Lawyers for and against Mayor Rob Ford faced off Monday for the final appeal that will ultimately decide whether Ford will continue as mayor of Toronto or be tossed out of office for violating Ontario’s Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.
The hearing at Osgoode Hall lasted a day, with Ford’s lawyer Alan Lenczner laying out his four-pronged argument as to why Ontario Superior Court Justice Charles Hackland’s conviction of Ford ought to be struck down.
Justice Hackland found this fall that Ford was guilty of violating the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act in February 2012, when he spoke and voted on recommendations from Toronto’s Integrity Commissioner that Ford be made to repay $3,150 in donations by lobbyists to a football charity he operated.
Ford had maintained the lobbyists didn’t want their money back, and said he would have to pay the money himself.
Under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, elected officials are prohibited from voting or speaking on matters in which they have a pecuniary interest.
Lenczner presented four arguments in favour of his client. He maintained that council had no power to extract the money from Ford because the City of Toronto Act didn’t list that among possible punishments.
He also argued that Ford had made an honest mistake, and that the amount of money in question was insignificant. And he said the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act did not govern councillors’ code of conduct.
Clayton Ruby, representing Toronto resident Paul Magder in the complaint against Ford, spent the afternoon arguing none of those arguments held water. He maintained that Ford was wilfully ignorant of the conflict of interest rules – and that Ford’s explanation that he relied on the city solicitor for advice on the act did nothing to mitigate that.
“If I rely on advice from the city solicitor – number one, I know the City Solicitor doesn’t work for me, she works for the city,” said Ruby. “If there’s a conflict it’s between the city and me. How can I reasonably expect that I think I can get advice on conflicts of interest from the other side? And there’s no way on earth that the city solicitor can know the financial affairs of all 44 councillors?”
Ruby was subject to thorough questioning from the chief Divisional Court Justice on the three-judge panel, Justice Edward Then, who wondered if Hackland’s judgement on Ford had been too narrow.
“When you’re looking at good faith, isn’t it important to balance that outlook and balance the factors rather than looking at those things that weren’t done?” said Then. “Isn’t it important to look at the things that were done?”
Then pointed out that Ford had been generally cooperative with the city’s integrity commissioner – save and except his refusal to pay the money back.
“I’m not sure Mr. Ford, short of insisting on the point that he not reimburse, didn’t cooperate quite fully with the integrity commissioner,” said Then. “He met with her several times, sent out letters asking whether he could return the money. The one thing he didn’t do was yield on the point of reimbursement.”
And he said that one of the times Ford was warned about his conflict on the matter might have been politically poisoned, because it came during the last term of council when Sandra Bussin was speaker.
“He didn’t think she was being objectively helpful because they never agreed on very many issues,” he said.
Ruby countered: “That may make sense by itself but if the speaker of the city council draws this very issue to your attention and you ignore it and vote on it because you don’t trust her – is it then reasonable to take no steps to seek legal advice from anyone. You can’t call that good faith. It’s not good faith.”
And Ruby maintained there had been a pattern where Ford had repeatedly ignored the Integrity Commissioner.
He also disputed the idea the amount of money was insignificant.
“It certainly mattered to him,” said Ruby. “He never said it didn’t matter or that this was an insignificant sum. His lawyer says so.”
The hearing wrapped up just before 5 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 7. Justice Then said the panel would reserve judgement but would decide as quickly as possible.
“We realize there is some interest on the part of... everyone,” said Justice Then.
If the court upholds Justice Hackland’s decision, there is no further avenue for appeal, and Mayor Ford will be removed from office.
The judicial panel is expected to provide a ruling within weeks.