'Humbled' Toronto Mayor Rob Ford vows to keep fighting after winning appeal
Published Friday, January 25, 2013 6:16AM EST
Last Updated Saturday, January 26, 2013 10:07AM EST
Both humbled and empowered by the appeal court ruling that allows him to keep his job, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford thanked his supporters and vowed to keep serving the city for another "six years."
Ford addressed reporters gathered at city hall Friday, just 90 minutes after the Ontario Divisional Court panel issued their decision on his appeal of a conflict of interest ruling that ordered him out of office.
"We conclude that the application judge erred in finding that Mr. Ford contravened the MCIA (Municipal Conflict of Interest Act). Accordingly, we would allow the appeal," the judges wrote in their decision posted online.
In his first formal public reaction to the ruling, Ford heaped praise and gratitude on his supporters and the courts.
"I have enormous respect for the judicial system and am very thankful for the decision it made today," he said, before thanking his lawyers, family and Toronto residents for their support.
"The people of this city have given me phenomenal support and I want to truly, truly thank them for it," he added, calling his job as mayor an "enormous privilege."
Ford also said his legal battle has been a "very, very humbling experience."
Nevertheless, he was not shy about trumpeting his achievements as mayor.
"In the past two years I've done everything I said I'd do," he said, later boasting that “we are running the city better than any administration ever has.”
Ford's current mandate -- which could have been brought to an abrupt end if the appeal had not gone in his favour -- is up in two years, but he made clear he’s already thinking beyond that.
"It is my plan to continue fighting for the people of this great city for the next six years," Ford said, optimistic of winning a second term as mayor.
But there's a slim chance he may have to keep fighting this battle, if the lawyer representing the man who launched the conflict-of-interest complaint gets his way.
"The Court has let Rob Ford off on a technicality," Clayton Ruby said in a statement to CTV News following the court's ruling Friday.
"We find that disappointing, particularly since the court found that (my client) Mr. Paul Magder was right on the facts. We believe that there are serious errors of law in the judgement and we will ask the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to appeal to that Court. It must be acknowledged that such appeals are not easy, but this remains an important issue for all citizens."
The mayor's legal troubles stem from a report by the city's Integrity Commissioner on $3,150 in donations for his private football foundation, solicited using his then-Toronto city councillor's office letterhead.
It wasn't soliciting the money that got Ford in trouble, however.
Instead, Ontario Superior Court Justice Charles Hackland ruled in November that Ford made "substantial and significant errors of law" when he participated in a council debate and vote on a council motion compelling Ford to pay the money back out of his own pocket.
At issue were the municipal rules and the interpretation of whether or not Ford had a 'pecuniary interest' in the result of that vote.
Ford's lawyer Alan Lenczner argued at trial and in appeal that the mayor was an honest politician who made a genuine error of judgment, and should not be found guilty of conflict of interest because he did not benefit personally by his efforts to help disadvantaged youth through the football foundation.
And besides, Lenczner said, city council did not have the power to ask Ford to repay the money anyway.
Clayton Ruby -- the lawyer representing the man who launched the conflict-of-interest complaint, Paul Magder -– countered that Ford deliberately violated rules of municipal office.
Hackland's ruling ordered Ford out of office, but the removal was stayed by Ontario Divisional Court Justice Gladys Pardu who ruled the mayor could stay on the job pending the outcome of his appeal at Divisional Court.
In their decision Friday, Regional Senior Justice Edward Then, Justice Lynne Leitch, and Justice Katherine Swinton wrote that Hackland had erred in his ruling.
Focusing on the question of whether Ford had a financial interest in the donations debate, "In our view, he did not," they said.
"In Decision CC 52.1, City Council ordered Mr. Ford to pay monies to certain donors when he had never received such monies personally. While the application judge called the reimbursement obligation a remedial measure, in our view, this was a penalty imposed on Mr. Ford."
Hackland had ruled that Ford's voting against the motion demanding he pay the money back out of his own pocket constituted a financial interest.
But in their appeal decision, the panel of Divisional Court justices disagreed.
"Given that the imposition of the financial sanction under Decision CC 52.1 was a nullity because Council did not have the jurisdiction to impose such a penalty, Mr. Ford had no pecuniary interest in the matter on which he voted at Council," they wrote.
Analyzing the ruling, Toronto lawyer John Mascarin said Ford "got off on the most arcane technicality."
Friday’s ruling notes that the only penalites council could impose on Ford were a reprimand or suspension of pay, and not a demand he personally reimburse the funds.
"Therefore everything that flows from that, including Rob Ford then speaking on it is absolved, or immune, from the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act," Mascarin told CTV News Channel.
Had the court upheld Justice Hackland's ruling, Ford would have had to hand the keys to the mayor's office over to Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday. Council would then have been left to decide whether to appoint a successor or let voters decide in a byelection.
Ford not in the clear
Although Ford can now stay in office, his mandate until the next scheduled election in Oct. 2014 is not guaranteed, as he must now await the conclusion of a forensic audit of his 2010 campaign finances.
If the auditors’ report due in February suggests Ford's campaign breached the Municipal Elections Act, he could face non-criminal charges. If he's found guilty, the possible penalties include a fine or removal from office.