Toronto mayor launches appeal to keep his job

TORONTO (REUTERS) - Toronto's controversial mayor, Mr Rob Ford, on Monday launched an appeal against a ruling late last year that ordered him to leave office, a case that has cast a pall of uncertainty over who will run Canada's most populous city in the months ahead.

Mr Ford was evicted from his post by an Ontario Superior Court Judge two years into his term after being found guilty of conflict of interest charges. He later won the right to stay on the job until the appeal could be heard.

Speaking to a packed court room, Mr Ford's lawyer, Mr Alan Lenczner, told a three-judge Divisional Court panel that there were "substantial errors" in the original ruling.

In November, Ontario Superior Court Judge Charles Hackland ruled Mr Ford violated a conflict of interest law when he voted at city council to scrap a fine imposed on him by the city council for accepting donations to his football foundation from lobbyists.

In one of his central arguments, Mr Lenczner said the city council did not have the authority to hold a vote in the first place ordering Mr Ford to pay a fine.

Mr Lenczner, who called Ford an "honest man", finished his argument by playing a speech of Mr Ford in a council meeting making an impassioned argument that he was just trying to raise funds so more high school kids could play football.

"Does that look like the demeanor of someone trying to hide something?" Mr Lenczner asked the judges in the standing-room-only court.

The arguments in the appeal were expected to finish on Monday but it was unclear how soon a judgment would be rendered.

Some Canadian newspapers said a decision could take weeks.

Mr Ford is one of several big city mayors to land in hot water in recent months in Canada. The mayors of Montreal and Laval, Quebec, quit last November amid allegations against their administrations in an inquiry into Quebec corruption. Both deny wrongdoing.

In Mr Ford's case, the original ruling did not bar him from running in a new election for Toronto mayor, opening the door to more political in-fighting.

The outspoken Mr Ford, who won office after promising to "stop the gravy train" at city hall, has drawn criticism over a series of incidents, including skipping council meetings to coach high-school football.

Mr Ford recently won a C$6 million (S$7.5 million) libel court case over comments he made about corruption at city hall during his 2010 campaign for mayor.

The conflict-of-interest saga began in 2010 when Mr Ford, then a city councillor, used city letterhead to solicit donations for his private football charity for underprivileged children.

Toronto's integrity commissioner ordered Mr Ford to repay the C$3,150 the charity received from lobbyists and companies that do business with the city, as those donations breached code of conduct rules.

Ford refused to repay the money, and in February 2012 he took part in a city council debate on the matter and then voted in favor of removing the sanctions against him.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges in Ontario Superior Court in September, stating that he believed there was no conflict of interest as there was no financial benefit for the city.

"If it benefits the city and it benefits a member of council, then you have a conflict, and this did not benefit the city at all," Mr Ford said. "This was a personal issue about my foundation and it had nothing to do with the city."

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