It was somewhat of a surprise to both legal scholars and haters alike when at 10:30 am this morning came news that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford would be allowed to keep his job, and a November verdict that would have saw him removed from office on charges of violating the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act had been overturned. As consequence, Ford will remain Mayor of Toronto until the 2014 election.
The three justices of the higher court ruled that Charles Hackland's judgment of removal from office following Ford's February vote in a city council motion demanding he return over $3,000 in private donations to his footbal charity was basically too severe. Hackland, said the decision of the judges, acted outside the prevue of the available reprimands under both the MCOI and the City of Toronto Act, which recommends imposing “either of the following penalties:” a reprimand or a suspension of pay. In layman's terms, Hackland was given an inch, and he took a mile.
The disappointment of progressives in Toronto is obvious, Ford has long been a hot air balloon of conservative suburbia imposing his will on the urbanites of Toronto proper whom offer no support for the mayor, and no sympathy. But legally, the decision comes as a surprise because higher courts are typically hesitant to over rule the verdict of a lower court unless there's new evidence or proof of procedural malfeasance or incompetence. I suppose the justification here would fall into the latter category, but still a lot of legal experts are surprised by what happened.
To put the matter as simply as the Toronto Star can:
But in this particular case, the judges ruled, an order to pay $3,150 was indeed an illegal penalty, not a remedial measure — because Ford never actually pocketed that money. The money went to an “arm’s length” organization, the Toronto Community Foundation, which manages Ford’s own foundation along with “several hundred” other funds.
Still, it's been pointed out that whether or not council overstepped, Ford still voted in a motion involving himself. Some could interpret that Ford, having either foresight or a far greater knowledge of the MCOI and CTA than he's ever let on or acknowledged, voted knowing that he'd be taken to court and eventually vindicated on those grounds. If that's true, then Ford is a far greater politician than even his staunchest supporters have given him credit for.
But the verdict's in, and the case is dead. Unless... Yes, to answer the unspoken question, Clayton Ruby will be taking this to the Supreme Court of Canada on behalf of his client Paul Magder. Or at least that's the intent. And taking your case to the Supreme Court is not the same as having your case heard by the Supreme Court, and as unlikely as it was that a higher court would overturn Hackland's case, it's just as doubtful, if not more so, that the highest court would overrule this three judge panel. Still, Ruby and Magder will press on, it seems, which brings us back to the core problem this case has had the whole while: if Ford's infraction was bad enough to see him removed from office, then why was it the auspice of a private citizen to take him to court and not the court itself?
As for Ford himself, he says that he's been "humbled" by the experience, but can a man like Ford be truly humbled? He went like Mr. Wilson after a Toronto Star reporter for coming into his yard, he publicly tried and failed to lose weight in a challenge he put to himself, he tied up TTC buses during rush hour to pick up his football team in the rain, and he was caught clocking 70 kph on the Gardiner on his way to give a speech, the text of which he was reading while driving. And each time, Ford was combative as if these foibles were trivial (although sometimes they were), and by no means his own damn fault. A humble man accepts his fault in events and tries to change, he doesn't lash out, turns and trips over his own petard again.
Heading into 2013 there will undoubtedly be new moments of Ford Classics to make the yearly gag reel. Already the ugly head of another court case rears as his campaign expenses from 2010 are audited for irregularities. Come June, he will surely take it on the chin again as he ditches another Pride Week for an all-important stay at the cottage, and surely his victory today will do nothing but embolden his political enemies who, though defeated, correctly smell the distinct scent of blood in the water.
So for the Anti-Ford crowd in Toronto, their hope lies now in rally support for a strong opponent for the once and future Mayor come 2014 because for now, in City Hall, Ford survives.