Ford wins appeal, remains mayor of Toronto
Chris Kitching, cp24.com
Published Friday, January 25, 2013 6:07AM EST
Last Updated Friday, January 25, 2013 3:56PM EST
Rob Ford remains Toronto’s mayor after a Divisional Court struck down a conflict-of-interest conviction that ordered him out of office, but his legal fight may have another chapter.
Paul Magder, the Toronto resident who launched the conflict-of-interest case against the mayor, is trying to take the case to Canada’s highest court, said his lawyer, Clayton Ruby, in response to Ford's victory.
At a news conference, Ford deflected questions about a possible Supreme Court appeal, and instead focused his remarks on his victory and his agenda as mayor.
"I have a city to run, that’s up to (Ruby). I can't worry about that," Ford told reporters at city hall, where he delivered his first comments on the Divisional Court's decision.
As he became emotional, Ford described the legal battle as a challenging and “very, very humbling experience,” and he repeatedly thanked his legal team, his family and his supporters.
The mayor said the ordeal was especially tough for his wife and children, who faced questions or pointed remarks.
“It’s hard on my kids. They go to school and obviously people sometimes make fun, you know, that your dad doesn’t have a job and this and that," Ford said. "It hurts my daughter and my son when they heard that. It hurts my wife.”
Ford said well-wishers approached him at restaurants, gas stations, city hall and on the street.
“Your kind words have inspired me to continue fighting on,” Ford said of his supporters. “The people of this city have given me phenomenal support and I truly want to thank them for it.”
Going forward, Ford said he wants council to focus on fiscal responsibility, economic and transportation strategies, and improving customer service and service delivery for Torontonians.
“I plan to spend the next six years on getting the job done,” Ford said, repeating his desire to seek a second four-year term, as his brother, Coun. Doug Ford, and deputy mayor Doug Holyday stood behind him.
Judgment contains 'serious errors,' Ruby says
But the mayor may spend some more time in the courtroom.
In a statement, Ruby said he and Magder plan to ask the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to appeal to that court, arguing there are "serious errors of law" in the Divisional Court's judgment.
“The court has let Rob Ford off on a technicality. We find that disappointing, particularly since the court found that Mr. Paul Magder was right on the facts,” Ruby said in the statement.
It's up to the Supreme Court to decide whether it will hear an appeal, and Ruby admitted that it is a challenging mission.
"It must be acknowledged that such appeals are not easy but this remains an important issue for all citizens," Ruby, who declined to be interviewed, said in his statement.
In its decision, the three-judge Divisional Court panel sided with the mayor and his lawyer, saying the lower court judge erred in his ruling. The lower court ruled that Ford violated provincial conflict-of-interest rules for participating in a vote at city hall on whether he should repay money he raised for his private football foundation using official city letterhead.
But the Divisional Court judges found that Ford had no personal financial interest on the matter and council overstepped its authority by ordering Ford to repay money that went to an arm's length foundation.
Ruby disagreed with that finding.
“Especially troubling is the finding that if a politician raises money from lobbyists and directs that money to his or her own personal interest, such abuse is beyond the reach of government oversight,” Ruby said in the statement. “This raises the possibility of American-style Political Action Committee (PAC) fundraising, which should be of great concern to all Canadians.”
Council reacts to decision
After the decision was released to the public, Ford left his lawyer's office and returned to his office at city hall, where he was greeted by applause and cheers by his staff and supporters.
After the news conference, Doug Ford described the moment his brother learned his appeal was successful, saying they were overcome by a "huge" sense of relief.
“We jumped up and I gave him a big hug and handshakes all around,” Doug Ford said. “We were very, very happy.”
That moment unfolded at the office of Rob Ford's lawyer, and word soon reached city hall, where reaction was swift and mixed. Councillors expressed surprise that Ford won the appeal or relief that the ordeal is now behind them.
Almost all said it is time for council to move forward and focus on important matters such as public transit and infrastructure.
“It is what it is,” Coun. Joe Mihevc told CP24 reporter Katie Simpson. “It’s back to business as usual. We just need to kind of move on from this and keep council together.”
“I think we’re all very relieved,” said Coun. Ana Bailao. “The judges spoke, justice was made and we can move on with the business of the city.”
After Friday’s decision, some councillors hope to see a more co-operative Rob Ford, who has recently shown more of a willingness to work with middle- and left-leaning councillors.
“We started to see some movement as a lead-up to this decision, so I hope that’s a sign of other things,” said Coun. Josh Colle. “He has to, there’s no choice. There’s too much work to do in the city that we can’t keep getting distracted by this silliness.”
Coun. Shelley Carroll called on Ford to show more leadership, with council now in the second half of its current four-year term.
“We’re going to have to repair the way we interact in council," Carroll told CP24. "He’s going to have to be the thoughtful leader that turns the corner for us and with us.”
Council faced chaos had Ford lost appeal
Had Ford lost his appeal, he would have been tossed out of office and his seat would have been declared vacant. In that scenario, city hall would have faced unprecedented chaos because councillors would have been forced to appoint an interim mayor or call a byelection.
The Divisional Court panel revealed its decision after a one-day appeal hearing was held earlier this month. Ford launched the appeal after he was convicted in November, when Superior Court Justice Charles Hackland ruled Ford broke the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act when he did not excuse himself from a city council vote on whether he should repay $3,150 he had solicited for his private football foundation using official city letterhead.
At the Jan. 7 appeal hearing, Ford’s lawyer, Alan Lenczner, argued Hackland erred and that the Superior Court ruling should be struck down. Lenczner argued the mayor made a genuine error in judgment.
Ford was ordered to vacate his city council seat two weeks after Hackland’s decision, but he was allowed to stay on during the appeal process because he was granted a stay by the courts.
Ford’s victory may be slightly muted, however, because he faces another threat at city hall.
A third-party audit of the mayor’s 2010 campaign expenses is ongoing, and he could be removed from office if he is found to have violated the Municipal Elections Act.
The findings of the audit are expected in February.
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