With matters of consequence before the Toronto City Council, and specifically debate over whether to strike an $8.4 billion transit deal with the province of Ontario, Mayor Rob Ford, departed the city's municipal building for what he would later describe as more pressing matters. He had to coach to a football game.
“It was a semifinal football game,” Ford said of the Nov. 1, 2012 match-up between his Don Bosco High School Eagles and the rival Carr Crusaders. “It’s the playoffs, we’re undefeated, we’re No. 2 in the city. We’re in the championship game.”
But the events that would ensue over the hours to come – perhaps more incisively than anything else in Ford’s portfolio of indiscretions, antics, lewdness and possibly even criminal behavior – foreshadowed what the embattled city was in for in late 2013.
According to various media reports, Ford’s Eagles trounced the opposing Crusaders, amassing a five-touchdown lead by the fourth quarter. The referee in the contest even invoked the mercy rule after the Crusaders’ coach confronted him concerning a call, the particulars of which remain lost to history.
With the game over early -- around 3:40 p.m., according to CBC News -- the weather rainy and cold and the charter bus that was to shuttle the Eagles back to Don Bosco not due until 4:30 p.m., Ford, as many Canadian media accounts have since characterized his actions on that day, apparently invoked executive privilege.
The Toronto Star reports a call was placed at 3:42 p.m. to the Toronto Transit Commission by one of the eight police officers present at the conclusion of the game to re-route a city bus to Father Henry Carr Football Field in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke – the site of the contest- in order to provide emergency shelter for the Eagles.
Several sources told The Star the situation in no way required such a bus-borne refuge for Ford’s players.
“It was never that serious to get a TTC bus,” a Carr player reportedly said in reference to the mayor’s contention a brawl between the teams seemed, at that point, inevitable. “There wasn't a need to get a bus.”
“Catholic school board spokesperson John Yan has repeatedly said that the cold and wet weather was the only reason the bus was called; the players, he said, were ‘exemplary,’” The Star wrote. “Another police spokesperson, Const. Tony Vella, also said the weather was the primary factor. And Brian Riddell, executive secretary for the Toronto District Catholic Athletic Association, said that there was, ‘no confrontation between the two teams whatsoever.’”
Regardless, police called the TTC with the officer reportedly telling Transit Control, “The football teams – I guess things may have gotten out of hand and they separated them but they need to get them shelter and out of the way.”
But apparently Ford wasn't content.
The Star reports he twice phoned TTC Chief Executive Andy Byford’s cell phone at some point before 3:51 p.m. Byford later described the first conversation, which wasn't recorded, as “garbled.” The second call, in which Ford left a voice mail, was reportedly, “deleted and (could not) be retrieved from the server.”
By 3:50 p.m., TTC Transit Control was ordering bus driver Carol Holgate to throw 50 riders off her Finch West bus so she could head to the field to pick up Ford’s team.
“I can’t,” transcripts show an exasperated Holgate replied to the dispatcher. “I have a full bus. Do you want these people to lynch me?”
“Why me?” Holgate continued after the dispatcher proved intransigent on the point of her reluctance. “Why you pick my bus? Can’t I refuse?”
“No,” the TTC dispatcher reportedly replied. “It’s a shelter (bus), it’s an emergency, we have to do it right away.”
However, while Holgate’s angry passengers debarked the detoured bus– and the bus driver headed to Father Henry Carr Football Field, the TTC re-routed a second city bus at 3:55 p.m. to Ford’s location for good measure.
According to The Star, “While an official TTC statement said the second bus was dispatched because the first got lost, the transcript shows that the second bus was actually sent to the scene before Holgate struggled briefly to find the team.”
Holgate arrived first, picked up the Eagles and shuttled them back to Don Bosco. By 4:35 p.m., or as The Star put it, “45 minutes after she was unwittingly drawn into the world of Rob Ford,” she was ordered back her regular duties.
In the days that followed, a TTC spokesman told CBC News his agency – on average - receives two such requests from police or fire fighters during any given week for a shelter bus, and usually to provide a safe haven following a fire or evacuation.
But while the TTC does occasionally provide such help, The Star reports it almost never – if ever – provides free shuttle service.
This point was borne out by the utter disbelief of one of Holgate’s colleagues when The Star obtained transcripts of her communications with her depot from that day.
“So we did a chartered run for them?” the shocked co-worker asked after she regaled him about her bizarre adventure to a football game.
“You gotta be – okay, that’s interesting…I don’t understand that, hang on a second," the colleague said before returning from an aside with another TTC worker to incredulously ask Holgate, "The police demanded a shelter bus for a school…then they had our bus drive them over to another school? What’s that about?”