After enduring a year of "persecution," Norm Gardner says he has been vindicated by a court ruling that has ordered a new hearing into whether he broke any rules by accepting a gun and police ammunition as gifts.
"I feel terrific. I wanted my day in court and I won," Mr. Gardner, former chairman of the Toronto Police Services Board, said in an interview shortly after learning that three judges of the Divisional Court had unanimously upheld his appeal and ordered a new hearing by the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services (OCCPS) with new panel members.
The former city councillor had argued that a hearing in January by the provincial watchdog on police services was biased because the panel members who sat then were included in discussions about his case leading up to the hearing.
"Such conduct . . . offends the rule of the right to an impartial trier of fact," the judges agreed.
Mr. Gardner was forced to step down temporarily from the board chairmanship, a $91,000-a-year job, in June 2003, after members learned he had accepted a gun from a Scarborough firearms manufacturer. A subsequent investigation by the commission revealed he had also accepted about 5,700 rounds of police ammunition for his personal use.
In April, the commission ordered Mr. Gardner permanently suspended from the police board for the reminder of his term, which ends Dec. 5, because he "discredited and compromised the integrity of the board" by accepting the ammunition.
Although the panel of judges ordered a new hearing, they stated it was "not appropriate" for them to set aside the suspension.
Mr. Gardner said he plans to sit down with his lawyer next week to decide on his next step.
In recent months, people ranging from Mayor David Miller to Community Safety Minister Monte Kwinter have called for Mr. Gardner to step aside permanently and permit the appointment of a new member. The board has been hampered by 3-3 votes: Last month, it was heavily criticized for not renewing Police Chief Julian Fantino's contract on a tie vote.
Frank Marrocco, Mr. Gardner's lawyer, said he had to appeal to protect his reputation, even though his refusal to resign from the police board has left it with one less member. "It was never Mr. Gardner's intention to make the situation at the board worse."
OCCPS investigator and spokesman Kent Laidlaw said that the six-member commission wouldn't comment on the court decision until after it meets this Monday. The commission has the option of appealing the ruling.
"The justices have no quarrel with the evidence or his [Mr. Gardner's]guilt or innocence, but simply the process at which it was arrived at," Mr. Laidlaw said.
He added that its standard practice for panel members to sit in all meetings before a hearing is held, partially because the "commission is woefully undermanned."
Alan Heisey, police board chairman, said yesterday's ruling has left the troubled board "no further ahead or behind."
Mr. Gardner said his legal fight with the commission has been "hellish" and expensive. Mr. Marrocco said his client has had to borrow money from his insurance to cover his legal fees.
The judges ordered that the commission pay Mr. Gardner's legal costs, and Mr. Marrocco said he would ask that all the costs for the OCCPS hearing and last month's court hearing be paid by the commission. Neither Mr. Gardner nor his lawyer would reveal the size of the bill so far.
Mr. Gardner maintains that he did nothing wrong by taking the police ammunition and that those who have tried to discredit him were "looking for a trophy."