm nor deny that there is a connection between the drug allegations facing Mayor Rob Ford and a huge police operation targeting gang activity in Etobicoke.
At around 5 a.m. Thursday morning, 42 tactical teams from 17 different police agencies executed 39 search warrants in Toronto and Windsor, ON against suspected associates of a gang known variously as the Dixon City Bloods, or the Dixon Goonies. According to police, the group's reach extended to Windsor and Edmonton but it operated primarily out of a cluster of apartment buildings on Dixon Rd., one of which is reportedly where a video of Ford allegedly smoking crack cocaine was stashed.
Nineteen people were arrested in Toronto and nine more were nabbed in Windsor as part of the sting, dubbed Project Traveller. Aside from storming the Dixon Rd. tower, the Toronto Star reported that police also entered the nearby home of Muhammad Khattak.
Khattak, along with a man named Anthony Smith, was one of three people photographed with Ford in a notorious picture taken front of a suspected crack house near Dixon Rd. Smith was shot dead outside a nightclub in March, and Khattak was wounded in the same incident.
The cops seized 40 firearms in the raids, $572,000 in cash, and $3 million worth of drugs, including cocaine, heroin, hash, marijuana, LSD, and crystal meth.
At a noon press conference at police headquarters, Blair would not say what charges the suspects face, but said that the gang was suspected in connection with a "clever" scheme to smuggle U.S. guns across the Windsor border as well as incidents of murder and attempted murder.
Blair took dozens of questions at the lengthy press conference. But he would not confirm whether Ford was linked to the raids in any way, or say whether cops had seized a cell phone video of the mayor, explaining that discussing any evidence could jeopardize future prosecutions.
"I am not able to make those connections about individuals," he said. "You will notice today, at today's press conference, I'm not speaking about any individual, but rather a criminal organization, criminal enterprises, and criminal offences that were taking place in our city, in our province, and across the country.
"I can tell you that we have conducted an investigation and gathered evidence of those offences, and that evidence has been secured, and is being turned over to the prosecuting attorney and will be disclosed. All of that evidence will be made public in the proper forum, which is a court of law."
He did not address a report Thursday that the police had been looking into the alleged crack video before news of it went public four weeks ago, or say whether anyone in the mayor's office had come under investigation as part of Project Traveller.
When Blair was asked why, if Ford is not involved, the chief would not simply come out and say so, he responded, "My responsibility is to collect the evidence, and not to make pronouncements on what the evidence means but to turn the evidence over to a court of law. And that's what we're doing."
He refuted one reporter's suggestion that the public interest in allegations the mayor is involved in criminal activity should trump normal rules about the disclosure of evidence.
"The law doesn't change. Your [the media's] interest in this, even the public's interest in this, does not change the law," he said.
Blair did however confirm statements he made to the media three weeks ago, in which he said the force was keeping an eye on reports of the cell phone video.
"I said we are monitoring the situation in its totality very carefully. We were and we are," he said Thursday.
Earlier in the day, Ford said that he had no knowledge of the raids and was not briefed by the police before they happened. But he said he was not concerned that he wasn't given a heads up about the massive police operation not far from his home in Etobicoke.
"Police can't come and call me all the time and saying we're doing this and that. They got their business to do. It's like me calling the police and telling them about what's going on at council every day," he said.
The mayor said he didn't know whether he was under police investigation himself, but shrugged off the idea. "They can investigate me all they want, I don't do anything wrong," he said.
Ford has said he does not use crack cocaine and is adamant that reports of a video of him doing so are false.
The police will hold a second press conference on Friday to discuss the details of the charges being laid as a result of Project Traveller.