Reaction was mixed from a pair of local councillors to a judge’s order to remove Mayor Rob Ford from office.
St. Paul’s Councillor Joe Mihevc said removing Ford from office for breaching provincial conflict of interest laws is a sad day for Toronto, but the right decision.
“I think in many ways it’s a sad day for Toronto when the chief magistrate gets kicked out of office,” the left-leaning councillor said. “However, at the same time, justice has been served. The right thing happened. In short form, the judge has said no one is above the law.”
In a ruling Monday, Nov. 26, Ontario Superior Court Justice Charles Hackland found Ford guilty of breaching the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, a provincial law, and ordered him removed from office in 14 days.
The case centred around Ford’s decision to participate in a February council debate on whether he should be forced to repay $3,150 to lobbyists whose donations to his football foundation he improperly accepted.
The Municipal Conflict of Interest Act states members of council cannot speak or vote on issues in which they have a financial interest.
In March, Toronto resident Paul Magder, aided by pro bono lawyer Clayton Ruby, filed a lawsuit alleging Ford broke the law.
Ford, a seasoned councillor before becoming mayor in late 2010, testified he never read the Conflict of Interest Act or the councillor orientation handbook and didn’t attend councillor training sessions that covered conflicts of interest.
Ford is appealing the ruling and is seeking an order allowing him to stay in office until the appeals process is done.
If the Divisional Court refuses to “stay” the removal order within the 14 days, council will either appoint a caretaker mayor until the end of the term in December 2014 or hold a $7-million byelection.
York South-West Councillor Frances Nunziata, considered a Ford ally, said she was surprised by the judge’s decision, adding her office has received numerous emails and messages from residents outraged over the punishment. “What (Ford) did, he didn’t benefit at all,” she said. “The only people who benefitted were the kids.”
A fine might have been more appropriate than a removal from office, Nunziata said, adding it’s business as usual at City Hall.
“In view of the respondent’s leadership role in ensuring integrity in municipal government, 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 Code of Conduct,” Hackland wrote. “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. As such, I find his actions are incompatible with an error in judgment.”
Mihevc said he’s not surprised by the judge’s ruling, noting it could have gone either way.
“(Ford) thought he was above the law,” he said. “If you’re found in conflict of interest you’re out, period. The judge called it willful blindness. (Ford’s) been around long enough to know (what constitutes conflict of interest). If I go through a stop sign and say I didn’t know the sign was meant for me, I’m still charged.”