Thursday, May 30, 2013

Rob Ford Conflict of interest trial & Allegations of substance abuse

Conflict of interest trial

In August 2010, the City of Toronto's integrity commissioner ruled that Councillor Ford had not followed City Council's Code of Conduct and had abused his council position by using official letterhead and other council resources in fund-raising letters for his football foundation. Ford had accepted $3,150 on behalf of the foundation and the commissioner indicated that Ford should pay back the money.[109][110] In the report, the commissioner had noted that donors had included lobbyists, clients of lobbyists and a corporation which did business with the City of Toronto.[111] Ford indicated that he would challenge the report at Council, stating that he was being treated unfairly. He publicly asked "why the integrity commissioner doesn't investigate the $12,000 retirement party for Kyle Rae or the $6,000 French lessons for Adam Giambrone. Or better yet, why not that Tuggs deal, that 20-year lease behind closed doors. Why doesn't she investigate that?"[112]

On August 25, 2010, City Council debated the integrity commissioner's report. Ford participated in the report discussion and the vote after being warned by then-Council Speaker Sandra Bussin that he was in a potential conflict of interest.[111] Council agreed with the commissioner and voted 26–10 for Ford to return the money.[113] In the months following the meeting, Ford discussed the repayment with his donors. Several did not want repayment and Ford forwarded letters from several donors expressing their wishes to the integrity commissioner. By February 2012, Ford had not paid the amount and the matter was raised at a February 7, 2012 City Council meeting.

Ford spoke and voted at the February 7 meeting: "[A]nd if it wasn't for this foundation, these kids would not have a chance. And then to ask for me to pay it out of my own pocket personally, there is just, there is no sense to this. The money is gone, the money has been spent on football equipment ..."[111] City Council voted on a motion "[t]hat City Council rescind the previous decision made under Item CC52.1[114]and direct that no further action be taken on this matter", which carried by majority, 22 voting Yes, 12 No, with 11 absent.[109][115]

In March 2012, a complaint was filed by Paul Magder, a Torontonian, alleging that Ford's actions at the February 2012 Council meeting had violated the Ontario Municipal Conflict of Interest Act (MCIA).[116]The lawsuit came to trial in Ontario Superior Court on September 5, 2012. The case was argued on Magder's behalf by Toronto civil rights lawyer Clayton Ruby, who represented him pro bono.[117] Ruby argued that Ford had clearly violated the act by "having spoke to and voted on a matter in which he allegedly had a pecuniary interest ... contravening s. (5)1 of the MCIA and an order was sought under s. 10(1) of the MCIA declaring his seat on Toronto City Council vacant."[111][117] Ford's defense was that the MCIA did not apply to Toronto City Council's Code of Conduct; that the Council Resolution was ultra vires to Council's powers under the City of Toronto Act and therefore null; that the amount was insignificant, and that the contravention of the MCIA was committed through inadvertence or by reason of error in judgment.[111]

During the trial, Ruby argued Ford was "reckless" and "wilfully ignorant" of the law when he did not remove himself from the debate and vote. Ford testified he never read the MCIA or a City of Toronto councillor orientation handbook which included a section on conflicts of interest. Also, he did not attend City Council training sessions that covered conflicts of interest.[118] The mayoralty oath of office includes a pledge to "disclose conflicts of interest", and when asked by Ruby if he understood the words, Ford said: "No. My interpretation of a conflict of interest, again, is it takes two parties and the city must benefit or a member of council must benefit." Ruby argued that "as mayor he ought to have had a clear understanding of his obligations. This entire pattern of conduct shows that he chose to remain ignorant, and substituted his own view for that of the law." Ford disagreed, stating he only acted in the best interest of high school students.[118] The trial concluded on September 6 with no immediate judgment and the judge promised "to deliver the ruling in a timely fashion."[119]

Ontario Superior Court Judge Hackland's ruling was released on November 26, 2012. Hackland found that Ford had violated the MCIA and declared his seat vacant, the decision to take effect in 14 days.[109] In his decision, Hackland disagreed with all of Ford's legal arguments. In his disposition, Hackland stated: "Ford's actions were not done by reason of inadvertence or of a good faith error in judgment. I am, therefore, required by s. 10(1)(a) of the MCIA to declare the respondent's seat vacant. In view of the significant mitigating circumstances surrounding the respondent's actions ... I decline to impose any further disqualification from holding office beyond the current term."[111] Opinions differed on whether the ruling allowed Ford to run in a by-election should Council order one to fill the vacancy. According to the City Solicitor, the ruling disallowed Ford from holding office again until 2014, the next term of office.[120] However, on November 30, Judge Hackland clarified his order, and did not bar Ford from running in a by-election, should one be held before 2014.[121]

After the ruling, Ford announced that he would appeal. "I'm a fighter. Sometimes you win some, sometimes you lose some. I've done lots of great work for the city ... This comes down to left-wing politics. The left-wing wants me out of here and they will do anything in their power to and I'm going to fight tooth and nail to hold onto my job and if they do for some reason get me out, then I'll be running right back at 'em soon as the next election is, if there's a by-election I'll have my name the first one on the ballot."[122] Ford was granted a stay of the decision on December 5, and remained mayor during his appeal.[123]

On January 27, 2013, the Superior Court upheld Ford's appeal. The judges declared that the original judge had erred because the financial judgment was not under the City of Toronto Act or the Council Code of Conduct. Further, the sanction was beyond the authority of the City Council to enact.[124] After the ruling, Ruby promised to appeal the decision to the Canadian Supreme Court. Although Ford won the appeal, the appeals court disallowed Ford's claim for $116,000 in legal costs.[125]
Allegations of substance abuse

During his mayoral campaign, a 1999 arrest of Ford in Miami, Florida for driving under the influence (DUI) and marijuana possession became an election issue when the Toronto Star published details of the arrest. According to the statement recorded by the arresting officer, Ford was acting nervous, had bloodshot eyes and had "a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on his breath". Ford threw his hands up in the air and told the police officer, "Go ahead, take me to jail."[126][127] When questioned by reporters about the incident, Ford initially denied the DUI charge, saying instead he was arrested because he "refused to give a breath sample".[128] Ford later admitted the DUI conviction, but omitted the marijuana possession.[129] Ford later admitted to the marijuana possession, saying that the marijuana charge had "completely, totally slipped my mind" because the more serious issue during the arrest was the DUI charge.[130]

On April 15, 2006, Ford (a sitting councillor at the time) attended a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey game at the Air Canada Centre. Visibly intoxicated and belligerent, he began to insult a couple seated behind him, who were visiting from out of town. Two security guards escorted Ford out of the building. When confronted about the episode three days later by a National Post reporter, Ford initially denied having been at the game. He later told the Toronto Star: "This is unbelievable, I wasn't even at the game, so someone's trying to do a real hatchet job on me, let me tell you", but later on said: "I reflected on it last night, and talked to my family. I came forward and admitted it. That's all I can do. I mean, I'm not perfect," said Ford. "Being in politics, you're in the spotlight all the time. I made a mistake. I made a major mistake. I really regret it."[131]

In March 2013, former mayoralty candidate Sarah Thomson accused Ford of touching her inappropriately and making inappropriate comments while posing for a picture together at a political function.[132]Thomson, in a later interview on radio, suggested that Ford was on cocaine: “I thought he was, yes, but I don’t know,” she said. “I went back and looked up, you know, what are the signs of cocaine use. I looked it up and you know sweaty, talking quickly, out of it, arrogant — all these things were on there. What I read on Google, I would think he’s either on that or some other substance … he was definitely out of it.”[133] Ford responded on his radio show by saying that Thomson's story wasn't true and commented on Thomson: “In my personal opinion, I’ve always said I don’t know if she’s playing with a full deck from the first time I met her.”[133]

Later in March, the Toronto Star reported that Paul Ainslie, a member of the Toronto City Council executive committee, had asked Ford to leave a function two weeks prior to the Thomson event, due to Ford being intoxicated. The Toronto Star then published a front-page story accusing Ford of having a "drinking problem", which was an "open secret" at City Hall.[134] In both cases, Ford or his chief of staff Mark Towhey denied the allegations. Ford said the Star story was an outright lie; he said "Let’s just wait until the election, and then we’ll see what happens ... It’s just lies, after lies and lies".[135]

In May 2013, Gawker said it had been offered a video showing Ford apparently smoking crack cocaine.[136][136] The Star reporters wrote that they viewed the clip on a smartphone in the backseat of a car on May 3, and noted that they have "no way to verify the authenticity of the video" but that it "appears to clearly show Ford in a well-lit room."[136] Ford denied the allegations on May 17, calling them, "Absolutely not true."[137]

On May 23, Gawker posted that it had lost touch with the video owner.[138]