POLITICS

Toronto mayor to testify in conflict-in-interest case that could oust him from office

08/24/2012 02:13 EDT | Updated 10/24/2012 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - The mayor of Canada's largest city will appear in court next month to defend himself against conflict-of-interest allegations in a case that could see him ousted from office, lawyers representing a man behind the lawsuit said Friday.

Rob Ford has been ordered by an Ontario judge to testify and be cross-examined in open court starting on September 5, according to a statement from lawyer Clayton Ruby.

Ford had originally submitted an affidavit to defend himself against allegations launched by Toronto resident Paul Magder, but Ruby had filed a motion to compel the mayor to tell his side of the story in person, arguing his credibility was a concern in the case.

Magder launched the conflict-of-interest suit in March, accusing Ford of violating the Municipal Conflict of Interest act by speaking and voting on a matter in which he had a financial interest.

If found guilty, Ford could be forced to resign as mayor and would be barred from running for city council for seven years.

The issue arose almost two years ago when Ford, who was then a councillor, used his office stationery to solicit donations for his private football foundation.

In August 2010, the city's integrity commissioner found that Ford had violated the code of conduct for councillors.

The commissioner recommended he pay back $3,150 in donations, some of which had come from lobbyists who did business with the city.

Council adopted the commissioner's findings and sanction in a resolution Ford voted against _ but, despite half-a-dozen reminder letters from the commissioner, he never made the repayments.

In February, council took up the matter again at the request of the integrity commissioner, but this time, councillors decided Ford did not have to repay the donations.

The original court filing, submitted by Ruby, took a different view of the situation.

"(Ford's) conduct was not inadvertent or mere error in judgment,'' the application read. "It was flagrant and deliberate.''

Ford's office issued a terse statement on Friday defending his record as an advocate for the city's young people.

"Mayor Rob Ford is proud of the work that he does with disadvantaged youth across the City of Toronto. The Mayor is looking forward to his day in court. There will be no further comment as the matter is now before the court," the statement read.

Ford had previously argued against returning the donations, saying the funds could not be retrieved.

"To ask for me to pay it out of my own pocket personally, there is no sense to this,'' Ford said during the Feb. 7 debate. "The money is gone; the money has been spent on football equipment. That's how this foundation works and I'm very proud of it."

Friday's decision comes as Ford is seeking to sluff off a spate of bad publicity surrounding his driving habits.

The mayor, whose populist persona and right-wing views have made him a polarizing figure in municipal politics, recently made headlines for reading a document while behind the wheel of his car. He had previously drawn public ire for conversing on his cellphone while driving.

Police and fellow councillors, including the mayor's own brother, issued pleas for Ford to hire a driver.

Ford declined, calling a chauffeur a waste of taxpayers' money.