The restaurant owner who is suing the mayor for libel says he was "overwhelmed with allegations of criminality" following an interview Rob Ford gave to the Toronto Sun in 2010.
On the second day of the $6-million defamation suit against the mayor, George Foulidis took the stand and outlined his case, which centres on comments then-candidate Ford made in a 2010 interview with the Sun editorial board.
In the interview, published as a front-page story on August 12, 2010, Ford suggested "corruption" was behind the city's decision to award Foulidis a 20-year contract to operate the Boardwalk Café on parkland on Woodbine Beach, without considering any other bids.
Foulidis alleges Ford's remarks unfairly maligned his reputation.
In a fifth-floor University Ave. courtroom Wednesday, Foulidis testified that after the interview was published protestors wearing Rob Ford t-shirts and accusing him of bribery showed up outside his restaurant. Strangers accosted him in person and online, Foulidis said, and left threatening notes and phone messages at the pub.
"I was very hurt by that article. I was humiliated," Foulidis said under questioning from his lawyer, Brian Shiller. "I felt like a criminal reading that article. I was very upset."
Portraying himself as the prototypical hard-working family man and small business owner that Ford claims as his political base, Foulidis described what he alleges were the damaging effects the mayor's comments had on him and his family.
"My daughter was 10 at the time," Foulidis said, his voice breaking. "She asked me if I had done anything wrong."
"And how did that make you feel?" Shiller asked.
"Worse than I feel now," said Foulidis, as he wiped away tears.
But after less than an hour of questions from his own lawyer, Foulidis was cross-examined by Ford's attorney, Gavin Tighe, who attempted to systematically demolish his case against the mayor.
Tighe argued that it was made clear in both the Sun article and in a subsequent interview Ford's press secretary did with CFRB radio that Ford's comments about "corruption" were specifically directed at city council, not at Foulidis, whom the mayor never mentioned by name.
"You're not a member of council, are you?" Tighe asked Foulidis pointedly. "You never have been?"
In a classic libel defence, Tighe also tried to poke holes in Foulidis's assertion that Ford had damaged his reputation by arguing the restaurateur's character had already been drawn into disrepute. The lawyer raised a 2004 Ontario Superior Court decision that found Foulidis's father, John Foulidis, had engaged in a fraudulent real estate deal in the 1990s, when George controlled the family's finances.
And despite Foulidis's claim that Ford was the first to suggest that the Boardwalk Café's contract might be illegal, Tighe presented newspaper articles and online posts dating back to 2007 that raised questions about the deal.
One article, published in the Ward 32 News two years before Ford's Sun interview, specifically called for a police investigation into the contract. Another, a May 2010 Sun editorial, compared the Boardwalk deal to the sole-source contract scandals that led to the Bellamy inquiry in 2002.
"People were incensed," Tighe said to Foulidis. "They were incensed because it was business as usual again, back at the City of Toronto... in opposition to what the Bellamy inquiry had recommended. Correct?"
"Possibly," Foulidis responded.
Proving that Ford was not the only one who concluded, based on the available facts, that the Boardwalk deal was improper is key to establishing a "fair comment" defence against the libel allegations.
The trial is set to resume Wednesday afternoon at 2:15 pm, but could continue without Ford present. The mayor is expected to skip the proceedings for undisclosed reasons. His high school football team is playing in the Metro Bowl quarterfinals tomorrow, however, and it's rumoured he's taking the afternoon off to coach them.
Ford could take the stand as early as Thursday morning.