POLITICS

Toronto police deny Ford played role in city bus picking up football team

11/06/2012 03:34 EST | Updated 01/06/2013 05:12 EST
TORONTO - Toronto police say Rob Ford was not a factor in an officer's decision to call a public transit bus to pick up the mayor's high school football team after an on-turf dispute last week ended a game early.

Supt. Ron Taverner said Tuesday that a sergeant at the match was worried of a possible physical confrontation between the players while Ford's side waited for their school bus to arrive.

"At no time was the mayor involved in any of the decision-making with regards to a bus being called. It was our officer, our sergeant who made that decision out of community safety concerns," he said.

He said the sergeant — there with four constables — was earlier informed by officials from both schools that the rival squads were in the midst of a beef dating back to a game two weeks before.

Taverner said that concern was amplified after the referee suspended the game over an argument with the coach of the team Ford's Don Bosco Eagles were playing, breaking up the players.

He said tensions were running "relatively high" and school officials were concerned the referee-coach dispute could spill over into a scuffle between the players.

"There was concern from both administrations that it could get out of control," Taverner said.

"When the referee called the game... that's when the police stepped in and had to kind of quell the situation."

With the Ford school bus still up to an hour away, the sergeant made a call for a Toronto Transit Commission "shelter bus," Taverner said.

The TTC summoned an active bus — kicking passengers off the vehicle — to go collect the Ford team.

But when the bus failed to show up after 20 minutes, Ford placed a follow-up call to TTC chief Andy Byford in an effort to assist police, the mayor said on Monday.

Ford denied any involvement in the bus rerouting.

Byford said at a separate news conference Tuesday that an initial call from Ford was "garbled" by poor cellular reception but he made out that the mayor was referring to a request for a bus to prevent "a potential brawl."

He then received a voicemail message from Ford seeking an update on the bus request by police, leading Byford to check in with the TTC before calling the mayor back.

"I phoned my (transit) control, they said the bus was five minutes away and I conveyed that back to him," he said, adding he told Ford there was "no way" a bus would be sent on the mayor's call alone.

Byford apologized to the riders turfed from the buses.

He said the protocol that allows emergency services to call in a shelter bus has been reviewed and will remain in place.

"If they ask us for a shelter bus I don't think it's right that we should challenge them on it. They are professionals. They know what they're doing and I think that we should always accommodate such requests."