The will of the voters should not be disregarded because a politician made a “trivial” mistake on his paperwork, the lawyer for ousted Toronto city councillor Jim Karygiannis argued in court Thursday.
Sean Dewart contended that it would be “absurd to suppose” that the residents of Ward 22 – where Mr. Karygiannis won in 2018 with 47 per cent of the vote – should be deprived of representation “for any error, no matter how small.”
But the lawyer for Adam Chaleff, the citizen whose concerns led to scrutiny of Mr. Karygiannis’s financial statements, resulting in an admission of election overspending, countered that an uncompromising punishment was the intent of provincial legislation.
“It may seem that this is a harsh penalty,” Stephen Aylward told Ontario Superior Court Judge William Chalmers. “This clearly is a penalty that was intentionally designed as such.”
Mr. Karygiannis was removed from municipal office earlier this month after his own financial statement showed that he had shattered the spending limit under one part of the Municipal Elections Act. He did not attend court as his lawyer sought his reinstatement, and has blamed a clerical error for the statement showing overspending.
Justice Chalmers reserved his decision on the matter after the one-day hearing, saying he would attempt to render a decision by Tuesday, when Toronto City Council is due formally to declare Mr. Karygiannis’s seat vacant.
The hearing Thursday centred on spending by Mr. Karygiannis after the October, 2018 municipal election.
Under the Municipal Elections Act, candidates in Mr. Karygiannis’s ward were permitted to spend a maximum of $6,121 on “parties and other expressions of appreciation” in the aftermath of the election.
Mr. Karygiannis’s original financial statement showed he had spent nothing in the parties and appreciation category. But under the fundraising category, which had no spending limit, it showed that he had paid for a $5,000 party and a dinner costing $27,083.50, both after the election.
After questions were raised, Mr. Karygiannis filed a supplementary financial statement. In this filing, both events were designated as parties or appreciation. However, taken together, they totalled nearly five times the maximum allowed for that type of spending.
Mr. Karygiannis’s lawyer argued that the fact the overspending was laid out in the financial statement was proof that his client had not been deceitful. Instead, Mr. Dewart told Justice Chalmers, a mistake had been made on the supplemental financial statement.
The lawyer said the $27,000 dinner was in fact a fundraiser, as specified in the original financial statement. He blamed an accounting error for it being classified as an appreciation party on the supplemental statement, a document Mr. Karygiannis signed off on.
However, Mark Siboni, the lawyer for Toronto and for city clerk Ulli Watkiss, said that the provincial legislation offered the clerk no latitude to try to figure out what Mr. Karygiannis might have intended to mean in his financial statement.
And Mr. Chaleff said that the $27,000 dinner doesn’t seem to fit the definition of a fundraiser.
“If you raised no money and it happened after election day, this is plainly an expression of appreciation and so it should be called that,” he said outside court.
Mr. Karygiannis, who had previously been a federal member of Parliament, was informed early in November by Ms. Watkiss that his 2018 victory had been nullified. At the same time, he was barred from running again municipally until after the next election, in 2022.
Mr. Siboni, explained that Ms. Watkiss’s role was that of gatekeeper, assessing whether candidates’ financial paperwork, on their face, complied with the law. Since the second one submitted by Mr. Karygiannis did not, because it broke the spending limit, Mr. Siboni said that the clerk had no discretion.
“The penalties flow from the legislation,” he told the court. “The penalty applies automatically.”