The Ontario judge who ruled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford should be ousted from office for violating the province’s conflict-of-interest law made the right call and the decision should stand, contends the lawyer representing the Torontonian whose complaint led to last month’s stunning removal order.
In a submission filed in Divisional Court on Monday in response to the Mayor’s appeal, lawyer Clayton Ruby argues that the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act must be “interpreted harshly” when rules are broken or else the public will lose trust in their politicians.
“Nothing less than the integrity of government is at stake,” Mr. Ruby’s factum states.
Earlier this month, Mr. Ford won a stay of the decision by Mr. Justice Charles Hackland of the Ontario Superior Court until a three-judge panel rules on his appeal.
Judge Hackland had ordered Mr. Ford be removed from office after concluding he violated Ontario’s conflict-of-interest law when, at a council meeting last February, the mayor spoke to and voted on a motion that excused him from repaying $3,150 in improper donations to his football foundation.
Expulsion from office is the mandatory penalty for breaking Ontario’s Municipal Conflict of Interest Act (MCIA). An appeal hearing is scheduled to begin Jan. 7, with a decision expected weeks later.
The Mayor has vowed to fight his ouster.
In a submission filed in Divisional Court on Dec. 12, Mr. Ford’s lawyer, Alan Lenczner, contends that the judge who ruled the mayor should be turfed from office made several errors in law.
According to Mr. Lenczner, the mistakes included ruling that city council was within its rights to order Mr. Ford to pay back the $3,150 and finding that Mr. Ford did not make an honest error in judgment when he voted and spoke on the issue at city council.
“It is respectfully submitted that [Judge Hackland], from the outset, adopted the wrong approach,” Mr. Lenczner’s factum states.
“Rather than applying the ordinary meaning to plain language, and seeking to uphold the democratic decision of the voters who elected the Mayor, by construing the [Municipal Conflict of Interest Act] ‘strictly’ and by searching for ‘a reasonable interpretation which will avoid a penalty,’ [Judge Hackland] did the opposite of what the law demands.”
However Mr. Ruby, who represents Toronto resident Paul Magder, argues in his submission that the conflict-of-interest law is unequivocal on what municipal politicians should do if they have a financial stake in a matter before council. He also contends that the Mayor’s financial interest was not insignificant and that his contravention of conflict-of interest-rules “was wanton, reckless and completely lacking bona fides.”
“ [Mr. Ford’s] own behaviour suggests that, when he wants to, he understands that the MCIA is not limited to cases involving the city’s financial interests,” Mr. Ruby’s factum states.
If Mr. Ford wins the appeal, he will remain mayor. If he loses, council will have to decide whether to call a $7-million by-election or appoint a replacement to serve until the next general election on Oct. 27, 2014.
Several councillors are mulling a run at the mayoralty. The temporary suspension of the lower-court decision means councillors have more time to weigh their prospects.