Winnipeg mayor mum on Rob Ford's removal from office

Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz said little about Rob Ford's court-ordered removal as mayor of Toronto, but at least one analyst says the order may not be good news for Katz.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Charles T. Hacklan ruled on Monday that Ford has breached Ontario's Municipal Conflict of Interest Act when he spoke and took part in a February vote that absolved him in having to pay back money that he solicited on behalf of his private football foundation.

As a result, the judge ordered Ford to be removed from office and disqualified him from running again during this term.

Katz said he did not know about the situation in Toronto until he was told that reporters wanted to ask him about it.

"I don't really focus on what's going on in Toronto. My job is to take care of the needs and the concerns of the citizens of Winnipeg. So I'm not going to make any comment on what's going on there," Katz told CBC News on Monday afternoon.

Ford has already vowed to fight the court ruling "tooth and nail."

Brian Kelcey, a civic politics instructor at the University of Winnipeg, says the case against Ford is very similar to a lawsuit Katz will face in court in April.

Katz is being sued by Joe Chan, a local restaurateur who alleges that $2,900 in public money was spent on Christmas parties for city staff at Hu's Asian Bistro, a restaurant the mayor owned at the time.

Kelcey said the ruling in Toronto knocks down some of the same arguments that Katz's lawyers would likely use in his conflict of interest case.

Kelcey, who once worked as an advisor to Katz, suggested that the mayor resign immediately, as things are not going to get easier for him.

"Now everybody in the city who doesn't like the mayor and believes he's been in conflict can try and deal with their rage by filing another lawsuit," Kelcey said.

"The odds of the mayor being bogged down by suits, even if those lawsuits aren't won, are high."

Kelcey added that Manitoba's conflict of interest legislation is very similar to Ontario's.

David Matas, the lawyer representing Chan, said he hopes the Ford decision will make conflict of interest cases more visible.

"It's not like the criminal law, where the more serious the offence, the more serious the punishment. Either there's a conflict of interest or there isn't," he said.

"Obviously, if it's 50 cents, they're not going to bother. But, I mean, we're dealing with several thousand dollars here."

While Katz refused to comment on Ford's upcoming ouster, the news has others talking at Winnipeg city hall.

"It's pretty fascinating when the mayor of the largest city in Canada is out of office," said Coun. Jenny Gerbasi.

Coun. Dan Vandal said he was stunned when he heard the news, but he added that it shows how the rule of law applies to everyone.

"Anytime a mayor or an elected official is forced to resign, it's huge news," he said.

"But I think it just demonstrates that there's limits to what we can do and what we can't do, no matter who you are."

Gerbasi said she thinks the Toronto court decision will change the landscape for Canadian municipalities.

Matas said the Ford cases shows that people can do something if they are unhappy with the conduct of their elected officials.

"It might encourage more people to be aware of these laws and hold their councillors to account instead of just complaining about them," he said.

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