National News

Hecklers and fans greet Rob Ford at parade

By Will Campbell, The Canadian Press

TORONTO - Supporters cheered and critics jeered as an energetic-looking Rob Ford mingled with Toronto revellers Tuesday, a day after his official return from a stint in rehab.

Marching in a Canada Day parade in the city's east end, the scandal-plagued Toronto mayor was greeted with shouts of "disgrace" and "resign" from some in the crowd, which he brushed off by wishing friend and foe alike the best on the country's 147th birthday.

Ford seemed in high spirits despite his detractors and said he was happy to be back.

"It feels great. Absolutely great. Fantastic," he said while his aides handed out mini "Ford Nation" flags and magnets to the crowd.

His march along the parade route was slow and halting, leaving him lagging behind rivals John Tory and Olivia Chow as a steady stream of fans stopped to take their picture with him and shake his hand.

"You look good, Rob. You look good," one man yelled as Ford passed by.

Some parents had their children pose with the mayor, and Ford himself brought his young son along to the event.

Ford came back Monday after spending two months at a rehab facility and offered a lengthy mea culpa for his past behaviour, saying he was embarrassed by the things he has done while using drugs or alcohol.

In his nearly 20-minute statement, an apologetic Ford pleaded for a second chance and promised an "unwavering" commitment to living clean, before pivoting into a re-election speech.

Supporter Helen Papathanasakis said he seems to have benefited from the break.

"He looks relaxed and I think there's a lot of Torontonians who believe in him and we're hoping he's successful," she said.

But others weren't so eager to see Ford among the marchers.

"It's a travesty to have him in the East York parade... I just don't think I can stand here and not say something against his presence," said Elinor Mahoney.

"I don't get the mindset of people who want to introduce their kids to him. It's like introducing them to some tyrant from past times."

The mayor had several events planned for Canada Day, including an afternoon march with a Chinese-Canadian group where he was mobbed for photos.

His spokesman said Ford was to participate in an executive committee meeting at city hall on Wednesday as he returns to work.

Ford's role as mayor has been largely symbolic since November, when city council stripped him of most of his power.

— Follow @willcampbll on Twitter

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