Trial begins in $6-million defamation suit against Toronto Mayor Rob Ford

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

For those of you keeping track of Rob Ford's troubled term as mayor of Canada's biggest city, add this $6-million defamation suit to your file.

Since being elected in 2010, Ford's tenure as mayor has never been free of controversy. There has been a volatile confrontation with reporters, running away from a microphone-wielding comedian outside his house and calling police on her and criticism of his unsafe driving habits.

The mayor has also been under fire for use of city resources and time to operate his boys' football teams and could be removed from office by the end of this year for an alleged conflict of interest stemming from a lobbyist's donation to Ford's football charity.

[ Related: TTC buses pulled off routes to pick up Rob Ford's football team ]

But the suit that began Tuesday could hit Ford in the wallet, hard.

The trial centres on allegations he libeled restaurant owner George Foulidis during his successful 2010 campaign for the mayoralty.

Foulidis claims Ford suggested the restauranteur's contract to operate the Boardwalk Cafe along on Toronto's lakefront Woodbine Beach was the result of illegal activity, CBC News reported.

Foulidis's lawyer, Brian Shiller, told the court that with Ford and his campaign operatives suggesting to local media outlets that Foulidis was corrupt, he had no choice but to sue, the Toronto Star said.

Shiller described Foulidis as a hardworking entrepreneur and family man who built the restaurant's business from the ground up over decades, only to find himself a political football during the election campaign, the Star reported.

"Mr. Foulidis was left with no choice but to go public" following the "blatant attacks on his integrity," Shiller said in his opening statement.

Ford showed up in court as the case began and is expected to testify later this week, the Star said.

CBC News said that Ford, then a Toronto councillor, had been incensed the city gave the cafe's operator, Tuggs Inc., an untendered 20-year extension to its waterfront lease. The Star reported that such contacts were a hot issue in the 2010 campaign.

The case centres around comments Ford made on a radio program, during which the Star reports him as saying "I truly believe" someone was getting money under the table in connection with the city's contract with the restaurant's owners. Ford also suggested to the Toronto Sun that the process was corrupt.

When Foulidis sued, Ford retreated from his suggestion of corruption on the part of the Foulidis family but refused to apologize or retract his statements.

Ford's lawyer, Gavin Tighe, said the Sun story stemmed from Ford's meeting with the paper's editorial board and paraphrased him as saying the contract "smacks of civic corruption." Tighe said Ford never said those words.

The recording of the editorial board session has since been erased and the reporter's notes are no longer available, CBC News reported. Only an email from the reporter describing them remains.

Ford reportedly told the Sun the Boardwalk deal "stinks to high heaven," and agreed with a radio interviewer who asked "is someone getting money under the table?"

Tighe argued Foulidis still got the lease extension and was not hurt financially by Ford's comments. But Schiller said the case is "not about politics" and that Foulidis suffered damage that was "extensive and malicious."