5 key points about Toronto mayor's removal challenge

A look at the key facts and background information in the conflict of interest case that could cost Toronto Mayor Rob Ford his mayoralty.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford will appear in court Wednesday on a charge he violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford will testify in court Wednesday about allegations he violated conflict of interest rules when he spoke and participated in a council vote regarding a financial penalty he was ordered to pay in relation to donations he solicited for his football charity.

Ford will be questioned on the first day of the three-day hearing by high-profile lawyer Clayton Ruby, who is representing Toronto resident Paul Magder in a legal challenge that could have massive implications.

'The mayor of Toronto should know better.'— John Mascarin, partner at Aird and Berlis LLP

The following is a rundown of key facts and background information pertaining to the case.

What's at stake

Technically, the mayoralty. If Ford is found to have violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act (MCIA), he would be automatically ejected from office. Justice Charles Hackland, who will oversee the hearing, can also bar him from being able to run for office for up to seven years.

What happened

The legal challenge was launched on March 9 by Magder. His complaint stems from the mayor's decision to speak and participate in a council vote on Feb. 7 that rescinded an August 2010 directive from council and integrity commissioner Janet Leiper to pay back $3,150 in donations that corporate and lobbyist donors had given to Ford's football foundation when he was a city councillor.

Ford was ordered to pay back the money out of his own pocket after Leiper investigated a complaint he had used council letterhead in March 2010 to solicit donations for the Rob Ford Football Foundation.

Leiper found that year he had violated council's code of conduct in doing so, notably the sections that dealt with soliciting donations from lobbyists, a member of council using his or her influence to obtain donations and the rules for using city property and services to obtain donations for a charity set up in his name.

What the complainant alleges

Ruby has said that Ford had a pecuniary interest in the matter when he voted in favour of rescinding council's 2010 decision that he pay back the money and take no further action on the matter. That would be a violation of the act, Ruby has said, which would result in his removal for office.

The only way Ford can survive being ejected from office, Ruby says, is if he can show he acted inadvertently or through an error in judgment. But the legal challenge says neither of these two defences hold water and that the mayor's conduct was "flagrant and deliberate."

What the mayor's camp says

The mayor's office says in an email the MCIA does not apply because the integrity commissioner's original report addressed a council code of conduct violation, not an MCIA violation. Additionally, the August 2010 council vote that the mayor pay back the money was illegal, because council only has the authority to withhold pay or reprimand a member, not fine them.

The order to pay back the $3,150 in donations constitutes a fine because Ford was asked to pay out of his own pocket, says the mayor's office. Further, his camp says, he never received the donations, only his charity did.

Ford's lawyer could also argue he made an error in judgment.

What happens if Ford's found to have violated law

John Mascarin, a municipal and land use planning specialist at law firm Aird and Berlis LLP, calls the complaint a "very serious case." Justice Hackland cannot find the mayor to be in violation of the act but still be able to keep him from being turfed from office, said Mascarin.

"The mayor of Toronto should know better," he said.

A decision in the case will likely take one to two months, Mascarin expects. If Ford is forced from office, Toronto council then has 60 days to either appoint a mayor or hold a byelection for the office of the mayor.

Ford can appeal a guilty finding to a three-judge panel at the Ontario divisional court. That panel's decision is final. The appeal process could take six to eight months, Mascarin estimates.