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Mayor Ford’s $6M libel trial underway

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was in court again on Tuesday, this time to defend himself against a $6-million defamation lawsuit launched by a local restaurant owner.

Former mayor David Miller, journalists and some of Ford’s colleagues at city hall, including councillors Frances Nunziata and Doug Holyday, were subpoenaed to testify at the trial, according to various reports.

George Foulidis, 53, owns Tuggs Inc., which operates Boardwalk Café on Lake Shore Boulevard at Woodbine Avenue. Foulidis claims Ford made “false” and “defamatory” comments in 2010 about how he won a renewed deal with the city.

Below is live coverage by CityNews and 680News reporters covering the trial.

The Boardwalk Café at Woodbine Beach is the only establishment allowed to sell food and drinks in the busy eastern beaches.

The city renewed the restaurant’s 20-year lease in 2006 in an untendered process that the local councillor at the time, Sandra Bussin, defended as a way to keep fast food chains out of the area.

While on the mayoral campaign trail in the summer of 2010, Ford told the Toronto Sun the deal “stinks to high heaven.” The article, written by Jonathan Jenkins, suggested Ford had described the deal as corrupt.

Jenkins is also slated to take the stand during the trial, which was expected to last four days however the case may continue into next week.

Ford, who was expected to take the stand Tuesday afternoon, now is expected to speak on Thursday. He insists he never said the deal “smacks of civic corruption,” which is the phrase Jenkins used to open his article.

The mayor’s lawyer Gavin Tighe said it’s unusual that the Sun isn’t being sued considering its article is at the centre of the case. Tighe said, “the words are not defamatory,” because they don’t refer to Foulidis by name. “Mayor Ford never mentions Foulidis’s name,” he said.

In his opening arguments, Foulidis’s lawyer, Brian Shiller, said he intends to prove the damage to his client allegedly caused by Ford was “extensive” and “malicious.”

Foulidis is also suing Bruce Baker, who ran for council in Ward 32, for alleged defamatory comments.

Tuggs Inc. has been operating the boardwalk restaurant since 1986. There were reports Foulidis’s family and friends donated up to $8,000 to Bussin’s campaign in 2006.

On the stand Tuesday, Foulidis said he has never given anyone money for favourable treatment.

Ford criticized the fact that the deal wasn’t open to other bids and that some meetings were held in-camera.

“These in-camera meetings, there’s more corruption and skullduggery going on in there than I’ve ever seen in my life,” he told the Sun’s editorial board in August 2010.

Shiller said Foulidis’s accusations are “legitimate” — made by a “small businessman accused of corruption by a man running for mayor.”

The defamation case marks Ford’s third trip to the courts since he became mayor. He’s currently awaiting a decision on a conflict-of-interest case that could see him removed from office. He also went to court in an attempt to stop an audit of his campaign expenses. He suspended legal proceedings in that case in April and the audit is going forward.