Skip to main content

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s friend and occasional driver Alessandro Lisi leaves Old City Hall after he was granted bail on drug and conspiracy charges in Toronto on Oct. 2, 2013.Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail

Ontario's Attorney-General says it was not appropriate for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford to use city hall letterhead in a character reference he penned for a friend convicted of threatening to kill a woman.

Mr. Ford wrote the one-page letter last June for Alessandro Lisi's sentencing hearing. The missive was printed on his office's official stationary, emblazoned with "Mayor Rob Ford" and a City of Toronto crest on the top. He signed it "Rob Ford, Mayor of Toronto."

"I personally don't think it's appropriate to use your letterhead that outlines the position that you hold within a community to do that," Attorney-General John Gerretsen told The Globe and Mail at Queen's Park Wednesday.

Mr. Gerretsen, himself a former mayor of Kingston, Ont., said he has provided references for people applying for non-governmental jobs over the years, but that he always does it in a personal capacity.

"I've written letters of support of individuals but always left my official capacity out of it," he said. "Not in [legal proceedings], but sometimes you get a request for letters of support for somebody who's applying for a job outside of government."

Mr. Ford stormed out of a city hall news conference when asked about Mr. Gerretsen's disapproval. "You know what? If you guys want to ask me about the letters, that's the end of it. It's over," the mayor said, becoming visibly agitated. "I've answered it. That's it. Anything else? Thanks. It's over. Forget it. Forget it. Done."

He then walked briskly away from reporters, refusing to answer any more questions.

"You know what, guys? I gave you an opportunity. You just want to cause problems. It's all you want to do," he said.

Mr. Ford's brother, Councillor Doug Ford, said the mayor has written "numerous letters for people who have broken the law," including children who play on the high-school football team he used to coach.

"Rob doesn't judge people, he doesn't throw the book at them," Doug Ford said. "There are a lot of people in this country that deserve a second chance, that have broken the law. And he's there to write a letter in support. But also understanding that breaking the law is not the right thing to do."

Despite his view of Mr. Ford's actions, Mr. Gerretsen said he is not planning to bring in new rules to stop politicians from writing reference letters in judicial proceedings. Federal officials, for instance, are bound by such laws.

"I'm not so sure whether or not we should be legislating in that regard. I think good common sense should prevail," he said.

Mr. Gerretsen said such letter-writing is not necessarily wrong in itself, as it can help courts decide on an appropriate sentence. He said it does not constitute political interference in the justice system.

"As to whether or not judges are influenced by it one way or another, you'd have to talk to them about that," he said. "The more information a judge has in that regard, dealing with the character of the individual, hopefully the better decisions will be reached."

In the letter, Mr. Ford wrote that he had known Mr. Lisi for years, and that his friend "has always shown tact and diplomacy," and "has always conducted himself in a courteous and polite manner." He said Mr. Lisi was an "exemplary" member of his mayoral campaign team in 2010.

Mr. Lisi, who was convicted of threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend, ultimately received a suspended sentence and two years' probation in the matter. He is appealing.

He was arrested Oct. 1 on separate drug charges. That case is still before the courts.

With a report from Kaleigh Rogers