The outcome of Rob Ford's libel case is now in the hands of a judge.
Closing arguments in the $6-million lawsuit wrapped up on Tuesday afternoon, two days later than the trial was originally scheduled to end.
In his concluding statements, the mayor's lawyer argued that restaurateur George Foulidis should never have been allowed to bring the case against Ford in the first place, and claimed the suit was an attempt to curtail Ford's duty as a political candidate to comment on matters of public interest.
"It would be a very bad day for Canadian democracy if politicians were in any way impeded from that duty," said Gavin Tighe.
"These types of lawsuits should be sanctioned by the court because they indeed impede that very duty, even if they are unsuccessful."
Throughout the trial, Tighe has argued that Ford had not only a right but an obligation to shed light on the 20-year, sole-sourced deal between Foulidis and the city. The controversial contract gave the restaurant owner exclusive rights for a food and beverage concession in Woodbine Beach Park, and was a hot topic during the 2010 mayoral campaign.
In an interview with the Toronto Sun editorial board in August 2010, Ford linked the deal to "corruption and skullduggery" at City Hall.
The comments, made during Ford's bid for mayor, are at the heart of the libel case. Tighe argued they should be protected by "fair comment" provisions that permit potentially libelous commentary, as long as it's spoken in good faith and pertains to matters of public interest.
Tighe also told the court Tuesday that it would be a "quantum leap" to equate what Ford said at the editorial meeting with libel against Foulidis. Ford never mentioned Foulidis by name, and his attorney claims he was criticizing a culture of dishonesty on council, not any individual.
Ford's comments to the Sun "on their face, libel nobody," but were twisted by the popular tabloid newspaper, Tighe said.
"You cannot hold somebody who comments, or gives a quote in an article, responsible for the way their quote is spun and woven into the message that the publisher wants to deliver."
In his own closing remarks, Foulidis's lawyer, Brian Shiller, countered that Ford has no fair comment defence to stand behind, because Tighe failed to establish a key element of his case.
The law says that potentially defamatory statements can be protected as fair comment only if they're based on accepted facts. In this instance, the fact at issue is whether council discussed the Foulidis deal in a closed session at a June 2010 council meeting.
Ford implied there was impropriety at that meeting, telling the Sun "I wish I could tell you the stuff that happens behind closed doors."
But Shiller argued the minutes of that meeting are unclear on whether council discussed the Foulidis contract behind closed doors. Even if the in camera session did occur, there's no evidence Ford was there to witness councillors colluding.
As such, Ford's corruption allegations are not based on fact, Shiller told the court, and are not protected.
"Mr. Ford has to have some underlying facts to support what he's saying," Shiller said.
Another plank of Shiller's case is that Ford never produced any evidence, either during the Sun interview or his testimony last Friday, that indicated Foulidis was involved in any impropriety. Instead the mayor spoke vaguely of in camera meetings, and anonymous callers who told him the deal was dirty.
If the judge is convinced that Ford had singled out Foulidis as a participant in corruption, Shiller claimed, the mayor's failure to provide any proof must be seen as indication that he had exceeded the limits of protected speech, and that his comments were disingenuous and motivated by malice, both key elements of the libel charge.
"He's gone too far in his allegation against Mr. Foulidis, because he had no evidence to support it at all," Shiller said.
Shiller said Ford's only goal in defaming Foulidis was to cast himself as a government reformer, and sell his "stop the gravy train" campaign message to voters.
Justice John Macdonald reserved his judgment in the case, and requested lawyers on both sides submit further written arguments in the next two weeks. After that, it could be months before he delivers his decision.
There are now two pending legal verdicts involving the mayor. Ford is still awaiting the outcome of his September conflict of interest case, which could see him removed from office.
Ford, who was present for most of the trial since it began on September 13, did not appear at the final session Tuesday.