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Why is Mayor Rob Ford in Court This Time?

The mayor is in court again, this time because of some things he said about a local restaurateur.

The Boardwalk Pub. Photo by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lopoulin/3891599784/"}louise@toronto1{/a}, from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist/pool/"}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

You could be forgiven for losing track of all of Mayor Rob Ford’s various legal and ethical problems. He’s had more than a few. Today, he’s in court again, this time as a result of some comments he made about a local restaurant operator, Tuggs Inc., while still a candidate. Here’s a quick rundown of what Ford is accused of doing, and what happens next.

What is Ford accused of?

He’s accused of libelling George Foulidis, whose family owns Tuggs.

What did Ford do?

It all started in May 2010, when council gave final approval to a 21-year lease extension for Tuggs Inc., operator of the Boardwalk Pub in Woodbine Beach Park. The lease extension amounted to a monopoly for Tuggs: the City had granted the company the exclusive right to sell food and drinks on a stretch of beach near Ashbridges Bay, a privilege it had already enjoyed since 1986.

What irritated Rob Ford about this arrangement was the fact that, contrary to staff advice, council awarded the lease extension without first looking for other operators. Usually, in situations where a number of different suppliers can provide a service, the City makes the best-qualified ones participate in a competitive bidding process to ensure that Torontoians get the best possible deal. That didn’t happen here.

Ford would have been well within his rights to grouse about council’s decision, but in interviews with various media he lashed out not only at his colleagues, but at Tuggs. Some of what he said was arguably unfair.

In an interview on Newstalk 1010 near the end of July, 2010, host Jerry Agar asked Ford if someone involved in the Tuggs deal was “getting money under the table.”

“I truly believe they are,” said Ford.

In August 2010, the Toronto Sun ran a story in which Ford was quoted as saying that “corruption and skullduggery” (those were his words) are rampant in closed meetings of council, like the one at which Tuggs won its lease extension. The article, by Jonathan Jenkins, strongly implied that Ford believes the Tuggs deal to be an example of this “skullduggery,” but didn’t quote him saying so. Jenkins also wrote that Foulidis “and people associated to him [sic]” had donated money to then-Councillor Sandra Bussin, who had been instrumental in getting council to approve the lease extension.

The Tuggs deal was a handy illustration of one of Ford’s favourite campaign talking points: sole-sourced contracts. Ford believed that millions of taxpayer dollars were being wasted because of the City’s occasional refusal to put leases and purchasing agreements out to competitive bids.

But not everyone was swayed by Ford’s rhetoric. George Foulidis, whose family owns Tuggs, came to believe that the candidate was exploiting him for political gain, by insinuating that Tuggs had somehow been the beneficiary of corruption. In October 2010, Foulidis filed a lawsuit, seeking $6 million in damages for Ford’s alleged libel.

What happens now?

After more than two years of waiting, during which Ford’s lawyers tried to get the suit dismissed as an abuse of process, Foulidis and Ford will face off in court. The trial started earlier today, and is scheduled to continue for three more days.

A number of high-profile people have received summonses to appear in court, including former mayor David Miller. The Globe reports that Sun columnist Sue-Ann Levy and former councillor Sandra Bussin are also believed to be on the list. It’s not yet clear whether any of them will be called upon to testify.

After the trial is over, there will undoubtedly be more legal maneuvering before the judge arrives at a decision.

Does Foulidis have a case?

Well, at least one expert thinks so. Brian Rogers, a journalism professor at Ryerson University with expertise in libel law, told the Star that “It’s a relatively easy case for the plaintiff, because all they have to show is that something was published about them that harmed their reputation.” The onus will be on Ford to defend himself.

CORRECTION: November 16, 2012, 2:30 PM This post originally said that Mayor Rob Ford was quoted in a Toronto Sun article as saying that a deal between the City and Tuggs, Inc. was characterized by “corruption and skullduggery.” In fact, the mayor, when he said those words, appears to have been referring more generally to all decisions made in closed sessions like the one at which council awarded Tuggs its contract—or at any rate, it’s impossible to speculate on his exact meaning. The post has been altered to reflect this.

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