Rob Ford has been ordered to vacate his position as Toronto's mayor.
In a judgment released Monday morning at 10 am, Justice Charles Hackland ruled that the mayor violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act at a February council meeting, and should be removed from the top job at City Hall.
In his 24-page decision, Hackland rejected Ford's argument that he should escape punishment because when he spoke and voted on a matter at council in which he had a financial stake, it was a good faith error in judgment.
Instead, Hackland found that after Ford ran afoul of the city integrity commissioner over donations to his football foundation, he exhibited "a stubborn sense of entitlement" and "a dissimissive and confrontational attitude." The judge concluded that Ford showed such an ignorance of the rules governing council conduct that it amounted to "wilful blindness," negating any good faith defence.
"I have concluded that the respondent [Ford] contravened... the MCIA when he spoke and voted on a matter in which he had a pecuniary interest at the meeting of Toronto City Council on February 7, 2012," Hackland wrote in his decision, "and that his actions were not done by a reason of inadvertence or a good faith error in judgment.
"Accordingly, I declare the seat of the respondent, Robert Ford, on Toronto City Council, vacant."
Acknowledging that the ruling "will necessitate administrative changes" at City Hall, Hackland delayed its implementation for 14 days.
Shortly after the verdict was made public, a defiant Ford scrummed with reporters outside his office and vowed to appeal the decision, which he described as politically motivated.
"This comes down to left-wing politics," he said. "The left wing wants me out of here, and they'll do anything in their power to. I'm going to fight tooth and nail to hold on to my job."
"I'm a fighter. I've done a lot of great work for this city, and sometimes you win, sometimes you lose."
In order to avoid being forced to step down in two weeks, Ford will have to seek a stay of the judgment, and then appeal it. If the judgment were stayed, he could remain in office pending the outcome of the appeal process, which could take months.
If his appeal bid fails, how his replacement would be found is not clear at this point. Council has the authority to both call a by-election, or appoint a current councillor to succeed him. On Monday morning, several councillors said they were expecting to get clarification on their options from legal staff and the city clerk at their council meeting on Tuesday.
Ford promised Monday that if a by-election were called, his name would be "the first one on the ballot." But there is confusion over whether the mayor could run in an election before 2014.
Hackland's decision did not bar Ford from holding office "beyond the current term," but the wording is ambiguous as to whether this means the current term of council, which ends in 2014, or the mayor's term, which is now scheduled to end in 14 days.
Monday's verdict bestows on the mayor the unwelcome distinction of being the first chief magistrate in modern Toronto's history ordered out of office for violating the law. It also threatens to sideline the most divisive political leader the city has seen in decades.
The conflict case was launched in March, when prominent Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby filed a lawsuit on behalf of resident Paul Magder. It alleged that Ford had engaged in a conflict of interest when he spoke and voted on the recommendations of the city integrity commissioner at a February council meeting.
In a January 30 report, integrity commissioner Janet Leiper recommended council demand Mayor Ford provide proof that he had repaid $3,150 in donations he improperly solicited for the Rob Ford Football Foundation. In 2010 Ford, then a city councillor, sought contributions from lobbyists and others doing business with the city using city letterhead.
Leiper first determined those donations violated council's code of conduct in August 2010 and council ordered him to repay the money. Ford never did, later arguing the cash had already been spent by the foundation, which kick starts student football programs at high schools across Toronto.
At the February 2012 council session, councillors rejected the commissioner's findings and voted that no further action be taken on the matter. But Ford spoke on the issue and voted against having to repay the funds. Magder's lawsuit claimed that doing so was a violation of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, which prohibits council members from taking part in decisions in which they have a financial interest.
At the time, many observers believed a judge would balk at the drastic step of ousting the mayor of Canada's largest city.
When Ford took the stand in the case in early September, he admitted to Ruby that he had not read the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, nor the handbook on council conduct that is distributed to all council members when they're elected. He said that if his staff had told him he was in a conflict situation at the February meeting, he probably wouldn't have spoken or voted on the integrity commissioner's report.
Ford also gave his own, incorrect definition of a conflict of interest, telling the court "I believe that (for) a conflict of interest you have to have two parties involved and the city has to benefit and a member of council has to benefit." He claimed that because the city did not profit from his actions, he had not engaged in a conflict of interest.
The mayor's lawyer, Alan Lenczner, argued that the commissioner had no authority to impose a financial penalty on the mayor in the first place.
Ford is still awaiting the outcome of a separate lawsuit that saw him in court earlier this month. In that case, he's being sued by restaurant owner George Foulidis for $6 million. Foulidis, who runs the Boardwalk Café in the Beaches, alleges that Ford libeled him during the 2010 election campaign.