Law & Order Toronto recap: Crack pipes, politicians and plenty of shady dealings

Law & Order Toronto recap: Crack pipes, politicians and plenty of shady dealings

A very Toronto breakdown of episode four, “Crack Reporter”

Kathleen Munroe in Law and Order Toronto

In Toronto’s war on crime, the worst offenders are pursued by the detectives of a specialized criminal investigations unit. Now, some of those investigations are getting the television treatment with Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intenta new, super-local and somewhat verbosely titled expansion of the famous franchise, now airing on CityTV.

Though each story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event, many of the cases and places on screen will feel familiar to Canadian true-crime fans. But will they pass muster with the people who know the city best? Once again, we’re weighing the evidence, consulting the experts and issuing a verdict on what the show got right and wrong about Toronto and the IRL headlines behind each episode.

This week—at last!—the long-rumoured, eagerly anticipated Rob Ford episode that was hinted at in a series trailer back in January. “People kept tagging me on Twitter when that came out,” says Robyn Doolittle, the former Toronto Star investigative journalist who uncovered the crack smoking video with her colleague Kevin Donovan. Now a corporate law reporter at the Globe and Mail, Doolittle joins us for this week’s recap, taking a break from her busy schedule that no longer includes staking out strip clubs.

Episode four takes us back to an era that sounds too bonkers to be true: a controversial but wildly popular mayor gets caught smoking crack on video, denies the whole thing before blaming it on his “drunken stupors,” and goes on to run for re-election. The episode hits all of these beats with character Craig McCreigh as the mayor, a populist with a strong voter base. “The people of this city love his rough and tumble ways,” Inspector Holness tells Graff and Batemanwhich is an understatement (+3).

The actor who plays the mayor in Law and Order Toronto

The actor in the Ford role is short, wiry and swarthy, bearing almost no physical resemblance to the man himself, who died of cancer in 2016. “I’m glad they didn’t cast someone who looks exactly like him—that can be a distraction,” Doolittle says. (Remember Damian Lewis in that godawful fat suit?) And yet, the performance has an unmistakably Fordian essence. “He really nailed that Ford confidence,” Doolittle says. “Like, I can do whatever I want and I’ve got my base and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.” (+3).

Tatiana Wynn is a young journalist who works at the city’s most prestigious media outlet, Toronto Life magazine (ahem [+3]). She is super ambitious and totally obsessed with work, and she doesn’t have time to blow-dry. “They definitely got my top knot right—the classic woman reporter on the go, just throwing your hair up,” says Doolittle (+2). Seeing Tatiana eat, sleep and breathe her job took Doolittle back a decade. “I would show up at city hall at 8 a.m. and leave 12 hours later” (+3).

At one point, we hear that Tatiana specializes in “stories that piss people off,” which Doolittle would like to see rephrased as stories that piss the right people off. “Holding power to account is the highest calling. My goal was to go after stories that are important” (-2).

Tatiana is working on a bunch of important stories. She recently “broke the story on the police promotion scandal,” says Graff.  She’s “not the chief’s favourite person, but an annoyingly good journalist,” says Holness (+2). Now she’s looking into the Kingsway Social Housing Project as well as the Eglinton Crosstown “boondoggle”—both excellent Toronto references (+2).

Related: Law & Order Toronto episode three—paint brushes and poisonings

A mysterious bubble-wrapped package has arrived on Tatiana’s desk with a video inside, and it’s all she can think about. This is a big scoop. Big enough, she promises, that her boss is going to take her for “drinks at the Four Seasons” as soon as she locks it down—probably because they’ve been “screwing since the fall.” Sigh. “I know that it’s part of a story, but I wish that just once we had a female reporter in a movie or TV show who wasn’t having sex with her editor or her source,” Doolittle says. It feels like a worn-out trope and doesn’t have anything to do with the murder (-3).

As for drinks nestled in Toronto’s bougiest banquets? “There is no way journalists would ever meet at the Four Seasons. In our world, the darker, the dingier, the better,” says Doolittle (-4).

Tatiana goes to meet a source at Union Station, and we see her walking through the SkyWalk. But the bridge connects Union to the Rogers Centre, and we’re pretty sure she wasn’t coming from a Blue Jays game (-2). Either way, it’s a trap. Tatiana is murdered in an alarmingly violent fashion when her assailant comes up behind her and slashes her throat. “I definitely received some serious threats while I was on the Ford story,” Doolittle says. “I think we ended up going to the police about two different incidents that were more than just your typical people being rude on the internet” (+2).

Tatianna having her throat slit

What was it like to watch her alter ego get murdered? “On the one hand, it’s kind of fun and it’s entertainment. But, on the other hand, journalists around the globe are being murdered, targeted and harassed for the work that they do, which is not funny at all.” This means Tatiana’s death is both tragic and plausible (+2). “I’m just glad they didn’t push me in front of the subway,” says Doolittle. “I didn’t want the TTC to take me out.” Speaking of…

When Bateman and Graff arrive at the crime scene, they’re under the impression that they’re dealing with yet another victim of a somewhat recent rash of transit violence, a depressingly accurate flick at a very Toronto reality (+3). But, wait—her throat has been cut with military precision, and the bad guy made off with her laptop. When the victim is identified as star journalist Tatiana Wynn, our investigators realize that whoever killed her was using the subway attacks as cover. “This guy knew what he was doing,” Graff says. Though not enough to avoid the SkyWalk security cameras, which is kind of Murder 101 (-2).

Graff and Bateman visit Tatiana’s Seaton Village apartment, which is totally where she would live and a possible shout-out to Meghan Markle (+2). They find her secret hard drive, eventually landing on a folder called “Mayor,” which is Fort Knox–level encrypted. “I wasn’t using encryption in 2013, but I would put the more sensitive stuff on a drive that I would keep hidden,” Doolittle says (+3).

What about the mayor? Graff and Bateman aren’t sure yet. But the secret file is enough to take them down to city hall to question Toronto’s top bureaucrat, who doesn’t think much of Tatiana: “Relentless do-gooder, woke as hell, up my ass every time I take a breath,” Mayor McCreigh tells Graff and Bateman when they ask if he knew the victim. It’s a level of contempt that feels on-point to Doolittle. “The word woke wasn’t in the cultural lexicon in 2013, but I guess the Toronto Star definitely had a reputation of being left-wing. I think there was a time when both Rob and Doug considered me a giant pain in the ass” (+4).

McCreigh referring to the police as “the boys in blue” while being interviewed by a woman police officer is so perfectly Fordian (+2). Bonus points for Bateman’s subtly but definitely clenched jaw (+1).

There’s a murder to solve, but also, it’s election season! And yes, the scenes that look like city hall’s council chambers are actually city hall’s council chambers. The L&OT crew shot at night to avoid disrupting the wheels of democracy. “Seeing the real council chamber definitely made it feel like Toronto,” says Doolittle of the unique spaceship-style space (+3). Mayor McCreigh’s two biggest competitors are Liz Harding, a lefty idealist with an affordable housing agenda, and John Graham, a pro-business dealmaker who wants to sell off public housing to developers to put money in the city’s coffers. These characters feel like a pretty good representation of the city’s political spectrum (+4), and also a thinly veiled homage to Olivia Chow and John Tory, Ford’s main competitors in the 2014 election. 

The detectives inside Toronto city hall

Council is in session, but the mayor is late. Graham thinks he’s “probably sleeping off a hangover.” Harding says he could be “coaching hockey.” Both are fairly overt and accurate Ford references (+3). 

Graham is a city councillor with four sons at UCC and a spouse who works in the non-profit sector. This is not a good look for his mayoral campaign. “Our kids should be in public school in my ward,” he tells his wife. Financially, this is a stretch (-2). (Unless, of course, he’s accepting bribes from a bunch of shady developers…but we’re not there yet.)

At last, we learn what was on Tatiana’s hard drive. The whole city watches the crack video air on a breaking update from CityTV News. In it, we see McCreigh take a huge hit off a crack pipe while proclaiming, “Hey, man, nobody’s gonna tell me what to do. I’m the goddamn mayor.” It’s a little more succinct than Rob Ford’s real-life anti-Trudeau rant, but the spirit is there (+2). At first, McCreigh tells the cops that the video was shot two years ago, before he went to rehab, but when that doesn’t hold, he admits to being a regular at a bar on Tuesday nights, where he goes to get his drink on and escape the pressures of political life. These weekly benders seem to be an open secret in political circles, not unlike what Ford infamously referred to as his “drunken stupors” (+2). 

Graff tells McCreigh that this video is going to get in the way of his re-election campaign. “No it won’t. My base is strong,” McCreigh answers. So was Ford’s. A May 2013 poll following the scandal had him tied with Olivia Chow at 36 per cent support (+3).

The actor who pays a character inspired by Rob Ford

In classic populist politico fashion, McCreigh calls the crack video “fake news.” While the language is more 2024 than 2013, Dolittle says demonizing the media is something the Fords did constantly. “They would frame the Star as a political opponent to cast shadows on our reporting” (+3).

Okay, so McCreigh smokes a little crack and seems to have a serious drinking problem, but is he a murderer? That’s the theory Graff and Bateman are running with—until they get a closer look at the video. They see a reflection and identify the person as Aldo Carbone of Carbone Construction. So maybe Tatiana’s big story was not just about the crack-smoking mayor but also about who was setting him up. This opens up the list of possible suspects—and reflects what happened back in 2013. “When people talk about what happened, it’s usually framed as this high-profile politician with an addiction issue, but there was also the big public-interest part of the story,” says Doolittle. “Ford’s behaviour opened him up to being blackmailed and influenced” (+4).

Aldo Carbone and the gang hang out at a pub called Gavigan’s. Points for shooting in what appears to be Scotland Yard, an Esplanade pub that is the home base for the city’s English football fans (Go Spurs! [+1])). Graff and Bateman show the bartender a picture of Tatiana, and it turns out she stopped in a couple of weeks before, looking for our favourite crack-video-shooting construction guy, Carbone. She sat at the bar for a couple of hours and drank soda water, which is how investigative journalists often spend their time. “I can’t tell you how many bars and strip clubs I hung out at because I had received a tip that Ford might be there. I used to try to get my guy friends to come along,” Doolittle says (+3).

Carbone turns up dead at the bottom of his construction pit, and now the cops’ theory that Tatiana’s murder is tied to the development community becomes more than just a hunch. The Rob Ford story was about drug dealers and organized crime, but in the L&OT universe, it comes down to fat-cat developers making behind-the-scenes deals with ethically compromised politicians. Sound familiar? (+4).

An impromptu press conference erupts beside the Toronto sign when candidates Harding and Graham are questioned about the crack video. Harding won’t comment on the mayor’s drug use but seizes the moment to talk about affordable housing, which is a very Olivia Chow thing to do (+4). Graham positions Harding’s refusal to comment as some kind of failure of leadership, telling the media that “a vote for Liz Harding is a vote for Cracky McCreigh.” Points for the insensitive nickname (+2) and because this is exactly the kind of nonsensical political sound bite that somehow wins votes (+3).

One of the candidates standing outside the Toronto sign

The cops visit Graham after we learn about his connection to Aldo Carbone. It turns out that our pro-business candidate has been running his own side hustle, accepting bribes to fast-track permits (so that’s how he’s paying for UCC [+2]). But he says he didn’t kill Tatiana. “I have an alibi,” he tells the cops while holding up what looks like a pretty easily fabricated iCal that our usually intrepid investigators somehow let slide (-2).

At the big debate, the candidates are trading barbs on the city’s major issues. “It’s easy to say we need more affordable housing. I need the Leafs to win the cup,” says Mayor McCreigh, who has implausibly managed to steer the conversation away from his crack-smoking video, which came out yesterday (-2). Candidate Harding tells voters that she is “not here to look at my face on a screen or name a street after myself.” Her Kingsway Social Housing Project went through when the mayor didn’t show up for the vote, and now she’s the candidate to beat. Except—big reveal—it turns out that her husband, Todd Harding (the guy from the football bar!), is the murderer. He leaked the video to Tatiana to give his wife an edge in the election and then killed her when he realized she was investigating the set-up.  

Graff gets Harding’s hubby to confess by promising to keep the story under wraps until election day—but later admits that he “may call Toronto Life himself” with the scoop. What? The guy has a “fondness for karaoke” but hates politics (+3). And now Bateman has made a reservation to celebrate over—what else?—”drinks at the Four Seasons.” Do we smell a romantic subplot on the horizon? 

The detectives discussing getting a drink together


Accuracy score: +61
Judge’s notes: A Ford brothers mash-up recalls the city’s most infamous chapter with some 2024 injections. And it’s almost as entertaining as the real thing.
Best Toronto cameo: Toronto Life!
Worst Toronto cameo: Endless media layoffs.
Most meme-worthy line: “I don’t remember, detective. I was smoking crack.”