Ontario Law That Ousted Rob Ford Now Under Scrutiny

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ROB FORD OUT OF OFFICE LAW
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford talks to media at city hall in Toronto, Monday, Nov.26, 2012.Ford has been ordered out of office after a judge ruled Monday he broke conflict of interest rules. (CP/Nathan Denette) | CP

The Ontario law that forced Toronto Mayor Rob Ford out of office is now under scrutiny, having been called a Draconian and unfair law that offers punishment that doesn't fit the crime.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Charles Hackland, the same judge who presided over Ford's case, called the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act (MCIA) "a very blunt instrument that's attracted justified criticism."

In 2010, Ford used his status at the time as a city councillor to raise money for his football charity, Toronto's Integrity Commissioner reported.

The commission requested that Ford pay back the sum of the $3,150 raised, but he refused.

Ford was found to be in a monetary conflict of interest, even though he did not profit from the money directly.

The issue then came before city council and on Feb. 7, the mayor was part of a council vote that sought to remove his duty to pay that sum.

The act does not allow the person involved in the conflict of interest to discuss the matter, so the fact that Ford spoke and voted on the issue at council went against the law.

Although it is clear the law was followed to the letter, lawyer Stephen D'Agostino and others are arguing that the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act is a law that now needs to be changed.

"Essentially what the act says is one strike and you're out," D'Agostino said. "There's a lot of difficulties with it, not only the severity of the penalty for small cases of conflict."

Lawyer Maureen Whelton agrees.

"It needs to have a result other than the seat shall be declared vacant," Whelton said. "It needs to have another option for the court."

Paul Magder, the man who brought forward the lawsuit against Ford, told CBC's Power and Politics on Tuesday that perhaps the law was put in place for a reason.

But when asked if the punishment for Ford was fitting to the crime, Magder said he wasn't sure.

"I believe that's what the rule is. I'm not sure if it fits the offence, but that's what it is," he said.

"The fact that the law is written so that the consequences are the vacating of that seat, of the mayor’s seat … I don’t know why it's so extreme, but if it had been something else, then he would have had to pay whatever the penalty was."

Myer Siemiatycki, a political scientist from Ryerson University, argued that the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act is exactly what it needs to be.

"I actually think the act gets it right in the kind of zero tolerance approach it takes," Siemiatycki said.

Ford is not the only municipal leader facing such a tough ruling. Hazel McCallion, who has been the mayor of Mississauga, Ont., for 33 years, is also in the middle of a court case under the same conflict of interest legislation.

The Ontario government is currently reviewing the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, but a spokesperson says they will not be expediting the review as a result of the Ford case.

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