When Toronto Mayor Rob Ford goes to court on Tuesday, he won’t just be facing trial in a $6-million defamation lawsuit filed by the owner of an east-end restaurant. He could also be facing an all-star cast of political and media players from the city’s present and past – including his predecessor, David Miller.
Mr. Miller is one of at least half a dozen Torontonians whom The Globe and Mail has confirmed have been summoned to appear as witnesses in a case that will see the operator of the Boardwalk Pub in the Beaches argue that Mr. Ford libelled him with allegations that his lease deal with the city smacked of civic corruption.
The others include Mr. Ford himself, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, Toronto Sun reporter Jonathan Jenkins and Newstalk 1010 radio hosts Jerry Agar and John Tory.
Council Speaker Frances Nunziata, former Beaches councillor Sandra Bussin and Toronto Sun columnist Sue-Ann Levy are also believed to be on the list, but they did not return messages seeking confirmation.
The fact that Mr. Miller and the others have received a summons is no guarantee they will be called to testify – that depends on how lawyers for each side decide to roll out their arguments at a four-day hearing that marks Mr. Ford’s third go-round with the courts since becoming mayor.
“They’ve paraded a significant number of names. It’s a bit of a moving target,” said Gavin Tighe, Mr. Ford’s lawyer. “It’s unusual … usually you do know who’s giving evidence.”
The plaintiff’s lawyer, Brian Shiller, declined to comment while the case is before the court.
The mayor has denied any wrongdoing in court documents, and his office suggested on Sunday that the lawsuit was politically motivated.
“I am aware that David Miller has been summoned,” press secretary George Christopoulos said, “which goes to show that this is likely more about politics than it is about law.”
Mr. Miller said that he “wouldn’t want to guess,” why he received a summons “out of the blue a few days ago” and referred questions to the plaintiff’s lawyer.
Mr. Ford is accused of defaming George Foulidis, the owner of Tuggs Inc., the company that operates the Boardwalk Pub and enjoys the exclusive rights to sell food and beverages in the Eastern Beaches.
The legal saga began during the 2010 election race, when a 20-year extension to Tuggs Inc.’s lease with the city became a hot campaign topic.
In a statement of claim filed Oct. 6, 2010, Mr. Foulidis alleges that Mr. Ford defamed him in comments he made to the Toronto Sun’s editorial board, published in a story by Mr. Jenkins Aug. 12, 2010.
Mr. Ford, then an Etobicoke councillor vying for the city’s top job, suggested the deal smacked of civic corruption. “If Tuggs isn’t, then I don’t know what is,” Mr. Ford told the Sun, adding that the Tuggs deal “stinks to high heaven.”
The statement of claim also points to an interview Mr. Ford did on Aug. 29 of that year with Mr. Agar, a Newstalk 1010 radio host.
“Is someone getting money under the table?” Mr. Agar asked.
“I truly believe they are, and that’s my personal opinion, and when I see all these donations, going through campaigns, it stinks to high heaven. We tried to re-open it [the deal at council], and they wouldn’t re-open it,” Mr. Ford said.
Mr. Foulidis argues in his lawsuit that Mr. Ford’s statements to the Sun and in the radio interview “were understood to mean that Mr. Foulidis acted illegally and that the contract awarded to his company was the result of that illegal and criminal activity.”
In a statement of defence, Mr. Ford’s lawyer countered that the candidate never mentioned Mr. Foulidis by name, and that his comments were aimed at city council and its practices, not at Mr. Foulidis.
Moreover, they were fair comment on an important topic during an election campaign, the document says.
The document also cites a slew of news articles that raise questions about the deal, including a column by Ms. Levy that describes the report of a private investigator who says he traced $12,250 in campaign contributions to Ms. Bussin from friends, family members and business associates of Mr. Foulidis.
Ms. Bussin, the former councillor for Ward 32 Beaches-East York, said at the time that she pushed for the sole-sourced arrangement – against city staff’s call for competitive bids – in 2006 and 2007 as a check against chain restaurants gaining a toehold in the Beaches.
Mr. Tighe, the mayor’s lawyer, tried to have the lawsuit thrown out of court on the grounds that it was a “frivolous, vexatious” action designed to silence Mr. Ford at the height of an election campaign.
Having lost that argument, Mr. Tighe persuaded the court to try the Ford case in tandem with another defamation suit Mr. Foulidis filed against Bruce Baker, a former candidate for Ward 32. Mr. Baker declined to comment for this story.
Mr. Ford is awaiting a judge’s ruling in an unrelated conflict-of-interest action that saw him testify in September. If found guilty of breaking the Municipal Conflict-of-Interest Act, the mayor would be booted from office. Mr. Ford also turned to the courts to try to halt an audit of his campaign finances, but he later abandoned that effort and the audit is under way.