An Ontario judge has ordered that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford be relieved of his duties as the city's chief magistrate after it was found he violated conflict of interest rules, but the outspoken politician says he'll fight the decision.
On Monday morning, Ontario Superior Court Justice Charles T. Hackland said in his ruling that the mayor violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act by speaking and participating in a council vote regarding a financial penalty he was ordered to pay after he was found to have violated council's code of conduct by soliciting donations to his football charity using city materials.
The ruling would take effect in 14 days because Hackland said he recognized the decision "will necessitate administrative changes in the City of Toronto."
However, in brief remarks with reporters at city hall, a defiant Ford signalled his intent to appeal.
'Rob Ford did this to Rob Ford. It could so easily have been avoided.'—Clayton Ruby, lawyer
"This comes down to left-wing politics. The left wing wants me out of here and they'll do anything in their power to," he said.
"And I'm going to fight tooth and nail to hold on to my job. If they do for some reason get me out I’ll be running again whenever the next election is, if there’s a byelection. My name will be the first one on the ballot."
Ford spoke to reporters later just before he headed to a scheduled appearance to kick off a campaign to solicit donations for toys ahead of the holiday season.
When asked if he was surprised by the judge's decision, he said, "It’s more disappointing than surprising. You've just got to roll with the punches and you have to have skin on you like an alligator, so we’re good."
Confusion around when Ford can run again
By law, Hackland could have barred Ford from running again for office for a period of up to seven years.
The judge did not place "any further disqualification from beyond the current term." That wording, however, has caused much confusion.
Alan Lenczner, the lawyer representing Ford, told CBC 's Jamie Strashin that the mayor can run in a byelection if one is called ahead of the 2014 municipal election. Lenczner said he was certain that the word "term" in question meant 14 days.
"If you read it in context and if you took out those words, it wouldn't change the meaning," said Lenczner. "But, if you want to give it some meaning, it means at the end of the 14 days," said Lenczner.
"The bottom line is that I think he can run again at any time."
Clayton Ruby, the lawyer representing the complainant in the case, was less certain.
"I haven’t the faintest idea," Ruby said when asked for his definition of "term." "That’s a municipal law question and there are guys who spend their life on that. I’m not one of them."
John Mascarin, a municipal and land use planning specialist at law firm Aird and Berlis LLP, said that under his interpretation of the ruling, Ford would be barred from running until 2014.
Further complicating matters is that a byelection may not necessarily be called — if after the appeal process Hackland's finding is upheld, council also has the option of simply appointing someone to the mayoralty.
Ford can now apply to stay the judgment. If successful, he could remain as mayor until the appeal process is exhausted.
"I think there are good grounds for a stay," said Lenczner.
A three-judge panel in Ontario divisional court would hear the appeal that Ford has said he plans to file this week.
Lenczner said that in order for Ford to be granted a stay he must argue three points.
"The first part is that you have to show that you've got some legal issues that are not frivolous or vexatious. The second part is that you have to show irreparable harm to yourself that cannot be compensated for by money," he said.
"The third part is the balance of convenience. Are we better off to wait the approximately two months it would take, or is the public better served by either calling a new election, or having the council appoint someone to fill the position in the interim?"
Ford never read act in question
Ford testified in court in September, revealing that he had never read the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act he has now been found to have violated, nor the handbook given to city councillors that spells out the rules for declaring conflicts.
He told court at the time he believed he did nothing wrong, while lawyer Clayton Ruby, who represented the complainant Paul Magder, argued Ford acted in bad faith by not familiarizing himself with the city's conflict of interest rules.
Ford should play a leading role in ensuring integrity in municipal government, Hackland wrote. In light of that, "it is difficult to accept an error in judgment defence based essentially on a stubborn sense of entitlement (concerning his football foundation) and a dismissive and confrontational attitude to the integrity commissioner and the [council] code of conduct," the ruling said.
"In my opinion, the respondent's actions were characterized by ignorance of the law and a lack of diligence in securing professional advice, amounting to wilful blindness."
"Today’s decision shows that when you break the rules, there’s a price to pay. It's important for the courts to assert that nobody is above the law, Rob Ford included," Ruby said at a Monday morning news conference.
"Rob Ford did this to Rob Ford. It could so easily have been avoided. It could have been avoided if Rob Ford had used a bit of common sense and if he had played by the rules."
'The most honest politician I've ever seen in this country'
Ford's brother, Toronto Coun. Doug Ford, was quick to come to the mayor's defence.
"We've been getting not hundreds, but thousands and thousands of emails, thousands of texts and phone calls for support, asking for rallies," he said.
"This is a man that cares, a man that is the most honest politician I've ever seen in this country."
The case stems from a legal challenge lodged by Magder, a Toronto resident who complained about a Feb. 7 vote that Ford participated in at council. Magder, who appeared alongside Ruby at the news conference, said he derived no satisfaction from the judge's finding.
"It’s a sad day really. But I think this had to be done," he said.
The vote absolved Ford from having to comply with an August 2010 directive from council and the city’s integrity commissioner, Janet Leiper, to pay back $3,150 in donations that corporate and lobbyist donors had given to the Rob Ford Football Foundation when he was a city councillor.
Leiper found in 2010 that Ford had violated council's code of conduct when he used city letterhead to solicit donations for the foundation and recommended he pay back the money out of his own pocket.
Ford had repeatedly refused to repay the money, which resulted in the matter coming back to council in February this year.
Bad month for big-city mayors