An Ontario judge was wrong to dismiss a defamation lawsuit against Rob Ford, a restaurant owner is arguing as he takes the case to the province’s highest court.
George Foulidis sued Ford over comments he made to a newspaper — when he was a city councillor — suggesting an untendered, 20-year leasing deal between Foulidis’s company, Tuggs Inc., and the city was corrupt and that it “stinks to high heaven.”
A judge dismissed the lawsuit in December 2012, ruling that Foulidis did not prove the comments were directed at him or that they were defamatory.
Foulidis argues in documents filed with Ontario’s Appeal Court that the judge wrongly zeroed in on an additional comment by Ford, dismissing the allegations he made.
The overall tenor of Ford’s comments is still defamatory, Foulidis argues.
“This defamatory impression is not overcome by a fleeting expression of uncertainty,” his lawyer Paul Pape writes in the court documents.
“The words ‘I can’t accuse anyone or I can’t pinpoint it’ have as much neutralizing effect on the rest of Ford’s words as lipstick does on a pig.”
Foulidis is asking for the Appeal Court to reverse the lower court’s decision, rather than order a new trial, and to award him the costs of his lawsuit against Ford. When the lower court ruled in Ford’s favour it also ordered Foulidis to pay his legal bills.
“Ford’s unwillingness to mitigate the stinging consequences of his baseless and unproven allegations, published on a wide scale to the public, merits the court’s disapproval through a denial, or at least a reduction, of costs,” Pape writes.
Ford made the comments during a meeting with the Toronto Sun editorial board in the middle of his 2010 mayoral campaign bid.
He told the newspaper that he suspected “corruption and skulduggery” in the closed-door deal, saying: “These in-camera meetings, there’s more corruption and skulduggery going on in there than I’ve ever seen in my life. And if Tuggs isn’t then I don’t know what is.”
Ford testified in court that at the time, he wasn’t suggesting that the deal was illegal, just that it didn’t follow the proper tendering process.
The mayor also argued that he was talking about the company, not Foulidis himself, and that companies can’t be defamed.
The question on appeal is whether Ford is allowed to “employ vagueness and innuendo” to maintain “a cover of plausible deniability,” Pape writes.
“The judge ignored the reality that ordinary people ‘read between the lines’ and can appreciate the many ‘winks’ and ‘nudges’ used by defendants.”
The appeal is tentatively scheduled to be heard May 20 and Ford has not yet filed his responding documents.