Rob Ford is an "honest man" who has done nothing to warrant being kicked out of office, according to the mayor's attorney.
In a packed courtroom at Osgoode Hall on Monday, lawyer Alan Lenczner made his final pitch to save Ford's mayoralty, which has been hanging by a thread since Justice Charles Hackland ordered him removed from office last November.
Ford is now appealing that decision in Ontario Divisional Court, and in an argument that lasted more than two hours, Lenczner told the three judges presiding over the appeal that Hackland made four separate errors of law when he ruled that the mayor broke the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.
At issue is Ford's decision to speak and vote on a council item in February that ordered him to repay $3,150 in donations he improperly solicited for his football foundation.
Hackland found that Ford's behaviour at that council meeting violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. But on Monday Lenczner told the judges that Hackland erred, because council never had the authority to ask Ford to repay the funds. The attorney said that the City of Toronto Act only stipulates two penalties for breaking council's code of conduct: a "reprimand," and suspending a council member's pay for up to 90 days.
"You can impose penalty A - reprimand - and penalty B - suspension - and nothing else," Lenczner said. "There is no room [for any other penalty]."
The other three errors of law that Lenczner charges Hackland made are: Ford improperly soliciting donations broke council's Code of Conduct, and cannot be punished under the MCIA, a separate legal instrument; the amount of money involved was too small to pose a conflict to Ford; and Ford should be exempted from penalty because he didn't know he was in a potential conflict and made an honest error of judgment.
The mayor's attorney said it would be an injustice to unseat Ford for violating a "draconian" law that was designed to ensure government transparency, especially because the mayor never tried to deceive anyone about his relationship to the money.
"He made no bones about it. In fact, he got up and spoke to it," Lenczner said. "He didn't try to hide it. He was perfectly plain and honest. This is the hallmark of an honest man."
Lenczner concluded his presentation by playing the video of Ford's speech to council at the February 7 meeting, in which the mayor defended his football foundation and said it made "no sense" to ask him to repay money that went towards a noble cause.
"Is that the demeanor of someone who is trying to hide something?" Lenczner asked after the video played.
Ford attended hearing and sat expresionless for much of the proceedings, occasionally writing in a small binder and exchanging notes with his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, who sat on the bench beside him.
Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, who in the past several weeks has been openly critical of "distractions" Ford has caused his first two years of office, also came to observe the hearing. Initially he stood against the wall of the overflowing courtroom, but later took a seat between the two Ford brothers.
As the court broke for lunch, the Fords and several aides exited the courtroom and headed towards an elevator. They declined to speak to reporters.
Lawyers for Paul Magder, who brought the conflict of interest case against Ford, began their arguments shortly before the court broke for lunch at 1 pm. They're expected to wrap up their presentations before the end of the day.