When a well-known public figure dies, the accepted convention is for everyone, whether they loved or hated that figure (or felt something in between), to uncritically salute their passing; after all, they were a human being, just like the rest of us, and we should express our sympathies, while waiting a “respectful interval” before referring to that public figure’s flaws and misdeeds.
I’ve never subscribed to this sanctimonious convention, for several reasons: first, though I too would consider it highly insensitive to crash a private funeral service and rant about the shortcomings of the recently deceased, it’s very different to consider the case of a very public figure who had a very public impact upon millions of people. In fact, it would be unethical for anyone’s public statement on that figure’s passing to neglect the negative aspects of that person’s public legacy. Secondly, during that “respectful interval” before critical assessments are published, the entire field of discourse about that public figure is ceded to their fervent supporters, allowing a glowing revisionist slant to take root in the media and the public discourse. Within days, this whitewashing becomes the accepted version of events, and by the time critics finally wait for that “respectful interval” to pass, their truthful reminders are overshadowed by the myth that has firmly taken hold. I witnessed this phenomenon when Ronald Reagan died and was instantly transformed into a saint, to cite but one example.
So, I won’t begrudge the family and friends of Rob Ford their sincere remembrance of his life, but as a citizen of Toronto (and a prominent online satirist of Ford) I consider it my duty to provide, for the public sphere, an honest obituary of Rob Ford, who was not only a disastrous mayor, but also a liar, a bully, an abuser, and an all-around horrible person. He doesn’t deserve our compassion because he refused to ever learn from his wrongdoing, instead blaming everyone else, and because he showed so little compassion for anyone who didn’t belong to his small coterie of supporters. Everyone else was a target for his intolerant wrath: people who lived in the old city of Toronto, bicyclists (whom he blamed entirely for their own traffic fatalities), journalists, members of unions, homosexuals, civil servants, police chiefs… and all substance abusers other than himself. He once publicly proclaimed that crack smokers should be jailed, and even as his own drug-abuse scandal unfolded he railed against a proposal for safe-injection sites, which he claimed, without irony, would “set a bad example”.
Ten years ago, when he was a city councillor, a drunken Rob Ford caused such a disturbance at a Maple Leafs game that he had to be removed by security. A couple visiting from out of town received the brunt of his abuse, as he shrieked things like “How would you like your little wife to be raped and shot in Iran?” to them. While he could be forgiven for this misbehaviour (after all, he’s not the first person to be an obnoxious drunk at a sporting event), what he did next cannot be forgiven. Two days after the game, he was confronted by National Post reporters who’d gotten wind of this incident when they learned of a complaint filed by that visiting couple to the city clerk. Ford, presumably not drunk at the time, insisted to the media that it wasn’t him, he wasn’t even at that game, and that the couple must be lying. The following day, he reluctantly admitted the truth, but a pattern was established that he would repeatedly follow for the rest of his life: when caught doing something wrong, he would first deny it, and call his accusers liars, until his own lie could no longer be sustained, at which point he would begrudgingly own up to his own actions, while lashing out at anyone who mentioned it. This despicable modus operandi would be repeated on the 2010 campaign trail, when he denied that he’d ever been charged with drug possession in a 1999 Florida drunk-driving incident, and most famously when he denied for six whole months that he’d been caught on video smoking crack with violent street-gang members. For those six months, Ford continually accused reporters who’d seen the video of lying, until eventually when the police recovered the video, he finally admitted to smoking crack, and claimed that his six months of lying was the fault of reporters who “hadn’t asked the right question”.
One has to wonder: if the police hadn't ever found that video, would he have continued to lie about it, right to his deathbed?
Nor was Ford’s propensity to lie about anything and everything limited to his personal misconduct: he also routinely told whoppers about his policies and mayoral accomplishments. The most notable lie, repeated endlessly by him and his brother Doug during the 2014 municipal campaign, was that Ford, as mayor, had “saved the city a billion dollars”. That figure has been disputed by everyone other than the Fords, and the person best qualified to know the answer, former City Manager Joe Pennachetti asserted in a Toronto Life interview, “Unequivocally, he did not save tax dollars of a billion dollars.”
Rob Ford’s conduct was so egregious that he was served a libel notice after accusing a reporter of being a pedophile on a TV interview. At first, Rob stuck to his guns and wouldn’t retract his foul accusation, until the deadline of the libel notice was about to expire, then in a classic weaselly move, he had his lawyer issue a written retraction, but didn’t bother to publicly vocalize it. To this day, many of his supporters continue to parrot that accusation, seemingly unaware that Ford did in fact retract it. And Ford made no further effort to enlighten them on that point. Shakespeare wrote "the evil that men do lives after them", so we must not only remember Ford's words and deeds when he was alive, but also his poisonous effect on the city and its civic discourse. He deliberately pitted different factions and regions within the city against each other, emboldened his supporters to flaunt their bigotry and threaten others with violence (much as we now see occurring at Donald Trump rallies), and propagated so many falsehoods about everything from transit strategies to what's in the city budget, that even now it is difficult to have rational and informed discussions about these matters.
In the past year, as his condition worsened, media coverage has shifted into a more sympathetic mode, with all his nastiness reduced to the mere adjective “controversial”, and sympathetic columnists portraying him as a brave fighter and man of the people who’d been mistreated during his mayoralty by a rabid media out to “smear” him (to this day, many Ford supporters remain convinced that the proven facts of his misbehaviour are nothing but a massive “smear job”, which of course is utter nonsense). That’s why it’s more important than ever to remind everyone of the truth about Rob Ford. If at any time he had shown genuine remorse about his actions, or accepted responsibility for how he’d vilified other people, or actually tried to learn from his mistakes and improve himself, then I wouldn’t feel obliged to write this sort of obituary. But right to the end, Rob Ford refused to change, and even in his final year as a mostly-absentee councillor, he continued his practice of trying to disrupt council meetings, blindly voting against any and every motion, and submitting articles to newspapers full of hyperbolic attacks against the current mayor (along with all the usual suspects).
Undoubtedly some will criticize me for being so "classless" as to publish this eulogy the day of Ford's death (which, ironically, perfectly suits the subject), but I consider it a sincere and principled response to the glut of revisionist coverage that saturates the media (and social media) today. Though I may lose some friends, and some people's respect, for doing this, I refuse to stand by and remain silent while Ford's horrendous legacy is whitewashed and downplayed. It's all the more important to speak up about this when the current deputy mayor of Toronto says "you need a guy like him at city hall". Some will agree with me about Ford being odious, but will tell me I should at least have some respect for his family, as they suffer this loss; to which I would reply that it's highly doubtful, really, that they'd ever read this article (and honestly I hope they don't). Yes, it's a terrible way for anyone to go, and certainly I wouldn't wish such suffering on anyone, but from a public perspective, it is hypocritical to mark Ford's passing by ignoring all his malicious conduct towards thousands of other people. Indeed, it's impossible not to speak of Rob Ford without reference to his all-encompassing hypocrisy.
One of Ford’s most jarring hypocrisies, given his condition, was his rejection of public healthcare: “I don’t believe in all this public-funded healthcare,” he said. “If you want healthcare, you pay for it.” To my knowledge, Ford never publicly revised his stand on this issue, and there’s been no hint that the Ford family intends to repay taxpayers for the costs of his medical treatment. This, above all, really sums up who Rob Ford truly was: a spoiled rich guy who rejected public healthcare until he needed it himself, while still wanting to deny that same treatment to other cancer victims. Let that be his epitaph.
written by Richard Feren