A Toronto judge's decision to remove that city's mayor from office over conflict of interest has added drama to a Winnipeg court case slated for April 2.
An Ontario judge found Toronto Mayor Rob Ford violated Ontario's municipal conflict-of-interest legislation by voting to let himself off the hook for repaying an improper donation, Toronto media reported this morning. The violation comes with an automatic penalty: the mayor loses his seat.
The lawsuit that led to the decision was brought about by prominent lawyer Clayton Ruby. Prior to this morning's decision, observers in Ontario were skeptical a judge would remove a democratically elected official.
In Winnipeg, Mayor Sam Katz is slated to appear in court April 2 over a conflict-of-interest lawsuit shepherded by lawyer David Matas.
The suit against Winnipeg's mayor was launched by restaurateur Joe Chan, who alleges Katz breached the trust of citizens by unfairly awarding a contract to a restaurant he used to own.
In 2010, Katz spent $2,915 of public funds on a party for city councillors, department heads and their families at his Hu's Asian Bistro restaurant on Ellice Avenue, according to previously released expense records.
The penalty for violating Manitoba's conflict-of-interest law is also the loss of one's seat.
Katz's office confirmed he will speak to the media this afternoon.
'Apples to horseshoes'
Katz's lawyer Robert Tapper said the two conflict-of-interest cases is like comparing "apples to horseshoes." He said the municipal conflict-of-interest act is meant to govern business on the floor of council and city committee meetings - not a Christmas party.
Earlier this year, Tapper said Chan's case was thrown out of court and he was ordered to pay $750 in costs.
"I would be more than hopeful the judge will see this as the nonsense that it is," he said.
Chan's lawyer David Matas said the allegations in the two cases are different, but the legislation and the concept is the same - a judge could rule Katz is in a conflict-of-interest and declare his seat vacant.
"Litigation is never certain, but structurally it's the same situation," he said.
Decision will change municipal landscape: councillor
Ford's removal came as a shock to city councillors, several of whom heard the news during council's public works committee meeting this morning.
Coun. Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge) said Toronto is the biggest city in Canada and the change in leadership will affect the rest of the country. She said it will be up to a judge to decide the outcome of Katz's conflict-of-interest case next spring.
"It's going to change the landscape for Canadian municipalities possibly," Gerbasi said.
Coun. Dan Vandal (St. Boniface) said the decision shows nobody is above the law.
"I think it just demonstrates there are limits to what we can and what we can't do no matter who you are," Vandal said.