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Compliance audit committee votes not to prosecute Mayor Rob Ford

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, left, is flanked by his brother Doug Ford as he appears in front of the media in Toronto on Friday, January 25, 2013, after learning that he has successfully appealed a decision to remove him from office following a conflict of interest hearing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Mayor Rob Ford has dodged another legal bullet, after Toronto’s compliance audit committee decided not to prosecute him for violating campaign finance rules.

The three-member committee voted 2-1 to accept the audit report, which concluded hie broke the Municipal Elections Act, but against proceedings to prosecute him.

After the decision, Ford said, “I’m happy this is over. This is a great day for democracy.”

On Feb. 1, a forensic audit of Ford’s finances for his 2010 mayoral campaign showed he broke the Municipal Elections Act when he exceeded the authorized spending limit of $1.3 million. The analysis, conducted by Froese Forensic Partners Ltd., found the Ford team overspent by $40,168.

On Monday, the three-person committee heard from lawyers for both sides as well as forensic expert Bruce Armstrong, who wrote the report.

Heidi Rubin, the lawyer for Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler and Max Reed, who filed the complaint, said pleading ignorance of election laws was unacceptable for someone in the mayor’s position.

“When a fifth-time candidate violates election laws to the extent shown by the auditors’ findings, it must be in the public interest to see the matter forward to the prosecution,” she said.

Rubin cited findings in relation to an event at the Grand Baccus which was put on by the mayor in 2010. Ford said the event, which cost about $27,000 to host, was a fundraiser, not a promotional event which would have been subject to a spending limit. However Rubin noted that the auditor found that less than $3,000 in fundraising revenue was raised during that event.

The mayor’s lawyer Tom Barlow told the committee that the funds raised during the event were not incidental but that the evening was more about making contacts to be used for fundraising at a later date.

“For this event, the campaign saw getting people in the door and getting their personal information as part of the fundraising activity,” he said. “They raised $2,900 that night and then, as you saw in our submissions, from those people who attended that event, by following up on them they raised approximately $14,000 more. So for an event that cost $27,796.29 they raised almost $16,000 in contributions.”

He added that all money raised at the event were properly recorded, which showed the intent for transparency in the campaign.

Although Barlow acknowledged some mistakes had been made during the campaign, he said that they were simply oversights and that lessons had been learned through these proceedings.

“There’s no such thing as perfection in life and there’s certainly no such thing as perfection in election law and there is also, generally speaking, no such thing as perfection in accounting,” he said. “The buck does stop here in my submission. You’re in a position to assess the situation as any prosecutor.”

The audit was ordered after Chaleff-Freudenthaler and Reed alleged Ford exceeded his spending limit. They also claimed he broke the law by borrowing $77,722 for his campaign from his family’s company, Doug Ford Holdings Inc.

Earlier this month, the committee voted unanimously to start legal proceedings against Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti after a forensic audit found he exceeded his campaign spending limit by about $12,000.

This was the third victory for the mayor who faced three lawsuits in the past year.

In December, a judge rejected a $6-million defamation lawsuit by Beach restaurant owner George Foulidis, who sued Ford over comments made during the campaign.

Last year, Paul Magder launched a conflict-of-interest lawsuit against the mayor over $3,150 donated to Ford’s football charity, which the city’s integrity commissioner said was solicited using city resources and violated the province’s Conflict of Interest Act.

In November, Ontario Superior Court Justice Charles Hackland ruled against Ford in the case and he was ordered out of office. The decision was overturned last month by an Ontario Divisional Court panel.

Ford is launching legal action against Magder to recoup about $116,000 in legal fees.

Magder’s lawyer, Clayton Ruby, said his client plans to file an appeal with the Supreme Court of Canada.

– with files from Shawne McKeown and Erin Criger