Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale emerged from an interview with police on Thursday maintaining he did nothing wrong despite Mayor Rob Ford’s claim that he was peering over his backyard fence and spying on him.
Ford is considering legal action after the alleged trespassing incident, but Dale maintains he was on public property the whole time and was merely doing his job when the mayor charged him with a cocked fist.
The award-winning journalist was admittedly shaken after the confrontation outside Ford’s Etobicoke home on Wednesday around 7:30 p.m.
He claims he was trying to gather information for a story on Ford’s request to buy a piece of land adjacent to his home. Ford said he wants to buy the land to expand his property and build a better security fence.
“I didn’t peer…never made any attempt to look in windows to see people. I had no interest in talking to the mayor’s family, talking to neighbours, talking to anybody,” Dale stressed. “I wanted to see this plot of trees and grass, see a fence and get out of there.”
The mayor said a neighbour alerted him after seeing Dale standing on a cinder block, peering over his backyard fence and taking pictures.
“When I leave my driveway … I’m fair game, but nobody — nobody’s going to come here and try and intimidate my family and start taking pictures of my backyard or my family. That’s just harassment,” Ford said earlier on AM640.
“Enough is enough,” the mayor fumed. “It’s the safety of my family first. I have two young kids, my son and my daughter here. My wife’s here…What’s your first instinct? I want to catch this person.”
“If I have to I’ll press charges.”
Dale said he did take a few pictures of Ford’s fence because it was relevant to his story, but denied any allegations of spying following his interview with 22 Division detectives.
“I never saw cinder blocks on this public parcel of land,” he said. “I stood on nothing but grass the whole time. I never peered over the fence. I never made an attempt to look over the fence.”
Police are reviewing Wednesday evening’s security footage taken at Ford’s home.
“He charged with a fist cocked at his head as if he wanted to punch me,” Dale added. “I yelled for help repeatedly…I was frightened. The mayor seemed extremely agitated. I’ve never been in a fight in my life.”
The rattled reporter said he dropped his gear, including a cellphone and voice recorder, and took off running.
“You have someone in your backyard peeking over you fence – lucky I never hit him,” Ford added.
The incident has further strained an already frigid relationship between the mayor and The Star.
Ford refuses to speak to Star reporters because of a story published in 2010 about a football coaching incident at a North York school. Wednesday night’s incident may now also affect other journalists on the city hall beat. Ford — who’s already known for his limited media availability — declared on Thursday that he won’t speak to reporters in scrums if Dale is present.
Dale said he will continue to cover the action at city hall.
“I’m optimistic that despite this and despite the mayor’s anger, that this will fade like all political stories and we can have respectful interaction moving forward.”
The Toronto Star is standing behind its reporter.
“[Dale] was not trespassing. He was on public land, he tells us, and we trust our reporter explicitly in this one, that he was about 10 metres … away from the back fence,” Toronto Star spokesman Bob Hepburn told CityNews.
Hepburn also denied any suggestion that the paper has a vendetta against Ford.
“This isn’t true,” he said. “We are not stalking. We have not stalked him or harassed him or his family.”
The Star sent a reporter to Huntsville last summer after the mayor said he wouldn’t attend the Pride parade because he was spending time at his family’s cottage in Muskoka. The Ford brothers have accused Star reporters of not only following them but also their mother in the past.
This wasn’t the first time the mayor has been involved in a dust-up with members of the media.
Last October, Ford called 911 after Mary Walsh of CBC’s satirical show, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, “ambushed” him in his driveway.
On Thursday night The Star posted the following cartoon on its website, poking fun at Ford.