An Ontario judge ordered today that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford be relieved of his duties as the city's chief magistrate after it was found he violated conflict of interest rules.
Ford violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act by speaking and participating in a council vote regarding a financial penalty he was ordered to pay after he was found to have violated council's code of conduct by soliciting donations to his football charity using city materials, Ontario Superior Court Justice Charles T. Hackland said in a ruling released Monday.
The ruling takes effect in 14 days because Hackland said he recognized the decision "will necessitate administrative changes in the City of Toronto."
By law, Hackland could have barred Ford from running again for office for a period of up to seven years.
However, the judge did not place any such restrictions on his ruling "beyond the current term." Council would either have to vote to appoint someone to the mayor's office to serve until the 2014 municipal election or vote to hold a byelection for the office of mayor.
Ford can now apply to stay the judgment. If successful, he could remain as mayor until an appeal process is exhausted.
A three-judge panel in Ontario divisional court would hear the appeal if Ford chooses to file it.
Ford should play a leading role in ensuring integrity in municipal government, Hackland wrote. In light of that, "it is difficult to accept an error in judgment defence based essentially on a stubborn sense of entitlement (concerning his football foundation) and a dismissive and confrontational attitude to the integrity commissioner and the [council] code of conduct," the ruling said.
"In my opinion, the respondent's actions were characterized by ignorance of the law and a lack of diligence in securing professional advice, amounting to wilful blindness."
Ford never read act in question
Ford testified in court in September, revealing that he had never read the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act he is accused of breaking, nor the handbook given to city councillors that spells out the rules for declaring conflicts.
He told court at the time he believed he did nothing wrong, while lawyer Clayton Ruby, who represented the complainant Paul Magder, argued Ford acted in bad faith by not familiarizing himself with the city's conflict of interest rules.
"Today’s decision shows that when you break the rules, there’s a price to pay. It's important for the courts to assert that nobody is above the law, Rob Ford included," Ruby said at a Monday morning news conference.
"Rob Ford did this to Rob Ford. It could so easily have been avoided. It could have been avoided if Rob Ford had used a bit of common sense and if he had played by the rules."
The case stems from a legal challenge lodged by Magder, a Toronto resident who complained about a Feb. 7 vote that Ford participated in at council. Magder, who appeared alongside Ruby at the news conference, said he derived no satisfaction from the judge's finding.
"It’s a sad day really. But I think this had to be done," he said.
The vote absolved Ford from having to comply with an August 2010 directive from council and the city’s integrity commissioner, Janet Leiper, to pay back $3,150 in donations that corporate and lobbyist donors had given to the Rob Ford Football Foundation when he was a city councillor.
Leiper found in 2010 that Ford had violated council's code of conduct when he used city letterhead to solicit donations for the foundation and recommended he pay back the money out of his own pocket.
Ford had repeatedly refused to repay the money, which resulted in the matter coming back to council in February this year.