Lawyer alleges that the mayor violated conflict of interest law.
Prominent Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby has filed an application with the Ontario Superior Court on behalf of Toronto resident Paul Magder, alleging that Rob Ford has violated the Province of Ontario’s Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.
That act sets out rules that govern how municipal politicians must conduct themselves while in office; one of those rules is that members of a council cannot take part in a debate if it involves their own private financial concerns. Ruby alleges that Ford did this last month, when the mayor gave a speech and cast a vote during a debate on whether he should have to repay certain donors to the Rob Ford Football Foundation. When he did so, according to Ruby, he breached the rules that are supposed to keep municipal government free from personal interests.
The penalty set out in the Conflict of Interest Act for violations of this kind: removal from office.
“The Municipal Conflict of Interest Act is meant to keep politicians honest. It is an affront to democracy to use public office to solicit money from lobbyists,” Ruby told reporters at City Hall today. Magder, described to reporters as “a high-tech manufacturing executive” and a longstanding Toronto homeowner, echoed those sentiments: “With the MFP computer-leasing scandal still so fresh in our minds,” he said, “I felt an obligation to hold our mayor accountable for putting his own financial interests ahead of taxpayers’ interests.”
Other sanctions that can be applied in the case of violating the act include being prohibited from running for council for a period of seven years, and making financial restitution. According to Ruby, in order to receive a lesser penalty and stay in office, Ford would need to demonstrate that his violation “was committed through inadvertence or by reason of an error in judgment”—essentially, that he either didn’t know he was breaking the rules or didn’t intend to do so.
The issue for Ford is that these rules are hardly new to him: he has observed the application of the conflict-of-interest regulations during every single council meeting he’s attended. Councillors routinely recuse themselves from voting on matters in which they have a financial interest (for instance, if a councillor is married to someone who works for the City of Toronto, s/he will not vote on budget allocations to the relevant department or agency)—something that Ford has witnessed dozens of times. Ford himself has declared conflicts of interest on numerous occasions, including at the very same meeting during which he allegedly committed the violation, when he recused himself from debate on matters concerning a golf course of which he is a member (see item GM 10.12). And should the court agree on the substantive issue—that the mayor was indeed in a conflict of interest—the burden will shift to Ford to prove he committed this violation inadvertently or due to an error in judgment. That is, the court proceeds from the assumption that Ford ought to be removed from office unless his counsel can demonstrate otherwise.
Paul Magder’s application will be heard by the Ontario Superior Court at a yet-to-be-determined date. Rob Ford has not yet made a public statement on the matter.
More to come.
Timeline of Events
March 19, 2010: Rob Ford, then a city councillor, sends a letter on his City of Toronto letterhead seeking donations to a private foundation, the Rob Ford Football Foundation.
March 25, 2010: Rob Ford declares his candidacy for mayor of Toronto.
May 4, 2010: One of the recipients of the donation request files a complaint with the City’s Integrity Commissioner. The complainant says he doesn’t know Ford, and says the fact he received the letter just as Ford announced his mayoral bid made him “uncomfortable. While it was not stated in words, there was a clear sense of an implied suggestion that a donation to his charity might serve me well should he be elected Mayor.”
August 12, 2010: The Integrity Commissioner finds that Rob Ford breached the city council’s code of conduct [PDF], which states that “No member of Council shall use the influence of her or his office for any purpose other than for the exercise of her or his official duties,” or use City resources when handling non-City business. She also reveals that several donors to the Rob Ford Football Foundation are lobbyists, and one is a corporation that does business with the City. The Integrity Commissioner recommends that Rob Ford reimburse those donations, totalling $3,150, as a penalty for his infraction [PDF].
August 25, 2010: City council votes, without debate, to accept the Integrity Commissioner’s findings and impose the penalty she recommended.
January 30, 2012: The Integrity Commissioner releases a report [PDF] updating city council on the matter. She writes that she had asked the mayor to comply with council’s decision numerous times, and that he has failed to repay the donations in question. She recommends that council ask Ford to provide proof of reimbursement within a month.
February 7, 2012: City council considers the Integrity Commissioner’s new report as part of its monthly meeting. After an hour and a half of debate, city council votes to rescind its original decision on the code-of-conduct violations—essentially, they reverse course and decide that Ford never violated the City’s code of conduct in the first place.
March 9, 2012: Clayton Ruby files an application alleging Rob Ford’s speech and vote during the February 2012 council meeting violated section V of the provincial Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. (The province establishes many of the rules that govern how cities operate, which is why this is a question of provincial law.) The act states that any member of a municipal council who has any financial interest in a matter council is considering (in this case, the $3,150 Ford was asked to reimburse his donors) “shall not take part in the discussion of, or vote on any question in respect of the matter; and shall not attempt in any way whether before, during or after the meeting to influence the voting on any such question.” On behalf of a Toronto resident, Ruby asks the Ontario Superior Court to remove Rob Ford from office.
The February 2012 City Council Meeting
Councillors question the Integrity Commissioner on her report:
Rob Ford speaks during the debate about his conflict of interest violation:
The Notice of Application