Judge will try to return Ford verdict in timely manner

An Ontario judge has heard all the arguments in a lawsuit alleging that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford violated conflict of interest rules when participating in a February council vote.

Mayor could lose his position over conflict of interest controversy

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, seen heading into court on Wednesday, is accused of being in a conflict of interest. (Michelle Siu/Canadian Press)

An Ontario judge has heard all the arguments in a lawsuit alleging that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford violated conflict of interest rules when he participated in a February council vote.

Now Justice Charles Hackland will be tasked with handing down a verdict in a case that could potentially cost the mayor his job.

Hearings in the conflict of interest lawsuit wrapped up on Thursday afternoon, the day after Ford was asked pointed questions by lawyer Clayton Ruby, who represents Toronto resident Paul Magder, who initiated the lawsuit.

Ford was questioned for four hours on Wednesday by Ruby about his refusal to repay $3,150 in donations to his football foundation — something Janet Leiper, the city's integrity commissioner, had first asked him to do in 2010, and then repeated that request on several occasions.

The court will decide if Ford's participation in a debate on Feb. 7 over the issue and in a subsequent council vote that let him off the hook for the money put the mayor in a conflict of interest as defined by the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act (MCIA).

Ruby told a Toronto courtroom on Thursday that he doesn't believe Ford made an honest error of judgment when he spoke and voted on the issue. Ruby said Ford, who was first elected to council in 2000, and then as mayor in 2010, has no credibility on the matter.

The mayor's "peculiar definition of conflict" doesn't mesh with his extensive experience on council, Ruby said.

Ford asserted in court on Wednesday that his interpretation of a conflict of interest, as defined by the act, only occurs if a council member speaks or acts on a matter in which both the city and that member stand to benefit.

Ruby said that is not the correct interpretation of the act, which Ford admitted on Wednesday he had never read. Ford also admitted he never read a handbook given to councillors when first elected that spells out the rules for declaring conflicts.

'He chose to remain ignorant'

Ruby said Thursday the mayor has shown "wilful blindness" when it comes to the act. Although as mayor he should have known the rules, "he chose to remain ignorant," Ruby said.

This is the section of the act that Ford is alleged to have violated:

When present at meeting at which matter considered

5.  (1)  Where a member, either on his or her own behalf or while acting for, by, with or through another, has any pecuniary interest, direct or indirect, in any matter and is present at a meeting of the council or local board at which the matter is the subject of consideration, the member,

  • (a) shall, prior to any consideration of the matter at the meeting, disclose the interest and the general nature thereof;
  • (b) shall not take part in the discussion of, or vote on any question in respect of the matter; and
  • (c) shall not attempt in any way whether before, during or after the meeting to influence the voting on any such question. R.S.O. 1990, c. M.50, s. 5 (1).

However, one of the key arguments of Ford's legal team is that the MCIA does not apply in any case. Ford's participation in the debate stems from the integrity commissioner's report, which found he had violated the councillor code of conduct in the manner in which he sought donations, not the MCIA.

But Nader Hasan, a lawyer at Ruby's firm argued Thursday afternoon that the act applies in this case, and said the act and the code of conduct are "complementary."

Ford entered the courthouse Thursday morning without taking any questions from reporters. He didn't testify, but appeared to be taking notes of the proceedings as he observed the morning session.

Ford was not in court when it resumed in the afternoon after a lunch break.

If Hackland finds Ford guilty of violating the act, the mayor would be automatically thrown out of office, unless he proves his actions were inadvertent or were the result of an error in judgment. 

Ford would also be in the clear if the judge finds that the $3,150 in donations was too insignificant an amount to "reasonably be regarded as likely to influence the member," as it says in the act.

If Ford is found to have violated the act, he could also be barred from running for office for up to seven years.

Hackland told the court that he would try to reach a verdict in a timely manner, though there is no indication as to when that might be.

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With files from The Canadian Press and the CBC's Jamie Strashin