Toronto mayoral candidate Rob Ford says he pleaded guilty in 1999 for failing to provide a breath sample after he was pulled over in Florida while on a vacation.

"I am not perfect, I have never claimed to be perfect, I am only human and I have made mistakes," he told a Thursday morning news conference.

Ford received a US$500 fine and completed 50 hours of community service for the offence which took place after a Valentine's Day dinner with his then-fiancée, he told a news conference.

However, the Toronto Star reported that Ford had pleaded guilty to driving under the influence.

Ford called the news conference to explain the charges after a report surfaced that he had been arrested by Florida police 11 years ago for carrying marijuana -- although he originally denied the marijuana allegation.

"When this question came up last night, I answered it. It took me a minute to remember all the details, but I answered it," he said.

According to a Miami Police Dept. incident report, an officer spotted Ford's vehicle driving without its lights on at 2:35 a.m. on Feb. 15, 1999.

The officer stopped the vehicle and asked Ford for his licence and registration.

"When defendant Ford exited his vehicle, he threw his hands up in the air and said, 'Go ahead, take me to jail,'" the report said.

Ford then threw all his money on the ground. He acted nervous, had a strong odour of alcohol on his breath and bloodshot eyes, the report said.

A search of Ford found revealed he had a marijuana cigarette in his pocket, it said.

The marijuana charge would eventually be withdrawn.

"The reason I forgot about the marijuana charge -- and the reason I am talking to you this morning -- is because that same evening I was charged with failing to give a breath sample," Ford said.

 "I guess I had a few drinks at Valentine's dinner with my wife. It was a mistake. I shouldn't have been driving. And I owned up to my mistake."

Ford admitted he has faced three separate charges in his life:

  • an assault charge stemming from a  fight when he was 18
  • a charge relating to an incident with the woman who is now his wife, which was dismissed
  • the charge of failing to provide a breath sample

Ford said the Oct. 25 civic election shouldn't be about mistakes he made 11 years ago, but about how he can lead the city into the future.

Opponents react

At a debate before the Canadian Jewish Political Action Committee, other leading candidates for mayor wasted no time weighing in on the latest controversy involving the race's presumed frontrunner.

"I have no issue with the fact that Mr. Ford may have at one time toked a marijuana cigarette or not," Rocco Rossi said. "The issue we have to ask is why then lie about it."

Former provincial cabinet minister George Smitherman told reporters: "The part that really frustrates me is that Coun. Ford is demonstrating he is very economical with the truth and is very often wrong on the facts."

However, several voters questioned by CTV News said a political candidate's past really didn't matter to them.

Controversy dogs Ford

While polls have so far put Ford in the lead among the candidates, he came under fire on Tuesday for controversial comments he made about immigration during a recent debate.

After the topic of refugees came up in the context of the recent ship filled with Tamil migrants, Ford called for a halt on immigration to Toronto as the city grapples with fiscal constraints.

"We can't even deal with the 2.5 million people in this city. I think it's more important we take care of the people now before we start bringing in more," Ford said.

"There are going to be a million more people -- according to the Official Plan, which I did not support – over the next 10 years coming into the city. We're not in the fiscal shape, we're not in the social shape, to be taking any more people into this city right now."

Ford got his numbers wrong.

Toronto's official plan suggests the city's population will grow by 537,000 more people by 2031. An Ontario government document suggests the city's population will rise to just under 3.1 million by 2031.

According to the Toronto Star, Ford had called for a "refugee freeze" in 2003.

With a report from CTV Toronto's Alicia Markson