When Oakville’s Paul Benoit, a stay-at-home dad formerly of Toronto, donned a Mayor Rob Ford mask he bought at Malabar’s costume store for $26, he dived straight into the deep end: the mayor’s re-election campaign office in Scarborough.
Toronto Police say an altercation ensued, with the accused allegedly kicking a camera out of Benoit’s hand, and escalated outside the office.
Some of this is shown in shaky YouTube footage.
The altercation continued beyond what the video shows, with police alleging Benoit was punched in the face.
The men continued to fight, “until they were stopped by people in the area,” police said, adding Benoit’s microphone was allegedly taken from him. Benoit was initially arrested in the incident, then released.
Ford campaign worker William Byers, 60, has been charged with assault, mischief and theft, police said. He is set to appear in court Oct. 7.
Wednesday night, before Byers was charged, Ford communications director, Jeff Silverstein, relayed his sense of the event.
“My understanding is that (Benoit) did get into the office on three occasions. He returned a third time, and at that point he was escorted out,” Silverstein said. “On being escorted out, just outside of the office he assaulted a volunteer.
“He was punched, I believe, in the stomach. He fell to the ground and bumped his head. My understanding is he’s OK.”
The Star is continuing to seek comment from the campaign Thursday.
The Star spoke to Benoit, 43, about what followed his dramatic entrance and the resulting YouTube video that he says aided in his release from police custody. The following is his edited and condensed account of events, which have not been proved in court.
What were your intentions?
It was for humour. Jimmy Kimmel would probably think it’s pretty funny.
What kind of response have you received from posting the video?
A lot of comments stating “Way to go, you did the right thing.” And then a whole bunch of negative comments, almost menacing comments.
The video stops suddenly at 40 seconds. Can you explain what happened after the video cuts out?
Basically, the gentleman, the Ford campaigner, kicked my hands and kicked the camera out of my hands. The camera went flying 15 feet in the air and then it landed on the sidewalk behind four Rob Ford staffers. At which point, when I got hit, I was like, “OK I need to defend myself and I need to protect myself and I need to get my property.” So that’s when fists started flying.
What did you want to happen when you entered the office?
I was just looking for a funny reaction short term personal loan. I was not expecting any kind of violence. I was expecting somebody to come up to me and say, “Hey you can’t be filming in here, you gotta go,” at which point I would have been like, “OK, no problem, sorry about that.”
I like to call the style of journalism that I do “Hunter S. Thompson style journalism.” I want to tell a story in a funny way, in a clever way, and in an intelligent way. I don’t want to be stupid, I don’t want to be violent … I want to let the story tell itself, which it clearly did yesterday.
What kind of damage was there to your equipment?
My camera was smashed and damaged. My microphone was stolen, which is why he’s being charged with theft as well. I have a 1200 HD camera which has been kicked and smashed into the cement.
Were you surprised by the response?
Oh yeah, I was not expecting any kind of violence. When I was hit, I went into defensive mode. I needed to get that camera back. The story would be totally different if my footage had not been released, and if the police had not seen my footage. If my camera was destroyed, I would be sitting in jail right now and I would be looking for a lawyer to defend myself against being assaulted.
You’ve been to Ford events before, stood outside his office with reporters — have you had confrontations before?
No, but I would like an apology from Rob and Doug Ford for their campaign workers’ activities yesterday. I would like an apology in person and in writing. If Rob and Doug Ford want to sit down and have a conversation about this, I’d be more than happy to do that.
Some people might say you were irresponsible or “asking for it” — how would you respond to that?
A lot of people have said that online today, that “You got what you deserved.” You know what, nobody deserves to be assaulted. Nobody deserves to be hit. I didn’t want anything to escalate like it did, but it did, and now there are consequences. I think I’ve done more damage to Rob Ford’s campaign than any single person. I think every single person in Toronto that wants Rob Ford to resign owes me a Heineken right now. So that’s like 5 million beers.
How long have you been in Oakville?
I moved to Oakville one crack video ago, after the first crack video was released.