Lawyers wrap up arguments in mayor’s fight to stay in office

TORONTO – The fate of Toronto’s controversial mayor now rests in the hands of an Ontario judge.

TORONTO – The fate of Toronto’s controversial mayor now rests in the hands of an Ontario judge.

Lawyers wrapped up their arguments on Thursday in a lawsuit accusing Rob Ford of being embroiled in a conflict of interest.

Justice Charles Hackland told court he would try to reach a verdict in a timely manner.

If found guilty, Ford could be tossed out of the office he’s held for less than two years and barred from running for city council for seven years.

Ford is accused of not declaring a conflict of interest when he gave a speech and participated in a council vote last February to strike down a recommendation that he repay donations he solicited using official city letterhead for his private football foundation.

Ford told court he believed he did nothing wrong based on his own definition of conflict of interest laws, while lawyer Clayton Ruby argued Ford acted in bad faith by not familiarizing himself with the city’s rules on the issue.

Ruby’s arguments focused in part on Ford’s statements from the day before, when he admitted to being unfamiliar with city policies surrounding conflict of interest.

Under cross-examination, Ford said he didn’t remember receiving or reading a handbook for municipal councillors that outlines when to declare conflict of interest or the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, which he is accused of breaking.

He also admitted he had not attended an orientation meeting when he was first elected city councillor in 2000.

Ruby argued such actions cast a shadow on the mayor’s actions.

Ford could be allowed to keep his job if Hackland ruled he made an honest error of judgment, but Ruby suggested the mayor’s lack of familiarity with conflict of interest policies would effectively quash that argument.

“If true, it is not a good faith error. He is deliberately not doing what any reasonable person would do,” Ruby said.

Ford’s lawyer, Alan Lenczner, argued Ford had every right to speak up on a matter that didn’t involve city business.

That argument was in line with Ford’s own definition of conflict of interest, which he presented during Wednesday’s testimony.

“I believe in my mind, in a conflict of interest, the city benefits and the councillor benefits,” Ford testified on Wednesday.

“It takes two parties to have a conflict. In this case, there was only one party. The city did not benefit.”

Ford admitted that back in 2010, he didn’t think he had violated any rules when he used his staff to help send out donation requests for his football fund and mail them out to donors who had officially lobbied the city government.

But the city’s integrity commissioner, Janet Leiper, had found Ford’s actions broke the conduct code for councillors and recommended he pay back $3,150 to the donors from his own pocket.

Council adopted the commissioner’s findings and sanction in a resolution Ford voted against _ but he never made the repayments, despite several reminders from the commissioner.

The issue was resurrected in February, at which time council voted to overturn the integrity commissioner’s penalty.

Just before the council vote in February, Ford gave a passionate speech about his charity, which buys football equipment for at-risk high school students in Toronto. He also voted in favour of the motion that would allow him to keep the money.

Lenczner argued the integrity commissioner’s original sanction is void because ordering Ford to repay the donations was out of her jurisdiction. The city’s code of conduct says councillors can either be hit with a reprimand or a pay suspension if they commit an integrity violation.

The lawsuit was launched by Toronto resident Paul Magder, who accused Ford of a conflict of interest one month after the vote in question.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.