“The mayor of Toronto told a packed courtroom Wednesday why he cast a vote that has landed him in legal hot water: Rob Ford did not believe he had a conflict of interest because the issue only benefited him, not the city.
“Did you think you had a conflict of interest in voting to rescind the resolution of two years earlier?” Alan Lenczner, Mr. Ford’s lawyer, asked him.
“No,” the mayor replied.
“And why is that, sir?”
“Because, again, there’s no interest in the city,” Mr. Ford said. “This is just my personal issue. This does not benefit the city in any way. So this is, to me, not a conflict of interest.
Mr. Ford’s explanation is likely to form the basis of a back-up defence that the mayor made an “honest error of judgment” when he spoke to and voted on an issue related to his personal football foundation in February.
Mr. Lenczner told the court earlier in the day that he intends to rely primarily on legal arguments to keep Mayor Ford from being turfed from office – the automatic penalty if the mayor is found to have breached the Municipal Conflict-of-Interest Act.
Earlier in the day, the lawyer spearheading the case against Mr. Ford argued the mayor knew exactly what he was doing when he cast his vote.
“If [it’s an error of judgment], it’s an unusual error of judgment because that error continues to this day,” Clayton Ruby told the court in his opening statement. “He is not sorry he spoke and voted.”
Mr. Ford has repeatedly defended his behaviour on the grounds it helped the Rob Ford Football Foundation, which raises money to buy football equipment for underprivileged high schools.
Mr. Ruby argued that, “the kids are not the issue. No one wants to shut down the football foundation. The issue is the integrity of what Mayor Ford did.”
Mr. Ford entered the courthouse through a side door, avoiding the crowd of photographers awaiting his arrival outside. He arrived to find a courtroom packed with reporters, foes and friends, including his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, and his chief of staff, Mark Towhey.
The lawsuit stems from a speech Mayor Ford delivered and a vote he cast on Feb.7. Eighteen months earlier, council had ordered him to repay out of his own pocket $3,150 in improper donations to his personal football foundation from lobbyists, their clients and one company that does business with the city.
Mr. Ford ignored six requests from the integrity commissioner for proof he paid back the money, prompting the integrity commissioner to send the item back to council in February.
At that time, the mayor gave an impassioned speech about his football charity and argued he should not have to pay back the money. He then voted in favour of a motion moved by one of his allies to rescind the sanction.
Toronto resident Paul Magder, the plaintiff who filed the lawsuit against Mr. Ford, argues that speech and vote violated the Municipal Conflict-of-Interest Act.
If Mr. Justice Charles Hackland, the Ottawa judge brought in to oversee the case, finds Mr. Ford broke the act, he would have no choice but to boot the mayor from office.
The judge could also ban Mr. Ford from running again for up to seven years.”