In his quest to be elected mayor, Rob Ford made "road kill" out of George Foulidis, a Toronto court heard on Monday.
Opposing lawyers in the libel case against Ford began their closing arguments today, winding down the $6-million suit that has seen the mayor in a University Ave. courtroom since last Tuesday.
Although the proceedings were supposed to wrap up today, the final presentations went long and will continue Tuesday afternoon.
Once they're concluded, Judge John Macdonald will decide whether Ford is liable for defaming George Foulidis in a 2010 interview with the Toronto Sun editorial board. Foulidis, the operator of the Boardwalk Pub in Woodbine Beach Park, is suing the mayor for $6 million.
He claims Ford defamed him by suggesting to the Sun that the process by which the city awarded him an untendered 20-year deal for exclusive rights to food and beverage sales on parkland in the Beaches was corrupt.
In his closing remarks to the court, Foulidis's lawyer Brian Shiller described Ford as an opportunistic mayoral candidate who stomped on Foulidis's reputation in order to win votes during a hotly contested 2010 election campaign.
"This is not about genuinely looking into criminality, it's about seeking votes and winning elections," Shiller said. "And the road kill is Mr. Foulidis."
Shiller argued that Ford was never truly concerned about the contract the city awarded Foulidis's company, Tuggs Inc. Rather, Shiller charged that Ford's only goal was to capitalize on public dissatisfaction over the deal with sensational allegations of corruption.
Ford never investigated the contract or did anything to find out the facts, Shiller noted, and the mayor, who was then a city councillor, was absent from the crucial May, 2010 council vote at which the deal was approved. He also skipped a vote in July when the issue was referred to the audit committee.
As he wrapped up his argument however, Shiller grappled with the complicated task of trying to bring together the various aspects of the notice of libel Foulidis filed against Ford.
That notice, which forms the basis for the plaintiff's case, claimed four of Ford's statements from the Sun article were defamatory. One of them - that the 20-year deal "smacks of civic corruption" - was a paraphrase of something the mayor said, not a direct quote. The meaning of another - "If Tuggs isn't, then I don't know what is" - was initially disputed, although Ford conceded on the stand last week that he intended to call Foulidis's company an example of "corruption and skullduggery."
Shiller admitted to the judge that Ford could not be sued for the "civic corruption" statement because he never used those words, but he refused to drop it from his argument because he argued it was an accurate quote and provided context for the defamatory nature second statement.
"There are a lot of hoops," Shiller admitted, "but I say we jump through them all."
The mayor's lawyer, Gavin Tighe, launched his closing argument in the afternoon session. His defence relies heavily on the argument that Ford's statements to the Sun fall under "fair comment" protection, which allows a wide berth for potentially defamatory speech as long as it addresses matters of the public interest.
Tighe cited a 2008 Supreme Court decision as proof that "fair comment" protections have only been expanded in recent years.
"The Supreme Court of Canada has clearly signaled every time it has dealt with defamation in the last decade, that the claim of libel, defamation, and slander is to be restricted," Tighe said. "It is getting harder to prove because the defences are becoming stronger."
Justice Macdonald interjected to say he agreed that the Foulidis deal, which was widely reported on by the media during the election campaign, was clearly a matter of public interest.
"There just can't be any doubt that Mr. Ford was fully entitled to raise singled-sourced contracts, transparency in civic government, cost containments, the benefit to the taxpayers, and multitudes of these issues [that he raised with the Sun]," Macdonald said.
"The issue here's a little different. In the course of exercising those rights... did he just go too far?"
Tighe also took aim at another key element of the plaintiff's case, which is that the mayor was primarily motivated by malice when he suggested corruption was behind the Foulidis deal. Tighe said Shiller himself had already sunk that argument by claiming Ford was out to get votes.
"There can only be one primary intent," Tighe said. "If the primary intent is to get votes, then it can't be to hurt George Foulidis."
Closing arguments will resume at 2 pm tomorrow, but the court will convene at 10 am, when Tighe is expected to attempt to reopen the evidence portion of the proceedings in order to establish that council met behind closed doors to discuss the Tuggs deal.
The trial was initially scheduled to finish by last Friday, but could now stretch until Wednesday morning.