Let me get this straight: It was okay for Rob Ford to apparently violate the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act by speaking and voting at council on an issue in which he (supposedly) had a pecuniary interest because … he didn’t actually put any cash in own pocket, just twisted lobbyists’ arms to kick in donations to a charity close to his heart?
Really? That’s legal?
You mean I can break the law as long as I don’t benefit in a direct way? Indirect — as in putting pressure on people who are financially dependent on me to buy my daughter’s Girl Guide cookies (times $1,000) — is okay?
I don’t buy it — or the cookies, either.
Of course Rob Ford had a pecuniary interest in the issue: 1) His charitable football foundation benefited and Ford therefore benefited (can you put a price on emotional satisfaction?) 2) If the council vote had gone against Ford, it would have compelled him to personally repay the donations, in which case he’d be out $3,150. Now that’s pecuniary interest.
This whole thing was crazy from the beginning.
In the shabby underworld of municipal back-scratching and favour-trading, Ford’s bit of arm-twisting was positively angelic … if you happen to agree with Rob Ford’s view of football. What if Ford had been soliciting funds from municipal lobbyists for a foundation that wanted to erect a statue to Penn State football coach/pedophile predator Jerry Sandusky? What’s the difference — apart from Ford’s opinion or your opinion?
By the same token, should an elected official be using his or her position to urge people to contribute to the United Way? Or sending out letters asking city contractors to buy a table at a Big Brothers banquet? It’s all the same, isn’t it? They’re all probably guilty under the same legislation that Ford got tangled up in. It’s a slippery slope. And crazy.
But … and this is a big but …
The decision of the Divisional Court panel of three judges that overturned Justice Charles Hackland’s November finding against Ford is one of the most baffling things in this whole crazy business.
Yes, they probably recalibrated the mess back to where it should have been in the beginning, but their rationale in getting there leaves a lot to be desired.
Whether or not you agree with Justice Hackland’s original finding, you have to accept that he was following the letter of the law. Hackland himself said the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act was (my words) imperfect legislation because it gave him no leeway is assessing degree of punishment/reprimand.
The Divisional Court appeals panel didn’t even get into that: Justices Then, Leith and Swinton ruled that Ford didn’t violate the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act by voting because council never had the right to penalize him in the first place.
“Given that the imposition of the financial sanction. . . was a nullity because Council did not have the jurisdiction to impose such a penalty, Mr. Ford had no pecuniary interest in the matter on which he voted at Council,” the judges wrote in their decision.
And the reason council didn’t have the right to impose a financial sanction was because Ford “never received such monies personally.”
Huh? You mean I’m not guilty just because the actual money to buy the sailboat never went into my pocket even though I’m cruising the Caribbean on the same sailboat? I’m still looking for the logic in that one.
The other thing that troubles me is the finding that Ford was not guilty of one legal violation because a previous charge was deemed to be invalid.
Let me make a wildly exaggerated comparison here: If you’re charged with a crime and, while being held for trial, kill someone in a fight in jail and then you’re found not guilty of the original charge against you … does that mean the subsequent murder or manslaughter charge is “nullified,” as the judges put it, because you really shouldn’t have been in the situation where the bad thing happened in the first place?
I know that sounds convoluted but read it again and it will (might) make more sense.
In the end, it all gets back to whether or not Ford had “a pecuniary interest” in soliciting lobbyists to contribute to his favourite football charity. The “application judge,” as Justice Hackland was dubbed, saw it one way. The appeals judges saw it another way. I see it differently than the appeals judges.
I don’t mind the fact that Rob Ford got off the hook. I’m just not crazy about how it happened.
How do you see it?