TORONTO – The brash, unapologetic style characteristic of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s tenure was on display in court Friday as he took the stand in a defamation lawsuit against him, repeating the assertions for which he is being sued.
Restaurant owner George Foulidis is alleging in a $6-million suit that Ford libelled him when the mayor suggested a leasing deal between Foulidis’ company Tuggs Inc. and the city was corrupt.
Toronto city council extended a 20-year lease Foulidis had for his Boardwalk Cafe restaurant on public land in a sole-sourced, untendered contract for another 20 years in the summer of 2010 — the middle of Ford’s ultimately successful campaign to become mayor.
In court, the mayor was on the offensive while defending himself, saying the police should be brought in to investigate the deal.
“The process to me and the sole-sourcing of this doesn’t smell right,” he said. “Whoever’s part of that deal, I’ve always said I want the police to investigate….No one can do anything because of this trial right now.”
Ford also testified that when he suggested the Tuggs deal was corrupt he wasn’t implying illegality, he was suggesting proper processes weren’t followed.
“I can’t pinpoint it, but even to this day people still say the deal stinks to high heaven, but it’s hard to pinpoint and prove, but I’m not the only one saying that,” Ford said. “I’ve never seen a deal like this and it just didn’t add up to me. I still feel that way.”
Foulidis is suing Ford over comments in a Toronto Sun article based on a meeting between Ford and its editorial board. Foulidis alleges that Ford’s comments about the Tuggs deal defamed him because he is the man behind Tuggs and the owner/operator of the Boardwalk Cafe.
“These in-camera meetings, there’s more corruption and skulduggery going on in there than I’ve ever seen in my life,” Ford told the editorial board. “And if Tuggs isn’t then I don’t know what is.”
Shiller asked Ford what he meant by that and appeared to be frustrated by Ford’s vague answers about closed-door meetings and eventually the judge stepped in, telling the mayor that the court would not take its morning break until he answered the question.
“I think the question is quite plain,” said Ontario Superior Court Justice John Macdonald and he repeated the question. “That’s the question Mr. Ford. What’s the answer?”
After a bit more back-and-forth with Shiller, Ford eventually agreed that he was suggesting the Tuggs deal was an example of “corruption and skulduggery.”
“In my view, how it was done and how it was operated, yes,” Ford said.
Ford’s lawyer is arguing that the mayor was talking about Foulidis’ business, Tuggs Inc., and that companies can’t be defamed.
In the editorial board interview, audio of which was played in court Friday, Ford appears to associate a mention of the name Foulidis with Tuggs. The mayor has testified that he didn’t know Foulidis at the time the comments were made, but that he might have heard the name around city hall.
“I don’t know the man, so I would never cast aspersions on someone I don’t know,” Ford testified.
He said while he suspected — and still suspects — something about the deal was not right, any wrongdoing wasn’t necessarily by Foulidis, but perhaps by city councillors or staff. Ford slammed the in-camera meeting about the Tuggs deal, saying he wishes that meeting and all in-camera meetings were public.
“Councillors were running around like crazy,” Ford said. “I’ll never forget it. There was a lot of screaming and yelling…If people would have saw how council was reacting to get this deal through, the average person would have thought there’s something going on, like, why are you freaking out like this? Some of them are losing their mind to get this deal through.”
The mayor has suggested the lawsuit is politically motivated. He noted that other councillors made similar comments about the Tuggs deal and Foulidis did not sue them, nor did he sue the newspaper that published the comments.
The trial is scheduled to conclude Monday with closing arguments.