With a baseball cap pulled down over his face, George Smitherman made a brief statement outside the Toronto Western Hospital Sept 11 before returning to his husband’s bedside.
The former Liberal MPP didn’t take questions from media, but he confirmed that his husband is safe and said his family is bracing for difficult times.
"The path forward isn’t firmly clear, except that we know that it’s long and it will be hard," said Smitherman, who was accompanied by former Toronto mayor Barbara Hall.
“He and me and our family, and our kids, especially, will be surrounded by an outpouring of love that would restore anybody’s faith and confidence,” said Smitherman, referring to his husband, Christopher Peloso.
Toronto police found Peloso near Lansdowne Avenue and Dupont Street about 36 hours after he was first reported missing.
Police took their search to railway tracks in the area after tracing the signal from Peloso’s cellphone. The search team comprised officers from 13 Division and the canine unit, which included a police dog trained to hunt for human scent.
Hall wrapped her arm around Smitherman’s shoulders as he spoke. He thanked the media and citizens of Toronto for their love and support — and also the Toronto Police Service "and a special dog named Ranger."
Smitherman says he plans to stay at Toronto Western so he can be near Peloso. “Now we entrust his care going forward to a great hospital,” he said.
The couple met in 1994 after Peloso moved to Toronto from Sudbury. They were married in 2007 at a resort north of Elliot Lake.
Real estate agent and friend Richard Silver says the couple recently put their home up for sale. It was listed at $749,000. Silver says he is “fairly close” with Smitherman and Peloso and has known the couple for 12 years.
“I’m really tired, and I don’t want to speak to anyone about any of it,” he told Xtra. “I’m just glad that he’s back. I think they should be given some peace and quiet. That’s about it. I have no idea what happened other than what’s been said.”
Given the circumstances, Silver says, the couple’s house is no longer on the market.
Smitherman was Ontario’s first openly gay cabinet minister. Friends, supporters and politicians at all levels of government have been posting tributes and messages of support on Facebook and Twitter.
Provincial NDP Leader Andrea Horwath tweeted that she wishes Smitherman and his family “strength.” Justin Trudeau tweeted that he is sending “thoughts and prayers” and “courage.”
Before being elected in Toronto Centre in the early 1990s, Smitherman confessed to using “party drugs” and told media that Peloso had helped him recover from an addiction.
Todd Ross — Smitherman’s former staffer and a close family friend who is now seeking the federal Liberal Party seat in Toronto Centre — says he is happy and relieved that Peloso is safe.
Ross didn’t have any details about the circumstances around Peloso’s disappearance. “He appears to be in good hands now. Christopher is one of the sweetest people around. He has really been a rock for George. He has always been someone standing beside George. He is really a tremendous support for George. You could not meet a sweeter guy than Christopher.”
Smitherman also owned and operated a camera shop on Church Street called Prints on Church for a few years in the mid-1990s.