TORONTO – Mayor Rob Ford is an open and honest politician ousted from office by a judge that misinterpreted the law, his lawyer argued Monday.
In calling for Divisional Court to overturn Ford’s ouster, lawyer Alan Lenczner said there never was any case against the mayor, who is now fighting to keep his job in light of the judge’s ruling.
Ford, Lenczner said, gained no financial benefit from fundraising for his private football foundation, and was upfront when he spoke during a council vote that he was only trying to help disadvantaged youth.
“He was perfectly plain and honest,” Lenczner told a jammed courtroom. “This is the hallmark of an honest man.”
In November, Ontario Superior Justice Charles Hackland ordered Ford removed as mayor for taking part in the council vote that he repay $3,150 raised for his football foundation.
Lenczner said Ford’s decision to participate was based on his belief that he had done nothing wrong.
“It’s not the amount of money that is motivating him to speak and to vote, it’s the principle of the thing,” the lawyer told the three-judge appeal panel. “The amount of money is irrelevant.”
In his ruling, Hackland said Ford had shown “wilful blindness” by taking part in the vote.
But Lenczner said the judge had failed to give Ford the benefit of a “saving provision” in the conflict of interest act: that his conduct was an error of judgment.
Hackland had “not given one nickel of regard” to various legal authorities, and the mayor could not have been expected to understand the legal intricacies at play, Lenczner said.
“Mr. Ford is a high school graduate,” the lawyer told court.
Ford, along with his councillor brother, showed little emotion as they watched the proceedings before Justices Edward Then, Lynne Leitch and Katherine Swinton.
In a series of technical arguments, Lenczner told the panel that council had no authority in the first place to order Ford to repay the money.
By law, council’s only option was to issue a reprimand or dock his pay, court heard.
As a result, ordering the mayor to pay back the money was out of order, the lawyer said.
Lenczner pointed out Hackland ruled that Ford had received no money personally and found no issue of corruption.
The lawyer attacked Hackland for misreading an earlier ruling in deciding he had no choice but to remove Ford from office.
“He took it completely out of context,” the lawyer said of Hackland’s reliance on a particular passage.
Hackland’s decision to oust Ford on an action pressed by businessman Paul Magder sent shockwaves through the city.
Magder, and his lawyer Clayton Ruby, said the ruling showed no one was above the law and that Ford had wilfully violated the conflict act.
Magder’s lawyers were set to argue later Monday why Hackland’s ruling should stand and a ruling is expected within weeks.
If Ford loses his appeal, he has said he would run in a byelection if council chooses to call one. Council could opt to appoint someone mayor instead of a byelection.