Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says he plans to appeal a ruling that found him guilty in a conflict of interest case and will see him removed from office.
The Ontario Superior Court found Ford guilty on Monday of improperly participating in a debate over whether he should repay $3,150 in questionable donations he collected for a personal charity using city hall letterhead.
Justice Charles Hackland rejected Ford’s claim that the incident was a simple error in judgement and instead found that his actions were “ignorant of the law” and tantamount to wilful blindness.
“In summary, I find that the respondent has failed in his burden to show that his contraventions of the MCIA were the result of a good faith error in judgment,” Hackland wrote in his 24-page ruling publicly released on Monday.
Hackland did place a 14-day pause on his decision to give time for the necessary administrative changes to be made.
Ford briefly addressed the ruling on Monday, defiantly telling reporters he planned to appeal the decision.
"This comes down to left-wing politics. The left wing wants me out of here and they'll doing anything in their power to," he said, according to CBC.
"And I'm going to fight tooth and nail to hold on to my job. If they do for some reason get me out I'll be running right back as soon as the next election [is held]."
John Mascarin, a municipal law expert who has been following the case, told the Toronto Star that "there's never been a brouhaha of this magnitude in a major Canadian city."
The question had stirred for weeks over whether Ford would be removed from office over the controversy.
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The complaint was brought forward by a private citizen and championed by seasoned litigator Clayton Ruby earlier this year in connection to a series of donations collected for Ford's personal charity beginning in 2009, while Ford was a city councillor.
The debate stemmed from $3,150 in donations to Ford's football foundation that he raised by using city letterhead and, allegedly, his clout as a city councillor. The city's integrity commissioner found the money to have been collected inappropriately and ordered Ford to repay it.
Ruby argued that Ford's decision to participate in a debate, then as mayor, over whether he should be forced to pay back that money constituted a conflict of interest punishable by expulsion from city hall.
Hackland ruled that Ford "failed in his burden to show that his contraventions of the MCIA were the result of a good faith error in judgement."
Ruby told reporters that it was important that the courts asserted that no politician was above the law, from the mayor on down.
“While we’re pleased to have won this case, we’re also saddened by it. It is tragic that the elected mayor of a great city should bring himself to this,” said Ruby, according to the National Post. “Rob Ford did this to Rob Ford. It could so easily have been avoided. It could have been avoided if Rob Ford had used a bit of common sense and if he had played by the rules.”
Justice Hackland had several options at his disposal, but chose to remove Ford from office, pending the 14-day administrative pause. Ford could have been banned from running for office for the next seven years, but Hackland did not extend the punishment that far.
In the ruling, Hackland said Ford could run again when the current term is up, but there was some debate about whether that meant he would be sidelined until the 2014 municipal election or whether he could run in the event of a by-election.
The Toronto Star reported that city hall faces the unanswered question of how to replace Ford if he was removed from office.
Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday told the Star last week that he expects he would temporarily assume the mayor's duties until a byelection was held. The byelection would reportedly cost $7 million to run.
Another option would be for a councillor to be appointed as a "caretaker" mayor until the 2014 municipal election. That replacement would be chosen by a majority vote.
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With this controversy behind him, for better or worse, Ford can now refocus his efforts on other issues, including a $6-million defamation suit against him that wrapped up in court last week.
(Photos courtesy CBC)