In a much anticipated decision by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was found to have violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, (MCIA) and his seat on Toronto City Council was declared vacant.
The question in this case was whether the Mayor violated the MCIA by speaking to and voting on measures regarding whether he was required to repay charitable donations he had collected in breach of the City Code of Conduct. Before the first of the votes, Mr. Ford was warned by the Council Speaker that he had a conflict of interest, but he participated anyway. A municipal voter brought the motion.
The judge found that as Council had the power to levy financial sanctions for Code of Conduct violations, this created a pecuniary interest, and the MCIA prohibited a Council member faced with such a conflict from speaking to or voting on the matter. Having found the contravention, the judge was required under MCIA, to declare Mr. Ford’s seat vacant, unless the defence of inadvertence or an error in judgement applied.
The judge found that Mr. Ford’s participation in the vote was a deliberate choice; to have been inadvertent would have required oversight, inattention or carelessness. The judge held that the error in judgment exemption required elements of honesty and good faith and did not cover Mr. Ford’s outright ignorance of the law and wilful blindness of his obligations. The judge declared Mr. Ford’s seat vacant and prohibited him from running for Council until 2014. An appeal has been filed and is scheduled to be heard in January. In the meantime, the Mayor has been granted a stay of the order removing him from office pending the hearing of the appeal.