Mayor Rob Ford says he had no evidence beyond tips from anonymous callers and a personal hunch when he singled out a controversial 20-year restaurant deal with the city as “an example of corruption and skulduggery.”
Mr. Ford entered the witness box Friday for the second time in less than three months, this time to face questions in a $6-million defamation suit filed against him. The suit, filed by George Foulidis, the owner of Tuggs Inc., which operates the Boardwalk Pub in the Beach, centres on comments made by Mr. Ford during the 2010 municipal campaign. In September, Mr. Ford testified in his defence in a conflict-of-interest case.
In this case, in an unusual twist, Mr. Ford was called to testify by Mr. Foulidis’s lawyer as part of his evidence for the suit against the mayor.
Mr. Ford, dressed in a blue suit and tie, sat gripping the edge of the witness box with his left hand as he faced questions for about four hours. A large part of the questioning centred on remarks made during an August, 2010, Toronto Sun editorial board meeting with Mr. Ford during his bid for mayor and a subsequent article written about it.
In a tape of part of that meeting played for the court Friday, Mr. Ford talks of corruption and skulduggery going on in in camera meetings. “And if Tuggs isn’t, I don’t know what is,” he said.
Asked to explain what he meant by that statement, Mr. Ford repeated several times that he believed the single-sourced contract between the city and Tuggs to operate the restaurant was corrupt because it did not follow proper processes and details of the contract were discussed by council in a private session.
“The Tuggs deal was in camera. Like many, many other deals that have been in camera, I don’t agree with how the Tuggs deal was done,” he said. “When they don’t follow the process, when staff recommends a [request for proposals] and you ignore it, I call that skulduggery and corruption.”
In questioning from Brian Shiller, the lawyer for Mr. Foulidis, the mayor said he had no proof that the sole-source deal was corrupt, but said he was one of many who were suspicious. At one point he described councillors as “going snake” in a closed session to discuss the contract as a sign that something was wrong. “Some of them were losing their mind to get this deal through,” he said.
“Something was going on. I don’t know what it is. I can’t pinpoint it,” he said. “It’s hard to catch them in the act. It’s hard to prove it.”
To that, Mr. Shiller asked, “If you don’t know who is being corrupt and you don’t know how they are being corrupt, how do you know there is corruption?”
“It smells that way. It just looks that way,” Mr. Ford responded. He later added: “Over the last five years or before we signed this deal there was a lot of innuendos, there were a lot of councillors talking about it. I got a lot of phone calls from people. I talked to a lot of people. They called me about the deal. It just didn’t smell right. It just didn’t pass the test in my personal opinion.”
Mr. Ford said he did not know Mr. Foulidis and could not comment on him personally. His comments, he said, were all directed at the contract.
Later in the day, Mr. Shiller questioned the mayor on his remarks during a radio interview in the weeks leading up to the meeting with the editorial board. In that case, he noted, Mr. Ford was asked if there was money paid under the table in connection with the Tuggs deal, and he responded that he believed there was.
Under questioning, Mr. Ford said he had no evidence to support that belief. “Did I see someone get a brown envelope of cash, no,” he said.
Instead, Mr. Ford said a number of people called him to tell him something was not right with the deal and that money was being exchanged. Asked why he did nothing with the allegations, Mr. Ford said they were made by people who wanted to remain anonymous.
“I don’t know who they are,” he said. “They are calling from pay phones, they are calling from blocked numbers.”
At one point Mr. Ford said he would like the police to investigate the deal, but later said he had never called them on the matter.
Mr. Ford’s questioning took up most of the fourth day of the trial. It was moved from earlier in the week because of a scheduling conflict. Mr. Ford spent Thursday afternoon leading the Don Bosco football team he coaches to victory in the city finals and during the lunch break Friday, Mr. Ford made it to City Hall to welcome the Grey Cup to Toronto.
Mr. Foulidis is also suing Bruce Baker, a former candidate for city council. The cases are being tried together. Mr. Foulidis and Mr. Baker testified earlier in the week.
The trial will continue Monday with closing arguments.