Mayor Ford in court as defamation trial begins
Published Tuesday, November 13, 2012 6:13AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, November 13, 2012 5:15PM EST
TORONTO -- Toronto's mayor defamed a local restaurant owner when he suggested a leasing deal with the city was corrupt, the businessman's lawyer told court Tuesday.
George Foulidis's $6-million lawsuit against Rob Ford alleges the mayor libelled him when he told the Toronto Sun the deal "stinks to high heaven."
Toronto city council extended a lease Foulidis had for his Boardwalk Cafe restaurant on public land in a sole-sourced, untendered contract in the summer of 2010 -- the middle of Ford's ultimately successful campaign to become mayor.
But the lawsuit can't succeed, Ford's lawyer told the court, if for no other reason than there was no defamation.
Ford was talking about Foulidis's company, Tuggs Inc., but never named Foulidis as he didn't even know him at the time, and corporations can't be defamed, Gavin Tighe said.
Foulidis won the contract extension despite Ford's alleged comments, so Tighe questioned the damages for which Foulidis is suing.
"Corporations can't have hurt feelings," he said.
The trial is scheduled to continue for the rest of the week, and Ford is expected to take the stand Friday.
The mayor has suggested the lawsuit is politically motivated.
Foulidis is also suing Bruce Baker, a candidate in that municipal election for the Boardwalk Cafe's ward, for a letter he sent to councillors suggesting police should investigate the deal.
Tighe noted that while Foulidis is suing the mayor for $6 million, he is suing Baker for $100,000.
It is standard practice for a newspaper that prints allegedly libellous comments to be sued as well, Tighe said, and called it "unusual" that the Toronto Sun is not named in this lawsuit.
Ford denies saying the deal "smacks of civic corruption," which was paraphrased in the newspaper article and not in quotes. Audio of the interview with the Toronto Sun's editorial board was erased, and the reporter has not produced his notes, court heard.
Foulidis's lawyer, Brian Shiller, said that Ford's team has suggested his law firm has an agenda to attack the mayor. Ford is awaiting a judge's ruling in a conflict-of-interest lawsuit filed by a Toronto resident who was represented by Clayton Ruby, Shiller's law firm partner.
Shiller said Ford's assertion that the lawsuit is all about politics is "nothing more than baseless rhetoric."
He also pointed to comments Ford made to a radio station before the newspaper article.
The radio host asked Ford about the Boardwalk Cafe deal, saying, "Is someone getting money under the table?"
"I truly believe they are," Ford replied. "It stinks to high heaven."
Ford's comments to the radio station are not the subject of the lawsuit.