THE BLOG

It's An Issue of Precedent, Mr. Ford

09/06/2012 03:57 EDT | Updated 11/05/2012 05:12 EST

The latest in the lawsuit that alleges that Mr. Ford broke the Municipal Conflict-of-Interest Act (MCIA) for voting to let himself not be charged for failing to repay $3,150 in improper donations to his football foundation is just bizarre.

From the Globe and Mail:

"Like I said, for the last 13 years, I've always defined a conflict of interest that there's two parties. There's a benefit to the city or the member of council. And that's when I declared a conflict," Mr. Ford said.

When Clayton Ruby, the lawyer cross-examining Ford, pointed out that neither the Municipal Conflict-of-Interest Act (MCIA) nor the council handbook define a conflict that way, Mr. Ford said he had not read either document.

He added that he skipped his council orientation in 2000 because, as the son of an MPP, he already understood how city hall functioned.

Ford's understanding of a conflict of interest is key because it will form part of a defence that the mayor made an "honest error of judgment," when he spoke and voted.

However, Alan Lenczner, the mayor's lawyer, told the court Wednesday morning that he intends to rely primarily on technical legal arguments, meaning the "honest error" line will likely serve as a fallback.

Now I'm not sure at all that the duly elected, though not majority elected, Mayor Rob Ford should be fired for an inappropriate vote on such a small amount of money. However, I really don't like the precedent of letting this go if Ford does end up using the 'honest mistake' defence. That would be a toxic precedent to set for our democracy.

The argument would seem to be, paraphrasing now:

"I have my own understanding of the rules, which I have used for 13 years as a councillor, which I believe I applied consistently. But that understanding of the rules was false. I never actually read the rulebook to learn the true rules. I never even attended the orientation when I was first elected because I believed that as the son of a politician I knew enough about how the system worked already. Honest mistake."

Actually, that sounds like willful negligence to me. And that is no defence. I'd rather you have said you didn't understand what the vote was about at all. It is not acceptable to argue that some elite part of our society who happen to be born to politicians already know how everything works; that they don't need to read the rules and that if they break the rules because they made them up then it's just an 'honest mistake'. No.

Again, if this trial acquits him and he doesn't use that argument as his main defence then that seems fine. I suppose that no precedent will be set, but I'm no lawyer. However, if the "honest mistake" shtick  is his primary argument then the judge needs to find him guilty on principle because it goes against every assumption of responsible, representative government.