Rob Ford Removal Appeal Begins Today

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ROB FORD APPEAL
The fight of Rob Ford’s political life resumes today as a panel of judges begins hearing an appeal of a November court decision that ordered the Toronto mayor out of office over a conflict of interest complaint. | AP

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford vows to continue "fighting for the taxpayers" in his work at city hall, while he awaits a decision from a panel of judges who will determine if he will keep his job.

Ford is appealing a judicial order to remove him from office, after an Ontario Superior Court justice ruled in November that he had violated conflict-of-interest rules during a council vote last year.

His appeal went before a three-judge panel of the Ontario Divisional Court on Monday.

After the hearing had ended, Ford thanked his supporters, but he declined to comment on what was said in court.

"I just want to thank everyone for the outpouring of support that I got," Ford told reporters during brief remarks outside a Toronto court on Monday evening.

While the Divisional Court judges have reserved their decision, Justice Edward Then indicated that the panel is "sensitive" to time requirements in the case.

He said the court will work to deliver a prompt decision on the appeal, which will be made available online when it is released.

'Draconian' punishment

Earlier in the day, Ford's lawyer told the court that forcing his client to relinquish the Toronto mayoralty is a "draconian" punishment for an honest error in judgment in his interpretation of conflict-of-interest rules.

Alan Lenczner argued that the mayor misinterpreted the law when he voted in favour of a council motion that would have absolved him from an earlier council directive to repay $3,150 in donations made by lobbyists to his football charity.

Lenczner said the mayor had 10 times in the past declared conflict of interest in council matters, and recused himself from voting.

In November, Ontario Superior Court Justice Charles T. Hackland found Ford violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, and ordered the mayor to vacate his seat on council.

The act does say that violation of conflict of interest rules would result in automatic expulsion from office, save for an error in judgment or if the money involved was too small to be classified a pecuniary amount.

Lenczner cited both provisions in his arguments to the three-judge panel hearing the appeal.

He also argued that city council did not have the power to order Ford to pay back the donations, and that the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act only applies when the city or a council member gains money, which he says did not apply in Ford's case.

Moreover, the penalty for violating the act — removal from office — is "draconian" and punishes not only Ford, but the electorate that sent him to office by a margin of 100,000 votes, Lenczner said in a packed courtroom in downtown Toronto.

The legal proceedings stem from a complaint filed 10 months ago by Toronto resident Paul Magder, who alleged Ford had violated the municipal act by speaking and voting on a matter in which he had a financial interest.

After Hackland ruled Ford had broken conflict of interest rules and should be removed from office, the mayor successfully sought a stay of the decision that has allowed him to keep his job while the appeal process continues.

Lawyer Nader Hasan, a member of the legal team representing Magder, began making arguments in the afternoon and countered that Ford had no right to speak to the matter under Ontario law.

Lawyer Clayton Ruby told the court that it was unreasonable for the mayor to ignore warnings that he was in a conflict of interest.

'The penalty doesn't fit what happened'

The mayor and his brother, Coun. Doug Ford, arrived in court shortly before 10 a.m. ET.

If the mayor loses his appeal, city council will have to decide whether to hold a multimillion-dollar byelection, or simply appoint someone to take over for the remaining two years of Ford's term. Council could also appoint Ford himself to serve out the rest of his term, an outcome that Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday told CBC News he would push toward.

"The penalty doesn't fit what happened. It's far too severe," Holyday said.

"So we can take a look at this from a fairness standpoint, and I think if councillors are willing to do that, the fair thing would be to reappoint Rob."

The mayor's brother, on the other hand, said Monday that a byelection should be called to let voters decide the issue.

Rob Ford has said he would run again for mayor at the earliest opportunity if his appeal fails and he is ousted from office.

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