Jim Karygiannis removed from city council over alleged election expense violation

Jim Karygiannis has been removed from Toronto city council over election expenses, the Toronto city clerk says. But the controversial councillor for Ward 22 says it's all a "clerical error."

City clerk says councillor exceeded limit by over $25K, Karygiannis says it's a 'clerical error'

Jim Karygiannis has been removed from Toronto city council over an alleged election expense violation, the Toronto city clerk says. But the councillor plans to fight the decision. (Grant Linton/CBC)

Jim Karygiannis has been removed from Toronto city council over an alleged election expense violation, according to the Toronto city clerk.

In a statement released on Wednesday afternoon, Ulli Watkiss said she has served notice to Karygiannis that he is no longer the councillor for Ward 22 due to the supplementary financial statement he filed for the municipal election last year.

Under the Municipal Elections Act, every candidate is required to file a financial statement for the election, she said.

"Mr. Karygiannis is in default of the Act and is disqualified from being elected or appointed to any office until after the 2022 municipal election," Watkiss said in the statement.

Under the provincial act, there's a limit on the amount of money candidates can spend in an election. For Ward 22 last year, that total was $61,207.95, with a maximum of 10 per cent — or $6,120.80 — to be spent for "parties and other expressions of appreciation" after voting day.

Watkiss said Karygiannis filed expenses under "parties and other expressions of appreciation" showing that he spent $32,083.50, which exceeds the expense limit by $25,962.70.

She added she has no "latitude or discretion" on the matter, and "forfeiture of the office" is automatic if a financial statement shows expenses for "parties and other expressions of appreciation" after voting day exceed the amount permitted.

News 'sudden and shocking,' mayor says

Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a statement on Wednesday that the news is "sudden and shocking" for everyone, including the councillor, his office staff, the city clerk and his constituents.

"Councillor Karygiannis worked hard over the last five years at city hall to serve the residents of Scarborough-Agincourt. I will be working to make sure those residents continue to be well-served by the city," Tory said.

Mayor John Tory says news of Karygiannis's removal is 'sudden and shocking.' Tory describes it as an 'unfortunate situation for everyone involved, including the councillor, his office staff, the City Clerk, and the residents he was elected to serve.' (CBC)

In a statement on Wednesday, Karygiannis said a "clerical error" has been made.

"Upon close examination of the Supplementary Financial Statement, it was ascertained that there had been a clerical error in the completing of the paperwork. I am in contact with my solicitor and auditor in order to correct the error," he said.

"I look forward to continuing my work as City of Toronto Councillor for Ward 22 and serving the people of Scarborough-Agincourt."

Earlier on Wednesday, in an interview with CBC Toronto, Karygiannis said something was filed in the wrong column in his supplementary financial statement.

"This is not over yet," he told CBC Toronto. "I never overspent."

According to Jim Karygiannis's supplementary financial statement, filed with the city of Toronto, $27,083 was spent on a December 2018 appreciation dinner. (2018 Municipal Election - Financial Statements)

Removal for elections expenses is 1st for Toronto

City spokesperson Brad Ross said the removal of a councillor due to election expenses is a first for the city.

"On the face of it, he overspent by more than $25,000 on allowable expenses for a party. And under the Municipal Elections Act, that means you are in default and must then [forfeit] your seat and that seat then is declared vacant," Ross said.

"There is no leeway, there is no discretion on the part of the city clerk. The Act is very black and white on that," he said.

The only other ways that councillors can forfeit their seats is through filing their financial statements late or not filing at all, he continued.

"The spending limits are to ensure there is a level playing field across the board," Ross added. "It is unfortunate for him."

Ross said the city clerk made the announcement on Wednesday because Karygiannis asked for an extension on filing his campaign expenses. The new deadline was late October and he just filed recently.

He added that Karygiannis's office will keep operating with staff in place. 

Coun. Paula Fletcher says: 'I don't think this has ever happened at the city before.' (CBC)

Coun. Paula Fletcher, who represents Ward 14, Toronto-Danforth, said the situation is unusual and she expects the process to resolve it, given that Karygiannis plans to go to court, will be long and drawn out.

"I don't think this has ever happened at the city before," Fletcher said. 

"This is provincial legislation and the clerk is applying that legislation to each and every one of us and unfortunately, Coun. Karygiannis, it's been applied to him, and she has no other recourse than to declare him out of office."

Fletcher said the decision means there will be "no councillor" for Scarborough-Agincourt for now and the clerk will run the office to ensure the needs of constituents are met. 

"This is just the first inning on this," she added.

Karygiannis won by over 2,600 votes

Karygiannis beat Norm Kelly in Ward 22 in the 2018 municipal election by 2,649 votes. Both were incumbents in their respective wards, but ran against each other in Scarborough-Agincourt after Ontario Premier Doug Ford cut the size of Toronto council from 47 to 25 seats.

In 2016, the city's integrity commissioner found that Karygiannis violated the city's code of conduct on two separate occasions, during an "aggressive" confrontation with an UberX driver and by making repeated visits to a house over a parking dispute. 

Jim Karygiannis's office door is pictured here on Wednesday, with the name plate already gone. (Lauren Pelley/CBC)