The decision by Ontario Superior Court Justice Charles Hackland to remove Mayor Rob Ford from office in 14 days has thrown city hall into turmoil.
The decision has left councillors unclear as to how the city will be governed over the coming weeks and months, and already led to splinters in the mayor’s inner circle.
Ford, meanwhile, has made it clear he will be appealing the decision, which could prevent him from running for office until the 2014 election, and blamed the decision on a left-wing conspiracy to remove him from office.
“This has come down to left wing politics,” Ford told reporters Monday morning, just over an hour after the decision was released. “They’re going to do anything to get me out and I’m going to fight tooth and nail to hold onto my job. And if they do for some reason get me out, I’ll be running back at them in a by-election.”
That may not be possible, however. According to city lawyer Anna Kinastowski, the decision prohibits the mayor from seeking office again until 2014, the next general election.
And the move already has some of Ford’s former allies suggesting that until the appeal is heard he should step aside and allow his deputy, Doug Holyday, to take over.
In the meantime, Ford has said he would be launching an appeal of the decision over charges brought against him that he had violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.
At issue was a decision by Ford to speak on his own behalf as council was considering a report from the city’s integrity commissioner. The report recommended council compel Ford to repay $3,150 he had accepted from lobbyists for his football charity. Ford had as a councillor solicited those funds using his councillor’s letterhead, which was a violation of council’s code of conduct.
Ford had repeatedly refused to repay the money, and when it came to council, he begged councillors not to compel him to do so.
That, according to the Hackland decision, was a violation of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, which requires that politicians refrain from speaking or voting on matters in which they have a financial interest.
Hackland rejected arguments made by Ford’s defence, suggesting he had made an error in judgement on the matter — one of the few acceptable mitigating factors in COI violations.
“In the view of the respondent’s leadership role in ensuring integrity in municipal government, it is difficult to accept an error in judgement 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,” wrote Hackland. “In my opinion, the respondent’s actions were characterized by an ignorance of the law and a lack of diligence in securing professional advice, amounting to willfull blindness.”
Clayton Ruby, the lawyer who prosecuted the case for citizen Paul Magder, said at a news conference he and his client were pleased with the victory — but saddened by the situation.
“While we were pleased to have won this case we’re also saddened by it,” he said. “It is tragic that the elected mayor of a great city should bring himself to this. And I use this language advisedly. Rob Ford did this to Rob Ford. It could have so easily been avoided. It could have been avoided if Rob Ford had used a bit of common sense, and he had played by the rules.”
When Ford asks for an appeal to the Ontario Divisional Court, he will also ask that his removal be stayed until that appeal is resolved.
Until that happens, Kinastowski told council there is nothing else that council can do in deciding whether to appoint or hold a by-election.
For more recent updates on this developing story, check in at www.insidetoronto.com.