Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is vowing to appeal a court ruling that has ordered him out of office – a stunning decision that Mr. Ford said stems from left-wing efforts to oust him from the city's top job by any means possible.
"It comes down to the left-wing politics," Mr. Ford told a crush of reporters outside his office Monday. "The left wing wants me out of here and they'll do anything in their power. I'm gonna fight tooth and nail to keep my job as mayor."
Mr. Ford proceeded to keep doing his job Monday, launching a holiday toy drive from city hall's rotunda just minutes after announcing he would fight the court decision.
A few hours earlier, Mr. Ford, his chief of staff, his press secretary and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, huddled at the downtown offices of the mayor's lawyer to absorb the news that the Ontario Superior Court had found Mr. Ford violated the Municipal Conflict-of-Interest Act.
In his 24-page ruling, Mr. Justice Charles Hackland concluded that Mr. Ford's decision to speak about and vote on an item that freed him from repaying $3,150 in improper donations to his football charity amounted to "willful blindness."
"In my opinion, the respondent's actions were characterized by ignorance of the law and a lack of diligence in securing professional advice, amounting to willful blindness," Judge Hackland wrote.
What happens next for Toronto's municipal government is unclear. The judge suspended his decision for 14 days to allow the city to sort out administrative difficulties.
He also wrote that he would not impose "any further disqualification from holding office beyond the current term," which some legal experts are interpreting as a go-ahead for Mr. Ford to run again in the 2014 general election, but not in a by-election that could be called before then.
In the meantime, Mr. Ford will be seeking a stay of the removal order in hopes of holding on to his job while his appeal winds its way through the courts.
If he does not win a stay, council has 60 days to decide whether to appoint a caretaker mayor for the second half of Mr. Ford's term or call a by-election that would cost an estimated $7-million.
Councillors, shocked by the ruling, are now groping to find a way forward.
At least one of Mr. Ford's most prominent supporters has already jumped ship: Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, the man who wields his thumb to direct Ford-friendly votes on the council floor, announced Monday he was quitting the mayor's powerful executive committee.
So far, some of the mayor's other confidants on council are saying they would prefer to appoint a right-leaning caretaker who could fulfill the mayor's mandate to cut spending, outsource services and keep a lid on property taxes.
"That would really be a slap in the face, to have a different agenda than the one the people of Toronto have elected and supported," said Councillor Mike Del Grande, the budget chief.
"If the choice was mine," he added, he would like to see Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday step into his boss's shoes.
Mr. Holyday, a veteran conservative councillor and former mayor of Etobicoke, has already said he would be open to assuming the caretaker role.
But some of Mr. Ford's left-leaning opponents are less keen on another two years of Ford rule, even without Ford in the mayor's chair.
Councillor Joe Mihevc, who generally opposes the mayor, said council is facing a number of unanswered questions as it sorts through the ramifications of the judgment, but he said it sends an important message that no one is above the law. "Justice has been done," he said.
Paula Fletcher said councillors in general are in a state of shock over the ruling. "It is so unprecedented it is hard to believe."
Ms. Fletcher said she thinks two years is too long for a "caretaker" to run the city.
She does not think Mr. Holyday "would be council's choice for two years."
Councillor Doug Ford said the mayor's fans are already inundating him with "thousands and thousands" of e-mails, text message and phone calls, some of which suggest rallies be organized to support the mayor.
"You know what I'm going to ask the people of Toronto?" Councillor Ford said. "You want to support Rob? Come to the Rogers Centre. Come at 8 O'Clock [Tuesday] night because this is about giving back to the kids. This is about supporting kids in priority neighbourhoods. This is a man that cares, this is a man that is the most honest politician I have ever seen in this country."
The Don Bosco Eagles, the high-school football team the mayor coaches, are playing in the Metrobowl Tuesday at the same stadium where the Toronto Argonauts won the Grey Cup Sunday.
Clayton Ruby, the prominent lawyer who spearheaded the case on behalf of citizen Paul Magder, stressed the decision had nothing to do with the worthiness of Rob Ford's charity, or with left-leaning forces bent on defeating the mayor.
Rather, he blamed Mr. Ford for breaking the rules.
"Rob Ford did this to Rob Ford," Mr. Ruby told reporters.
That was essentially the conclusion of Judge Hackland, who was careful to point out that Mr. Ford is not accused of corruption.
"It is apparent that the respondent was and remains focused on the nature of his football foundation and the good work that is does," the judge wrote.
But that does not excuse him from flouting the rules or ignoring the city's integrity commissioner, he added.
"The Integrity Commissioner's report, itself, details a confrontational relationship with the respondent [Mr. Ford] and a stubborn reluctance on the respondent's part to accept that his activities concerning his football foundation are properly subject to the Code of Conduct. It would appear that the respondent's actions at the February 7, 2012 council meeting, in speaking and voting on resolutions concerning the Integrity Commissioner's factual findings in her report and her recommended sanction, was one last protest against the Integrity Commissioner's position that he profoundly disagreed with."
Mr. Ford's legal troubles began on Feb 7, 2012 when he voted to let himself off the hook for failing to repay $3,150 in improper donations to the Rob Ford Football Foundation, which provides football equipment for underprivileged high schools.
The integrity commissioner concluded in 2010 – when Mr. Ford was still a lone-wolf councillor from Etobicoke – that donations in that amount came from lobbyists and one corporation doing business with the city.
The commissioner recommended Mr. Ford be asked to repay the money himself so as not to punish the charity for his error.
Council agreed, voting to impose the penalty in August 2010, a few months before Mr. Ford swept to the city's top job.
The Municipal Conflict-of-Interest Act forbids elected officials from delivering speeches on the council floor or casting votes when they have a personal financial interest in the outcome.
Since Mr. Ford's Feb. 7 vote helped relieve him of the obligation to pay back the cash out of his own pocket, the judge concluded he breached the law.
Judge Hackland rejected the technical legal arguments offered by Mr. Ford's lawyer, Alan Lenczner, and the defence that Mr. Ford's transgression was an "honest error of judgment" or that the sum involved was too paltry.
"I am respectfully of the view that the respondent has taken himself outside of the potential application of the exemption by asserting in his remarks to City Council that personal repayment of $3,150 is precisely the issue that he objects to and delivering this message was his clear reason for speaking and voting as he did at the Council meeting," Judge Hackland wrote.
With reports from Tu Thanh Ha