Rob Ford’s political fate is now in the hands of a judge after lawyers arguing for and against the mayor wrapped up their arguments in a high-stakes court case that could force him from office.
Clayton Ruby, the lawyer pursing a conflict-of-interest charge against Mr. Ford, argued Thursday that the mayor was “reckless” and “willfully ignorant” of the rules when he failed to recuse himself from a debate and vote on whether he should have to pay back out of his own pocket $3,150 in improper donations to his football foundation.
The mayor admitted in his testimony that he never bothered to read the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act or the council handbook, and that his office had no protocol to screen for conflicts.
“That is not good faith. That is willful blindness,” Mr. Ruby said. “I’m closing my eyes … I’ll do what I want. I’ll have my own conception of the act and I’ll get away with it.”
The mayor’s lawyer, Alan Lenczner, countered that Mr. Ford made an “honest error of judgment” when he cast his vote Feb. 7 because he genuinely believed conflict-of-interest rules only applied on “city business.”
“Is it far-fetched? I don’t think so. He may be wrong, and the cases allow for that … because that’s what an error of judgment is,” Mr. Lenczner said, adding that his interpretation of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act is essentially the same as the mayor’s.
Mr. Lenczner also argued that Mr. Ford’s history of declaring conflicts when he has a personal financial interest in city business demonstrated he acted in good faith on Feb. 7.
“He’s got a principle and he sticks to his principle,” Mr. Lenczner said.
The question of whether Mr. Ford made an honest mistake when he delivered his speech and cast his vote consumed the bulk of the two-day hearing. But that does not mean it will be the issue on which the case turns.
Mr. Lenczner – whose fees the mayor is paying out of his own pocket – devoted most of his energy to nuances of law, not to Mr. Ford’s behaviour.
He argued that city council never had the authority to force Mr. Ford to reimburse his foundation’s donors because that sanction is not expressly spelled out in the City of Toronto Act.
He also argued that the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act – the law Mr. Ford is accused of breaching – does not apply in this case. If it did, it would prevent elected officials from speaking in their own defence at council when confronted with a negative finding from the integrity commissioner, Mr. Lenczner told the court.
As Mr. Ruby delivered his closing submission Thursday morning, Mr. Ford sat stony-faced, occasionally lacing his fingers and leaning back in his chair. The mayor did not return to the courtroom after lunch to watch his lawyer’s final submission.
Mr. Justice Charles Hackland, the Ottawa judge presiding over the case, promised to issue a written decision in a “timely” manner.
If found guilty, the mayor would automatically be turfed from office. The judge could choose to ban him from running again for up to seven years.