TORONTO -- A subdued but still defiant Mayor Rob Ford blamed a left-wing conspiracy for his court-ordered ouster Monday, pledging to fight "tooth and nail" against a possibly unprecedented ruling that booted him from office for violating conflict-of-interest rules.
The Toronto mayor said if he loses in the courts, he will go straight to the court of public opinion.
"I'm a fighter. If there's a byelection, my name will be the first one on the ballot," Ford told a crush of reporters shortly after the court ruling.
"This comes down to left-wing politics. The left wing wants me out of here, and they'll do anything in their power to (do that)."
The legal action was launched by businessman Paul Magder, who argued the larger-than-life mayor violated the rules when he took part in a council vote over repayment of $3,150 in donations he had solicited for his private football foundation using the official city letterhead.
In a damning 24-page decision, Superior Court Justice Charles Hackland slammed Ford for "wilful blindness" that could not be excused as a simple slip-up, especially from someone in his leadership role.
"It is difficult to accept an error-in-judgment defence based essentially on a stubborn sense of entitlement (concerning his football foundation) and a dismissive and confrontational attitude to the integrity commissioner and the code of conduct," Hackland said in his ruling.
"I declare the seat of the respondent Robert Ford on Toronto city council vacant."
Hackland could have barred Ford from running again for seven years, but instead opted to disqualify him for the "current term."
It was not immediately clear whether that meant Ford's term ended with his ouster, meaning he would be free to run in a possible byelection, although Clayton Ruby, Magder's lawyer, was adamant the judge had precluded him from doing so.
Lawyer John Mascarin, a municipal law expert, called the ruling ambiguous but said he believed Hackland "clearly" meant to bar Ford from running for office until the current council term is over in 2014.
Both parties could write the judge to seek clarification, said Mascarin, who called the ruling "unprecedented."
The judge put his declaration on hold for 14 days to give the city time to deal with the situation.
While Ford said supportive calls had been coming in to his office "fast and furious," city resident Ken Garnum carried a sign outside city hall reading "Worst Mayor Ever: Goodbye."
Magder and Ruby were tempered in declaring victory. "We, as citizens, are responsible for each other, and that means standing up and doing what is right," Magder said.
Ruby said he was unaware of any other big-city mayor getting the boot in such a way. He stressed the case was not about Ford trying to benefit personally or acting dishonestly, but about preserving the integrity of municipal government.
Ford launched a Christmas toy drive an hour later while his brother, Coun. Doug Ford, called for supporters to rally behind the mayor at a football match today.
-- The Canadian Press