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December 18, 2014

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Toronto’s black sheep mayor defends Justin Bieber

TORONTO — Toronto's favorite black sheep, Mayor Rob Ford, is rising to the defense of fellow Canadian Justin Bieber, who has recently been in the headlines for the wrong reasons.

Bieber was charged with assault Wednesday for allegedly hitting a Toronto limousine driver several times in the back of the head in an incident last month. The news broke a mere few hours after the teenage pop star's attorney entered a separate not guilty plea in Florida to drunken-driving and other charges.

Ford, who has admitted smoking crack while in a drunken stupor and is being sued for supposedly orchestrating the jailhouse beating of his sister's ex-boyfriend, noted that Bieber is only 19 and defended him when a host on the Washington, D.C.-based radio show "The Sports Junkies" called Bieber "Canada's worst export."

"Well, you know what, he's a young guy," Ford said Thursday. "At 19 years old, I wish I was as successful as he was. He's 19 years old, guys. Think back to when you were 19."

Ford added that he's never met Bieber and said that as a 45-year-old he's not a fan of his music, preferring The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. Ford, a football fan, appears on the sports show weekly.

The mayor's term has been marred by erratic behavior and confessed drug and alcohol use. His travails — which have included leaked videos showing the mayor in an obviously altered state— have embarrassed Canadians and delighted America's late-night TV comedians.

The baby-faced Bieber turned himself in to a Toronto police station Wednesday evening, arriving amid a crush of media and screaming fans. He was charged with one count of assault and is scheduled to appear in court in Toronto on March 10.

Police allege Bieber was one of six people who were picked up by a limousine from a nightclub in the early morning hours of Dec. 30, and there was an altercation while en route to a hotel.

Police said during the altercation one of the passengers hit the limo driver in the back of the head several times before fleeing.

Howard Weitzman, Bieber's attorney in California, said his client is innocent and declined to comment further.

Weitzman said he expects the case to be treated as a summary offense, the equivalent of a misdemeanor in the United States

Earlier on Wednesday, Bieber pleaded not guilty in Florida to charges of driving under the influence after driving nearly twice the speed limit on a street in Miami Beach. He also pleaded not guilty to resisting arrest and driving with an expired license.

The charges stemmed from Bieber's arrest last week, along with R&B singer Khalil Amir Sharieff, during what police described as an illegal street drag race between a Lamborghini and a Ferrari. Neither has been charged with drag racing, which is a crime in Florida.

A preliminary toxicology report released Thursday showed that Bieber tested positive for marijuana and the anti-anxiety drug Xanax. The report shows no presence of other illicit drugs in Bieber's system, such as cocaine or oxycodone. Bieber told police after the arrest that he had been smoking marijuana and took a prescription drug.

The singer lately has drawn more attention for his brushes with the law than for his music.

Bieber remains under investigation for felony vandalism in Los Angeles County over an egg-tossing episode that damaged his neighbor's home. Detectives searched his home on Jan. 14, and prosecutors have sought additional information before determining whether to pursue charges.

The cases have overshadowed the recent release of his latest album. Its reception has been far from the chart-topping success Bieber had after he debuted in 2009, with multiple platinum albums.

Associated Press writers Curt Anderson in Miami and Anthony McCartney in Los Angeles, and Charmaine Noronha in Toronto contributed.

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