TORONTO – The mayor of Canada’s largest city is expected to take the stand today in a conflict-of-interest case that could cost him his job.
An Ontario judge has ordered Toronto’s Rob Ford to testify and be cross-examined in open court over allegations the mayor spoke and voted on a matter in which he had a financial interest.
If found guilty of violating the Municipal Conflict of Interest act, Ford could be ousted from office and barred from running for city council for seven years.
However, there’s a chance the mayor could hold on to his seat even if found to be at fault, provided the judge finds that Ford made a mistake or experienced a lapse in judgment.
Lawyer Clayton Ruby, whose client filed the lawsuit, has argued Ford’s conduct was “flagrant and deliberate.”
Ford, meanwhile, has told local radio stations he has done nothing wrong and it should be up to voters — not the court — to decide whether he stays in office.
Trevor Farrow, a legal ethics expert at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, said the conflict-of-interest rules were designed to allow for human mistakes while “setting a fairly high standard to protect an important institution, which is our municipal government structure.”
“It’ll be key what evidence is given at that hearing in terms of what the mayor knew or should have known, in terms of this notion of inadvertence, ignorance or an error in judgment,” he said.
When someone is found to have knowingly breached the spirit and letter of the rules, “the act does not give a lot of discretion to the court in terms of remedies,” Farrow said.
“Will (Ford) lose his seat? I really don’t know … Is it a possibility? Yes, it’s a possibility,” he said.
The suit was launched in March by Paul Madger, a Toronto resident, but the issue dates back to almost two years ago, when Ford was still a councillor.
He used his office stationary to solicit donations for his private football foundation, which got him in hot water with the city’s integrity commissioner.
In 2010, the commissioner found Ford had violated the code of conduct for councillors and recommended he pay back $3,150 in donations, some of which had come from lobbyists who did business with the city.
Council adopted the commissioner’s findings and sanction in a resolution Ford voted against — but he never made the repayments, despite several reminders from the commissioner.
In February, council took up the matter again at the request of the integrity commissioner, but this time, councillors — including the mayor himself — decided Ford did not have to repay the donations.
Ford had originally submitted an affidavit to defend himself against the allegations laid out in the suit, but Ruby filed a motion to compel the mayor to tell his side of the story in person, arguing his credibility was a concern in the case.
The hearing is expected to last three days.