11/13/2012 06:40 EST | Updated 01/13/2013 05:12 EST

Rob Ford $6M Libel Trial Begins Today

CP/Globe And Mail

The lawyer representing Toronto Mayor Rob Ford in a libel trial claims the mayor never said a city deal to give a restaurateur a 20-year lease extension "smacks of civic corruption."

Ford is facing a $6-million defamation lawsuit over comments he allegedly made during his 2010 mayoral campaign.

At the time, Ford was incensed that the city gave an untendered 20-year lease extension to the operator of the Boardwalk Café along Woodbine Beach.

The restaurant's owner, George Foulidis, is accusing Ford of defamation, saying the mayor suggested he won the contract as a result of illegal activity.

Much of Tuesday's opening statements focused on the wording of a story that stemmed from a meeting Ford had with the Toronto Sun newspaper's editorial board in August 2010.

The story paraphrases Ford as saying the contract "smacks of civic corruption," but the mayor's lawyer, Gavin Tighe, denied Monday that his client ever said those words. He told the court that a recording of Ford's conversation with the Sun has since been erased, and that the reporter's notes are no longer available.

The only record that does exist is a reporter's email describing the comments, Tighe said.

Ford told the Sun the deal "stinks to high heaven." He also agreed with a radio interviewer on a separate occasion when asked: "Is someone getting money under the table?" However, Ford’s comments to the radio station are not the subject of the lawsuit.

Tighe argued that because Foulidis ended up getting the lease extension, none of Ford's comments hurt the restaurateur financially. Tighe also said that Ford had the right to make his views known on a key issue ahead of the municipal election in October 2010.

In his opening statement, Foulidis’s lawyer, Brian Schiller, said the case is "not about politics," and insisted the damage to his client is "extensive and malicious."

Foulidis is also suing Bruce Baker, a candidate in that municipal election for the Boardwalk Cafe's ward, for a letter he sent to councillors suggesting police should investigate the deal.

Tighe noted that while Foulidis is suing the mayor for $6 million, he is suing Baker for $100,000.

It is standard practice for a newspaper that prints allegedly libellous comments to be sued as well, Tighe said, and called it "unusual" that the Toronto Sun is not named in this lawsuit.

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'They're coming after him,' Ford's brother says

Coun. Doug Ford, the mayor's brother, has said the lawsuit is politically motivated.

“What did he do wrong? They’re coming after him,” said Doug Ford.

The mayor’s brother also said the case could take on a circus-like atmosphere with the number of high-profile witnesses scheduled to be called as witnesses, including former mayor David Miller.

“It's just a big Hollywood show in my opinion,” said Doug Ford. “They are calling everyone but [U.S.] President Obama, and I’m surprised he hasn’t been called. It's a big show and this will continue until the next election.”

The trial is expected to last four days.

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