Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has been granted respite from some of his legal troubles after a judge dismissed a defamation suit against him.
The $6-million legal action was brought by George Foulidis, whose family runs the Boardwalk Pub on Woodbine Beach. In a meeting with the Toronto Sun’s editorial board during the 2010 mayoral race, Mr. Ford criticized a sole-sourced contract that extended Boardwalk’s exclusive franchise to sell food at the beach.
He termed the deal an example of “corruption and skulduggery” at City Hall.
The then-councillor promptly hedged on his statement, telling the newspaper, “I can’t accuse anyone, or I can’t pinpoint it.” Mr. Justice John Macdonald ruled on Thursday that these qualifiers were enough to render his words non-libelous.
“The defendant voiced only a suspicion of corruption which he, immediately and in clear terms, admitted was without factual foundation or insufficient for him to be able to say that anyone had done anything wrong,” the judge wrote.
In his statements to the newspaper, Mr. Ford did not name Mr. Foulidis, instead referring to Tuggs Inc., the company that owns Boardwalk.
Since provincial records indicate Mr. Foulidis’s brother is Tuggs’s president, secretary and director, Judge Macdonald found that the Sun’s readers would not necessarily infer the mayor was criticizing Mr. Foulidis.
And the judge had harsh words for Mr. Foulidis, who had previously taken part in an unrelated attempt to thwart an insurance company. Mr. Ford’s lawyer, Gavin Tighe, raised the case in his cross-examination of the businessman to attack his credibility.
“I find that [Mr. Foulidis] attempted to mislead this court about his past fraudulent conduct,” Judge Macdonald wrote, adding that he was “left with serious doubt about the credibility and reliability of his testimony.”
Neither Mr. Foulidis nor his lawyer responded to requests for comment late Thursday. It is unclear whether he will appeal.
The mayor’s office, meanwhile, issued a written statement attributed to Mr. Ford: “I welcome today’s decision by the court to dismiss the Foulidis lawsuit against me. I will continue fighting to represent the best interests of Toronto taxpayers at City Hall. There is still a lot of work to be done and I will continue to focus on this,” it said.
Mr. Ford still faces a far more serious legal entanglement in a separate case. In November, a different judge found the mayor guilty of breaking the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act and ordered him removed from office.
In that case, Mr. Ford used his position as a councillor to solicit donations to his football foundation, then took part in a council vote on whether he should be forced to repay the money.
The mayor has appealed that ruling, and will present his case next month. A court has ordered he remain in office until the appeal is decided.
The Boardwalk deal was a flashpoint in the 2010 vote, contributing not only to Mr. Ford’s election, but to the defeat of the long-serving area councillor who backed the agreement.