LONDON, Ont. - A former Liberal MP facing criminal charges in a fraud investigation stemming from his time as a cabinet minister staunchly refused Thursday to step down from his post as mayor of London, Ont.
Joe Fontana was charged Wednesday by the RCMP with fraud under $5,000, breach of trust by a public official and uttering forged documents. He is alleged to have inappropriately used funds when he was a member of Parliament.
Fontana denied any wrongdoing at a news conference held at his lawyer's office Thursday.
"I'm innocent of all of these charges and I intend to fight as hard as I possibly can to clear my name," he said as about two dozen protesters gathered outside chanted for him to resign.
"I'm not stepping aside. I'm not going to abandon my post. I have a responsibility and obligation that was given to me by the people of London two years ago."
The London Free Press has reported two Government of Canada cheques were given to a London club to cover the cost of the wedding reception for Fontana's son in 2005. It said the first cheque was for a deposit of $1,700 and a second cheque for $18,900 was received several months later.
A media officer with the RCMP said Wednesday the value of fraud Fontana is charged with is set at $1,700 and that "there is no evidence to suggest or support that other government funding was received for Joseph Fontana’s personal expenses."
Fontana's lawyer Gord Cudmore said he understands the RCMP has documentation proving the more than $20,000 originally reported is not correct. Cudmore said the Fontana family paid for the wedding and his client will be pleading not guilty in court. He is to appear in court on Jan. 8.
"From what I have seen and understand so far there is a very, very valid defence to the allegations," Cudmore said. But he would not elaborate, saying a courtroom was the appropriate place to answer the allegations.
Fontana, who was elected mayor in 2010, dismissed a suggestion that another election should be held to give voters the chance to renew his mandate.
"I intend to complete my term," he said.
London's council, split between Fontana supporters and opponents, is expected to vote on a motion Monday calling for Fontana to step down, though it cannot force him to do so. Opinion polls in the local media suggest most people want him to resign, at least while he is under criminal investigation.
"He says that he's innocent on all these charges, which is fine, he can have his day in court, but I hope he kind of realizes that it is a distraction for the city," said protester Brent Cornwall.
"There's no problem with stepping down, fighting those charges, being proven innocent then trying to win an election next time."
Some protesters, who admitted they were not supporters of the mayor even before the charges were laid, said Fontana has lost legitimacy in a lot of people's eyes.
"The cloud of suspicion is there," said Anthony Verberckmoes.
Fontana is to appear in court on Jan. 8. The mayor and his lawyer said they're confident the courts will respect his presumption of innocence and urged the public to do the same.
"I truly understand and realize the anguish and pain, disappointment, frustration, anger that has been caused by this incident," Fontana said.