RICHARD LAUTENS/TORONTO STAR Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, seen outside the Osgoode Hall courthouse on Jan 7, is fighting for his political life as he tries to persuade a Divisional Court panel to overturn the decision that forced him from office over a violation of provincial conflict-of-interest law.
Mayor Rob Ford is an honest man who cast an honest vote — and kicking him out of office over a conflict of interest violation would hurt the people of Toronto, his lawyer told a court on Monday morning. (See live coverage below.)
Ford is appealing a November court decision that evicted him over a February violation of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. The appeal hearing began Monday morning before a three-judge Divisional Court panel.
Ford voted to excuse himself from reimbursing $ 3,150 to 11 lobbyists and one corporation that donated to his charitable football foundation. He also gave an impassioned speech during the council debate.
Lenczner’s primary argument is that the vote was null and void because council lacked the authority to demand that he pay the money in the first place.
“Penalty A: Reprimand. Penalty B: Suspension. And nothing else,” Lenczner argued.
Lenczner argued that the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act doesn’t apply at all in this case, which is a matter of councillor integrity that should be dealt with solely under the council Code of Conduct. But he was challenged by the senior justice on the panel, Edward Then, who countered that the law says it applies to “any matter” in which a council member has a financial interest.
Lenczner contends the law is unjust if it denies members of council the opportunity to speak in their own defence when they are accused of integrity breaches. When he quoted former Toronto integrity commissioner David Mullan, who believes they should be granted a right to speak, Then again interjected, this time to counter that Mullan probably wouldn’t say they also should be given the right to vote on their own alleged violations.
The Municipal Conflict of Interest Act requires judges to remove a politician from office in the event of a violation. Leczner called the law “draconian”: it harms the electorate, he said, not only the member of council.
Lenczner concluded his arguments by playing a video of the speech Ford made to council. Ford explained the work his foundation does — it helps schools start football programs by paying for equipment — and argued that he should not have to pay back money which is “gone.”
“Is that the demeanor of someone who is trying to hide something? Or is it the demeanor of an honest man?” Lenczner said.
The trial judge, Charles Hackland, found that Ford had demonstrated “ignorance of the law” and “willful blindness.” Lenczner argued that Ford’s view was reasonable — even though it may have been mistaken.
“It’s not as though this is farfetched. This is a view that is held by others,” Lenczner said.
When Lenczner attempted to explain why it is irrelevant that Ford never attended a councillor orientation session in which conflict of interest law would have been explained; Then responded with a smile, “There’s a handbook too.” Ford acknowledged never reading the city’s official guide for councillors.
Had Ford sought out an expert for advice, Then said, he may be able to argue that he “attempted somehow” to improve his understanding of the legislation. Ford testified before Hackland that he made no effort to learn what the law required of him.
Lenczner said Hackland gave “not one whit of regard” for Ford.