Rob Ford removal appeal in hands of judges

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford vows to continue "fighting for the taxpayers" in his work at city hall, while he awaits a decision from a panel of judges who will determine if he will keep his job.

Ford is appealing a judicial order to remove him from office, after an Ontario Superior Court justice ruled in November that he had violated conflict-of-interest rules during a council vote last year.

His appeal went before a three-judge panel of the Ontario Divisional Court on Monday.

After the hearing had ended, Ford thanked his supporters, but he declined to comment on what was said in court.

"I just want to thank everyone for the outpouring of support that I got," Ford told reporters during brief remarks outside a Toronto court on Monday evening.

Earlier in the day, Ford's lawyer told the court that forcing his client to relinquish the Toronto mayoralty is a "draconian" punishment for an honest error in judgment in his interpretation of conflict-of-interest rules.

Alan Lenczner argued that the mayor misinterpreted the law when he voted in favour of a council motion that would have absolved him from an earlier council directive to repay $3,150 in donations made by lobbyists to his football charity.

Lenczner said the mayor had 10 times in the past declared conflict of interest in council matters, and recused himself from voting.

In November, Ontario Superior Court Justice Charles T. Hackland found Ford violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, and ordered the mayor to vacate his seat on council.

The act does say that violation of conflict of interest rules would result in automatic expulsion from office, save for an error in judgment or if the money involved was too small to be classified a pecuniary amount.

Lenczner cited both provisions in his arguments to the three-judge panel hearing the appeal.

He also argued that city council did not have the power to order Ford to pay back the donations, and that the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act only applies when the city or a council member gains money, which he says did not apply in Ford's case.

Moreover, the penalty for violating the act — removal from office — is "draconian" and punishes not only Ford, but the electorate that sent him to office by a margin of 100,000 votes, Lenczner said in a packed courtroom in downtown Toronto.

The legal proceedings stem from a complaint filed 10 months ago by Toronto resident Paul Magder, who alleged Ford had violated the municipal act by speaking and voting on a matter in which he had a financial interest.

After Hackland ruled Ford had broken conflict of interest rules and should be removed from office, the mayor successfully sought a stay of the decision that has allowed him to keep his job while the appeal process continues.

Lawyer Nader Hasan, a member of the legal team representing Magder, began making arguments in the afternoon and countered that Ford had no right to speak to the matter under Ontario law.

Ford and his brother, Coun. Doug Ford, arrived in court shortly before 10 a.m. ET.

If the mayor loses his appeal, city council will have to decide whether to hold a multimillion-dollar byelection, or simply appoint someone to take over for the remaining two years of Ford's term. Council could also appoint Ford himself to serve out the rest of his term, an outcome that Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday told CBC News he would push toward.

"The penalty doesn't fit what happened. It's far too severe," Holyday said.

"So we can take a look at this from a fairness standpoint, and I think if councillors are willing to do that, the fair thing would be to reappoint Rob."

Ford has said he would run again for mayor at the earliest opportunity if his appeal fails and he gets ousted from office.

The mayor kept a low profile over the weekend. His last public appearance prior to his appeal came at a ski hill north of the city.

“Just going to keep running the city like I’ve been doing," he told CBC News when asked Friday about the impending appeal. "We'll see what happens. It's out of my hands. It’s up to the judges to decide. I will be there.”

Lawyer John Mascarin told CBC News that Ford's team will have an uphill battle convincing the court that the judge erred in his original ruling.

“Justice Hackland was very clear on that when he admonished Ford by saying he was wilfully blind. He didn’t read the act, he didn’t care to read the act," said Mascarin.

The judicial panel is expected to provide a ruling within weeks.

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