Meanwhile up the street at 23 Division, as many as 50 officers were gathered in the station’s back boardroom for a final briefing.
In less than an hour, Project Traveller would be under way. Toronto police would descend on the six towers lining the north side of Dixon Rd., just east of Kipling Ave.
The nearby Rexdale home of Muhammad Khattak — one of three men pictured in a photo with Mayor Rob Ford outside a suspected crack den — would also be hit. So would locations in Windsor and Edmonton.
It would be the end of a year-long investigation in which, according to multiple law enforcement sources, Toronto police came to learn about a cellphone video of Mayor Rob Ford appearing to smoke crack cocaine weeks before the Star reported two of its reporters had seen the footage.
The Star deployed reporters and photographers across north Etobicoke to document the raid. Teams were located at the 320-330-340 Dixon Rd. cluster and the sister buildings of 370-380-390. Other reporters were circling the neighbourhood, stationed outside 23 Division, at Khattak’s residence and on Ford’s street.
By lunchtime, police had arrested 43 people, seized 40 firearms and confiscated $3 million worth of drugs. At a noon news conference, Chief Bill Blair was asked about the mayor’s connection to the case.
“All of the evidence has been secured and it will come out in court where it belongs,” Blair said. “We will not jeopardize this case.”
Teams of police have already left 23 Division.
With an hour to go, six officers on motorcycles block the corner of Islington Ave. and Dixon Rd. Another three riders circle the neighbourhood.
Their headlights dark, about 10 cruisers silently speed down Kipling Ave. Three unmarked cars pull up from the west. A marked cruiser has now parked in every driveway facing the towers.
Minutes before 5 a.m. — with the laughter from the 12th floor balcony still the only sound echoing around the block — an endless convoy of police cars and white Budget rental trucks move in.
320-330-340 Dixon Rd.
A dozen white cube trucks, cruisers and unmarked cars spill in from the rear entrance and the front, circling the thin laneway that connects the three buildings. Cars race into the underground parking. The back doors of the Budget trucks are open before the vehicles stop and officers dressed in riot gear leap into formation. In less than 15 seconds, the near-deserted lot is swarming with at least 80 officers.
They march in packs on the towers — the majority toward 320 — wearing grey military-style uniforms, black vests, helmets, and knee pads. Many cover their lower faces with black masks.
Minutes later, a percussion grenade explodes. A woman screams. More shouting. Dark windows light up as residents climb out of bed to investigate.
Then — “boom” — another blast.
The police raid at least six units in 320, one in 330 and three in 340. As many as six people are taken into custody from this cluster. An elderly woman living on the eighth floor in 340 — whose unit is raided and where police use a flashbang grenade — is taken to hospital, says a neighbour watching the unit. Officers seize all the household cellphones and electronics, according to several families.
On the second floor of 320 Dixon, Albert Chaudry sits on his couch and weeps. Bits of particle board from his door are scattered across the carpet and a black grenade burn mark, about the size of a pizza box, has stained his white kitchen floor.
“It’s very humiliating to me. I’m not a gangster,” he sobs, tears dripping down his cheeks. “This is like killing a person for nothing.”
Police were looking for items that belonged to his nephew, who is currently in jail. But officers still handcuffed Chaudry, he says, and held him for two hours.
On the 21st floor of 320 Dixon, unit 2102’s doorknob dangles from the frame. The wood along the side of the door is splintered.
Akbar Maghsoudi, 75, lives next door to one of the raided apartments.
Maghsoudi says he gets up every day to feed the homeless cats outside. Today he opened his door and there was “a machine-gun pointed at me.”
Officers ordered him to get back inside. The entire hallway was full, he says, “at least 10 or 15.”
Maghsoudi has lived at 320 Dixon for 30 years. He says he doesn’t know his neighbours well, but that they get along fine.
“I don’t interfere. Everyone has visitors. That’s not my business. I ask them not to bother me outside my door and they don’t.”
370-380-390 Dixon Rd.
At the neighbouring cluster, police train their attention on one address: 390 Dixon Rd.
At 5:55 a.m., officers walk one handcuffed young man wearing sweatpants, a T-shirt and loafers to a waiting squad car.
Two hours after police made their entrance, plainclothes officers remove cardboard boxes of evidence from the building. One officer carries a computer tower under his arm, another a sledgehammer over his shoulder.
As police search the fourth-floor apartment belonging to Monir Kassim’s family, the 20-year-old paces toward the entrance of his highrise building.
His black shirt is wet from rain. His eyes, wide and alert.
It’s around 6 a.m. Police began their raids an hour earlier, and Kassim is among their targets.
Despite telling Star reporters two days earlier he was under house arrest, Kassim wasn’t where officers expected to find him.
“I’m doing all right,” he tells the Star before jogging off toward Dixon Rd.
Kassim is arrested a short time later outside a nearby coffee shop.
As officers put him in the cruiser, he yells, “All this for breach of probation?”
Upstairs in his family home, Kassim’s mother stands beside a crescent-shaped crater left in her front door from a police battering ram.
She says her son spent most of his adolescence in Egypt, travelling there at the start of high school and returning in December 2012.
“He was a wonderful kid. He wasn’t even in Canada for the past three years. He just came back. I took him away from this country — I moved myself to Egypt.”
She says Kassim didn’t complete high school in Canada but was working toward his GED.
“I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know what’s happening. We never had any police problems before with him,” she says.
“Of course I’m scared,” she says. “They kicked in my door. This has never happened in my life.”
She says her husband and son sat handcuffed with the family in the living room for an hour and a half while police scoured the apartment. Her 4-year-old and 2½-year-old wailed.
“It’s like a nightmare. You’re dreaming and the door just —” she stops abruptly, slapping the dent where the battering ram hit her door just hours earlier.
The mayor’s house
While tactical police units smash down doors in the Dixon Rd. towers, the residents of Edenbridge Dr. sleep quietly in their beds.
At 8:45 a.m., Mayor Rob Ford swiftly walks out his front door toward his black Cadillac Escalade parked in the driveway.
Star journalists have waited for Ford to leave his house so they can ask what he knew about the raids taking place at buildings linked to a video that appears to show him smoking crack.
He responds in quick, repetitive bursts.
Q: “Mayor Ford, Toronto Star. What do you know about the raids that are happening at Dixon Rd today?”
Ford: “No idea what you are talking about.”
Q: “Mayor, have you spoken to the police about the raids at Dixon Rd?”
Ford: “No, I haven’t.”
Q: “Do you have anything to say to the citizens of Toronto about that?”
Ford: “No idea what you are talking about.”
Q: “Are you going to be at the (police) press conference?”
Ford doesn’t answer. Then he drives off.
Muhammad Khattak’s house
Shortly before 7 a.m., plainclothes officers move in on Khattak’s bungalow carrying empty bags. Five officers leave around 7:30 a.m., one with a file-folder type brown box. Others carry clear plastic evidence bags. One appears to contain a Toshiba laptop.
Lights go out and a lock clicks shut as the Star approaches the front door. No one replies to questions asked through holes in broken glass panes.