When Rob Ford testifies next week in a legal hearing that could see him kicked out of office, Toronto’s mayor is expected to argue that he made an honest mistake over a trifling amount of money.
Hints of Mr. Ford’s strategy can be gleaned from a 148-page transcript of a cross-examination that Mr. Ford underwent behind closed doors, and which is now part of the court record.
A judge decided Friday that Mr. Ford will have to appear in person to answer allegations he broke the Municipal Conflict-of-Interest Act when he voted to let himself off the hook for failing to repay $3,150 that lobbyists and their clients had donated to his personal football foundation.
The looming court case is the latest in a string of incidents that raise questions about Mr. Ford’s judgment and distract from his day-to-day work as mayor, such as the recent furor over his reading while driving on the Gardiner Expressway.
But this time, there is more at stake than unflattering headlines: If Mr. Ford is found to have broken the Act, he would automatically lose his job.
The judge could then decide to ban him from running again for up to seven years.
The severity of the penalty could mean that Mr. Justice Charles Hackland, the Ottawa judge overseeing the case, might be sympathetic to defence arguments that would keep Mr. Ford from losing his job – especially considering the incident arose out of the mayor’s passion for a charity that provides football equipment to underprivileged high schools.
Alan Lenczner, the prominent lawyer defending the mayor, will start by arguing that council did not have the power to order Mr. Ford to pay back the money in the first place. “Our alternative defences are if there is any contravention, and we say there is not, then it was by inadvertence or error in judgment … ” Mr. Lenczner says, adding that the money was “not a significant sum of money for any one of those donors.”
Clayton Ruby, the high-profile lawyer who will grill the mayor, will be arguing that Mr. Ford, a 12-year veteran of city council, knew he should have recused himself from the debate and vote. The rules are right there in the council handbook, Mr. Ruby suggests at the start of the June 28 cross-examination. Mr. Ford says repeatedly he cannot recall ever receiving or reading a handbook.
“Do you have any memory of the handbook?” Mr. Ruby asks.
“I just answered that question,” Mr. Ford replies.
“You said, ‘I have a memory in my mind.’ What is it you have in your mind?”
“I can remember what I ate for breakfast this morning.”
At the heart of the case is a speech and vote that Mr. Ford made on Feb. 7.
A year-and-a-half earlier, when Mr. Ford was still a gadfly councillor from Etobicoke’s Ward 2, council ordered him to repay out of his own pocket $3,150 in donations that the Rob Ford Football Foundation had received from 11 lobbyists or their clients and one corporation that does business with the city.
(The lobbyists weren’t named at the time, but Mr. Ford revealed during the cross-examination that one was an unnamed taxi company and another was the Woodbine Entertainment Group, which is now lobbying for a full-scale casino at its racetrack slots location.)
Council handed out the punishment at the urging of the city’s Integrity Commissioner, who concluded that Mr. Ford broke the councillors’ Code of Conduct when he used the city’s logo, his councillor letterhead and the time of a city-paid staffer to solicit donations for his foundation.
Despite six reminders from the commissioner, Mr. Ford declined to pay back the money. The issue landed back at council Feb. 7, when Mr. Ford, now mayor, delivered a speech arguing he should not have to repay money that did not benefit him personally. He voted with the council majority to scrap his own punishment.
That decision led to Toronto resident Paul Magder filing a lawsuit against Mr. Ford. Mr. Magder volunteered on the unsuccessful run for school trustee of Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler, an activist who led the push to have the mayor’s campaign expenses audited.
Mr. Ford says again and again during the cross-examination that he relied on the city solicitor to tell him when he was supposed to declare a conflict and recuse himself from a debate and a vote. Nobody warned him to step aside on Feb.7, he says.