Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has been removed from office and has 14 days to vacate his seat, after a judgment from Ontario Superior Court Judge Charles Hackland Monday morning.
Hackland, the same judge who famously tossed out former MP Helena Guergis’ lawsuit against Prime Minister Stephen Harper, had been deliberating on a case that revolved around Ford’s decision in February to vote during a council meeting on whether he should be forced to repay money he solicited from city lobbyists and businesses for his personal football charity in 2010, while he was still a city councillor.
The decision gives Ford 14 days to leave office, but it does not bar him from running for office again, as Hackland wrote that he will “decline to impose any further disqualification.”
“In view of the respondent’s leadership role in ensuring integrity in the municipal government, it is difficult to accept an error-in-judgment defence based essentially on a stubborn sense of entitlement (concerning his football foundation) and a dismissing and confrontational attitude to the integrity commissioner and the code of conduct,” Hackland wrote in his judgment. “In my opinion, the respondents’ actions were characterized by ignorance of the law and a lack of diligence in securing professional advice, amounting to willful blindness.”
Ford said he will appeal and if he loses, he will run in a byelection to reclaim his seat.
“I’ll be first on the ballot,” he told reporters. “This comes down to left-wing politics. The left wing wants me out of here and they will do anything in their power.
“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.”
Ford said he will continue his fight for the taxpayers.
Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday is expected to step in as interim mayor. Council can agree to appoint Holyday mayor until the next election, can appoint someone else as mayor, or can call a byelection within 60 days. Ford would be able to run for re-election in a byelection.
The case began when the city’s integrity commissioner, Janet Leiper, ruled that Ford had acted inappropriately when he used city letterhead to ask for donations to the Rob Ford Football Foundation, which gives sports equipment to low-income students, and then accepted $3,150 from seven lobbyists and their clients, including Woodbine Entertainment.
Council tossed out the integrity commissioner’s order at the February meeting. But Toronto resident Paul Magder sued Ford, saying it was a conflict of interest for him to have voted on the motion. At the time, Ford told council he shouldn’t have to pay back the donations because they had already been spent. “The money is gone,” he said. “The money has been spent on football equipment.”
At a hearing in September, Ford told the court he had expected city legal staff to warn him if he was in a conflict of interest and that his charity fundraising activities hadn’t violated any city rules because neither he nor the city benefited from the donations.
His lawyer, Alan Lenczner, argued that neither the integrity commissioner, nor council, had the authority to order Ford to repay the donations in the first place.
Magder’s lawyer, Clayton Ruby, accused Ford of “flagrant and deliberate” conduct and argued the mayor was a seasoned municipal politician who should have been familiar enough with city rules to know that councillors must declare a conflict when they stand to financially benefit from a council vote.
Councillor Paula Fletcher said it’s an unfortunate situation.
“All he had to do was pay back the money,” she said. “When he chose not to do that, he chose a different path.”
She said she was “embarrassed” on behalf of the city that a court had to remove the mayor.
Ford’s dedication to his football team, the Don Bosco Eagles, is both legendary and controversial. Earlier this month, he left a council meeting early, skipping an important discussion on the city’s $8.4-billion light-rail transit plan, to coach a playoff game that ended in a fight. The city later sent two Toronto Transit Commission buses to the game at the request of police, kicking paying customers off in the rain to ferry Ford’s football players. Ford later came under fire for calling TTC CEO Andy Byford and demanding to know when the buses would arrive.
Ford’s legal troubles are far from over. The mayor still faces a ruling in a separate $6-million defamation suit by restaurateur George Foulidis after Ford highlighted an 20-year contract awarded to Fouldis’ beach-side cafe as part of his 2010 mayoral campaign, saying the deal “stinks to high heaven.”