Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

At appeal hearing, Mayor Rob Ford benefits from his own silence

By: Metro Canada Published on Tue Jan 08 2013

At Osgoode Hall on Monday, in a beautiful old courtroom with creaky wooden benches, Rob Ford sat stone-faced and silent for nearly six hours as lawyers involved in his appeal process debated whether he should keep his job as mayor of Toronto.

His silence was a gift to himself.

Last September, during his last major stint in a courtroom over these same Municipal Conflict of Interest Act allegations, Ford doomed his own case on day one when he took the stand and provided confusing, nonsensical testimony. It was then that he claimed to have his own definition of what a “conflict of interest” entails. It was then that he admitted that he never read the Act itself, or even bothered to familiarize himself with the city council handbook.

That testimony went a long way toward earning the ruling that found Ford guilty of “willful blindness” — a ruling that ultimately put his job in jeopardy.

Luckily, the mayor didn't have to speak yesterday. Instead, he let lawyer Alan Lenczner do the talking for him. Opposing counsel Clayton Ruby did, at times, read directly from a transcript of Ford's September testimony, but, coming out of Ruby's mouth, Ford's earlier statements sounded so ridiculous as to strain credibility. It was as if they were lines from a bad attempt at Rob Ford parody. At the very least, it seemed fair to assume that Ruby was quoting the mayor out of context.

But they weren't parody, and Ruby's context was fair. Anyone who sat in that courtroom back in September would say as much. But the three Divisional Court justices who will ultimately rule on this appeal will never hear Ford's arguments in his own words. And that fact may just give the mayor a slightly better chance at pulling out a win than he would have had otherwise.

But only a slightly better chance.

I still don't really buy the arguments coming from the Ford side. The idea that Ford's contravention of the Act was an error in judgment or inadvertent don't really stand up to a fair look at what actually happened. And the suggestion that the amount of money in question is too small to be of any consequence to Ford is laughable. This is a guy who fought tooth and nail to stop the practice of charging a measly five cents for plastic bags. To him, literally every amount of money is of consequence.

Lenczner spent much of his allotted time arguing the ultra vires angle, pushing the idea that this whole darn courthouse is affair is irrelevant because the integrity commissioner and city councillors never had the legal authority to order the mayor to repay the funds he raised in the first place. This turned out to be a slightly more effective line of attack. But even that argument feels wobbly given that Ford had ample opportunity to pursue that legal avenue and never bothered to do so.

But, hey, maybe the judges will feel differently. Forced to guess, I'd put my money on a ruling that upholds the lower court decision and for real boots Ford from office. But I wouldn't be too surprised to see things go the other way — especially after yesterday's day in court. When Ford's involved, nothing is ever predictable.

Right now, only one thing is certain: the future of Toronto now lies in the hands of three District Court justices. Let's hope they figure this out quickly.

This post was originally published at on 2013-01-08T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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