TORONTO – Toronto’s combative mayor says the legal fight to keep his job has been a “humbling experience.”
A Divisional Court ruling today overturned a lower court decision that ousted Rob Ford from office for violating conflict of interest laws.
Ford says he has “enormous respect for the judicial system” and he is thankful for the decision.
An earlier court decision ordered Ford turfed from office for taking part in a council vote that he repay $3,150 raised for his private football foundation.
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But Ford appealed that decision and the Divisional Court today sided with him, ruling that council had no authority to order him to repay the money, therefore he didn’t violate conflict of interest laws.
The lawyer for the man who launched the challenge says Ford won on a technicality and his client will be taking the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.
“We believe that there are serious errors of law in the judgment and we will ask the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to appeal to that court,” lawyer Clayton Ruby said in a statement.
“It must be acknowledged that such appeals are not easy but this remains an important issue for all citizens.”
Council’s decision went beyond possible sanctions laid out in the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, because it required Ford to reimburse money that he never received himself, the court said.
“Here, the evidence is clear that Mr. Ford never personally received any of the money donated for the football foundation,” the judges found.
“All funds were received by an arm’s length entity, the Toronto Community Foundation. Therefore, the sanction was not authorized by the Code (of Conduct) nor by the (City of Toronto Act).”
The decision of council was meant to punish Ford, the court found. There were other avenues in the code of conduct available to council, such as a request for an apology, the judges said.
“What is objectionable in the present case is the fact that a so-called remedial measure is being used for a punitive purpose,” the court said.
“Certainly, from the perspective of an individual who is required to pay monies he never received personally, this is a financial sanction or penalty.”
Ford’s lawyers had argued the mayor shouldn’t be found guilty because he made a genuine error in judgment. But the court didn’t agree, saying his honest belief could only stand up if he had done due diligence to ensure he wasn’t in violation of the code.
“While he may have honestly believed his interpretation was correct, it would undermine the purposes of the MCIA if a subjective belief about the meaning and application of the law was sufficient to excuse a contravention,” the court wrote.
“Wilful blindness to one’s legal obligations cannot be a good faith error in judgment.”
The legal action against Ford was launched by Toronto businessman Paul Magder, who argued the larger-than-life mayor violated the rules when he took part in a council vote.
Ford initially blamed a left-wing conspiracy for the previous court-ordered ouster, pledging to fight “tooth and nail” against the unprecedented ruling. He also vowed that, if he lost in the courts, he would go straight to the court of public opinion by running in a byelection, if the city called one.
Despite the legal win, Ford’s woes are not done. An audit of his campaign expenses is pending.