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‘I did not try to expropriate land – expropriate land – do anything of the sort for Apollo,’ Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says.

Chris Young/The Globe and Mail

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is denying any wrongdoing in asking the city to consider expropriating land to help a client of his family business.

Mr. Ford made the remarks during a news conference on transit Monday, where he was repeatedly asked about a Globe and Mail report that in the first year of his mayoralty, he called a meeting with city staff to explore whether they could expropriate 7,000 square feet of land owned by Suncor Energy Inc. The request was made on behalf of Apollo Health and Beauty Care – a client of the Ford family business for more than a decade – that wanted to use the space for parking.

"I did not try to expropriate land – expropriate land – do anything of the sort for Apollo," Mr. Ford said.

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Still, he did not deny calling a meeting with city staff at Apollo's request. He declined to discuss details of the meeting, but said he would do the same for any business looking to create jobs in the city.

"If someone calls me, I don't say 'what company do you work at?' " he said. "What I encouraged Apollo to do was come and create jobs in the city … I am the person that creates jobs."

E-mails released under the Freedom of Information Act show that, at the urging of Apollo co-owner Richard Wachsberg, Mr. Ford summoned Neil Cresswell, the city's head of planning, as well as Tim Park, the bureaucrat who oversees expropriations by the city.

In a June, 2011, e-mail, Mr. Park tells Mr. Cresswell that he was meeting with Mr. Ford.

"Despite the fact that I explained we can only do that for municipal purposes … I've still got to go up there and do the dog and pony show," Mr. Park's e-mail reads.

Former Deco employees have told The Globe that by 2012, Apollo had become one of Deco's most valuable clients, with industry sources saying the company provided about $1-million a year in revenue for the company.

But Mr. Ford – who has attempted to distance himself from Deco, saying he's not involved in the "day-to-day operations" – repeated what he's said in recent weeks.

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"Deco has never benefited one iota, not one dime from any business we have done in the city for any companies," he said.

The Municipal Conflict of Interest Act governs the behaviour of elected officials in council, but does not forbid them from acting on matters in which they have a financial interest outside the chamber.

Still, the mayor's main rivals in the October election reacted with criticism.

"I believe that integrity is very important," Olivia Chow said. "There needs to be a very clear division between what you own, what you can gain, versus what you're doing as a public official."

She also took the opportunity to challenge both Mr. Ford and front-runner John Tory to put their business holdings in a blind trust if elected – noting that Mr. Tory, a former Rogers CEO who has vowed to resign from his seat from the board if elected, continues to hold an interest in the telecom giant through his share holdings.

Mr. Tory's shares are worth about $5.5-million, according to Roger's most recent security filings.

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Mr. Tory, who responded to the Apollo report by calling it "very disconcerting," said he would follow the rules, "period, full stop." – and accused Ms. Chow of trying to "stir things up"

He also urged the city's integrity commissioner, who is conducting an investigation into Mr. Ford's dealings with Apollo, to wrap up her probe before the October election.

"I'll look forward to the results of the investigation, which they say may come after the election, but I think people would deserve answers if they could possibly get them before that," he said.

Founder of Democracy Watch Duff Conacher, who filed one of the complaints, echoed this.

"If it doesn't come out, I think they're being negligent in terms of wrapping up the investigation," he said. "There's no reason for this not to come out. The evidence is clear. The rules are clear."

The integrity commissioner's code of conduct states that all findings be reported to council – which doesn't meet again until January.

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But it also stipulates that a copy of her report – if and when it's completed – be provided to the complainant beforehand, meaning it could be made public, through a complainant, before an election.

Monday night, the mayor took his campaign message to an exclusive downtown club, but only after the room was cleared of all reporters.

The event was at the University Club of Toronto and co-hosted by the Society for the Young & Politically Engaged. A press release had been issued, but organizers say the mayor's campaign was not properly informed about the media attending, said Sean Lawrence, chair of the club's programming committee.

Mr. Ford's campaign spokesman would not discuss why media were asked to leave.

With reports from Elizabeth Church and Greg McArthur

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