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Integrity commissioner Janet Leiper declined to confirm whether she had launched an investigation of Doug and Rob Ford.Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Just days before Rob Ford leaves rehab and rejoins the municipal election, a national watchdog organization has filed a complaint with Toronto's integrity commissioner, alleging that the mayor and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, violated council's code of conduct in their dealings with firms connected to Deco Labels and Tags, the family-owned printing company.

"The key question is how much can a city councillor be a lobbyist for a private interest and what are the restrictions on that," said Duff Conacher, a board member of Democracy Watch, an Ottawa-based government transparency group that has launched actions against politicians across the country, including Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.

The complaint is based on revelations in a pair of Globe and Mail investigations that showed that Mayor Ford and his brother used senior city bureaucrats in their efforts to help two companies, Apollo Health and Beauty Care and R.R. Donnelley Canada, both of which had or were planning to build commercial relationships with Deco.

According to an affidavit submitted this week to Integrity Commissioner Janet Leiper, Mr. Conacher alleged that the mayor and his brother violated five sections of the code, including provisions that prohibit the "undue use of influence" by elected officials, and the practice of referring "a third party to a person, partnership or corporation in exchange for payment or other personal benefit."

Neither Councillor Ford nor a spokesperson for the mayor responded to requests for comment.

The Globe reported that a former Deco sales executive confirmed that Deco and Donnelley, a Chicago-based multinational, had privately negotiated an arrangement that would see the larger firm refer clients requiring labels to Deco. The Fords, according to city records, arranged meetings between Donnelley officials and staff to consider an unsolicited proposal to outsource the city's $9-million printing operation. Nothing came of the plan, which was discussed in June, 2011. Doug Ford has also said that Donnelley didn't refer any business to Deco.

Mr. Conacher is the first person to publicly reveal that they've formally filed a complaint about these latest revelations. But Ray Fredette, a retired teachers' association executive, has been pursuing an expanding complaint to Ms. Leiper's office since early in the year, based on an earlier Globe investigation involving the mayor's intervention in a sewage spill investigation at Apollo.

That probe was halted when Mayor Ford took a leave of absence earlier this spring to seek treatment for drug and alcohol addiction at a rehab facility in Muskoka. Tim Gleason, a lawyer for Mr. Fredette, said last week that his client intends to ask Ms. Leiper to expand the scope of her investigation to include Councillor Ford.

In an interview, Mr. Conacher made it clear that he doesn't have high hopes for the probe, noting that Toronto's integrity watchdog system lacks teeth and is susceptible to political interference because members of council ultimately vote on the commissioner's recommended penalty.

"It's a bad system overall," he said, noting that Democracy Watch decided to file the complaint partially to draw attention to these shortcomings during the current municipal election.

Democracy Watch's application comes on the heels of a bid by Councillor Giorgio Mammolitti to use the courts to block an investigation of a $5,000-a-table fundraiser he held last year. Ms. Leiper confirmed in an email Friday that her office has been notified that a judicial review is pending, and said she will be "responding to the application."

With a report from Greg McArthur

John Lorinc is a freelance writer.