The outcome of a $6-million libel lawsuit filed against Toronto’s mayor is now in the hands of a judge.
Mr. Justice John Macdonald reserved his decision, but not before lawyers for Rob Ford and George Foulidis, the restaurant owner suing the mayor, took one last chance to make their cases Tuesday.
One of the key questions that remains in dispute is whether city council actually held a closed-door session in 2010 to discuss a 20-year, sole-sourced lease extension for Mr. Foulidis’s company, Tuggs Inc., which owns the Boardwalk Pub in the Beaches.
Mr. Foulidis’s lawyer, Brian Shiller, argued there is no evidence before the court that an in-camera meeting took place, except for what he called the “disingenous” testimony of Mr. Ford.
“I urge you to find that when [Mr. Ford] is saying, you know, it’s all confidential, it’s behind closed doors – it’s not true and he knows it not to be true,” Mr. Shiller told the court. “It’s not all confidential, it’s not all behind closed doors. It’s an excuse to not back up his allegations.”
Gavin Tighe, the mayor’s lawyer, countered that council minutes confirm the closed session. However, he decided not to go ahead with a motion Tuesday morning that could have reopened the case to allow a certified copy of those minutes into evidence.
All this matters because one of the allegedly defamatory statements Mr. Ford made to the Toronto Sun’s editorial board in August, 2010, in relation to the Tuggs deal is that: “It’s confidential and I wish you guys knew what happened behind closed doors.”
The minutes of the May 11 and May 12, 2010, council meeting at which the Tuggs deal was approved – which are publicly available on the city’s website – show that council did go in-camera the night of May 11 from 6:17 p.m. to 9:27 p.m. They also show Mr. Ford was not present for that closed-door session.
The Tuggs issue arose again at council’s next meeting in June, but there was no closed session at that meeting, according to the minutes.
The question of the closed-door meeting goes to Mr. Ford’s defence that his remarks to the Sun’s editorial board should be protected by the defence of fair comment.
But his lawyer argued again Tuesday that the then-councillor did not libel Mr. Foulidis in the first place because he was referring to a sour deal and institutional corruption at city hall, not calling the restaurateur corrupt.
“The words on their face libel nobody,” Mr. Tighe told the court.
Mr. Tighe wrapped up his closing address by urging the judge to give politicians such as Mr. Ford plenty of latitude to speak about issues of public concern, especially during an election campaign.
“It would be a very bad day for Canadian democracy if politicians were in any way impeded from that duty,” he said.