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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.

Comments

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TWAHZB3T4MUA4ZJWPYZ5H3SSG4 NPP

    Funny, didn’t the Fords sole-source the KPMG Core Services Review shortly after taking over? What else has he sole-sourced? Who’s asking the questions? Did KMPG people make donations to Ford’s campaign?

    • Anonymous

      Does the City publish a list of contracts that were sole-sourced and the reasons for doing so?

    • Anonymous

      He and Dug sole sourced the master planning for their Portlands vision. Rub sole sourced business cards from his family’s business.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Justin-Flontek/100003898558870 Justin Flontek

    I wonder what laughs, at Ford’s expense, are going to come from this. Hopefully it’s as good as his definition of conflict of interest.

  • Fred

    The City of Toronto, like most public and private entities, sensibly has a threshold below which competitive bidding on contracts is not required. Last I knew, in Toronto that threshold was $50,000.

    Seriously, how sensible is it to spend $15k (typical starting cost) for print and online ads and staff time for bureaucrats to issue and review a public tender which would ultimately decide whether $168.62 or $176.64 was the better deal for 5000 business cards?

    A recent (2010) report on sole-sourcing in Toronto:

    http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2010/au/bgrd/backgroundfile-29766.pdfrt

    • Anonymous

      This is different.

      It is money coming in and costing the taxpayers nothing.

  • rob

    People keep harping on the Deal with Tuggs as if it maens anything to this case. I think the deal stinks as well, but as no proof of any wrong doing has ever been put forth, Ford was legal wrong to suggest that Foulidis was involved with any corruption. All he had to do was choice different words. Say he didn’t agree, and would work to change the way the city hands out contracts. He also had a second chance to retract his comments and clearify his message. In stead he refused which in effect creates the illustion that Foulidisis even more guilty. Yet after 2 years Ford has presented no proof whats so ever. Look I am not saying that Foulidis is innocent, but in Canada we are to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in court. Ford used the press to try and convict Foulidis.

    If he said nonsense like that to any one of you, basically accusing you of being involved in criminal activity. I would bet every penny I have you would be on the phone to a lawyer as well. No one wants to have their name dragged through the mud like that.

    So stop using the “Fishy Deal defense.” it is irrelevant to this case. If we allow any one to say anything they want about another person,we will end up living in a very ugly society.

    The case is about did Ford hurt Foulidis reputation or not. Nothing else.