Editorial: Hackland and the rule of law

If there’s one thing we all value, it’s the rule of law.

That’s why Superior Court Justice Charles Hackland’s now-famous ruling in Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s conflict of interest case was so refreshing. While there was an assumption among many that Hackland wouldn’t go as far as tossing Ford from office, the judge bravely underscored the notion that the law applies equally to everyone when he rejected Ford’s defence as one “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.”

It was gratifying to see a judge call out Ford, who comes from a rich Etobicoke family and seems to believe that rules he doesn’t agree with don’t apply to him, for his stubborn stance that helping kids through his football foundation justifies almost any action no matter how wrong it may be. In parsing the law on conflicts of interest, Hackland rightly noted Ford’s essential breach of the rules was a minor and technical one given the small amount of money he was on the hook for paying for improperly soliciting donations to his football foundation. But as Hackland pointed out, Ford should have known better. Toronto council’s former speaker had earlier warned Ford about a conflict in relation to the integrity commissioner’s findings and Ford himself had previously declined to vote on matters after citing a conflict of interest.

Moreover, Hackland noted Ford had neglected to seek advice on the issue that has gotten him into so much trouble. As a result, Hackland found Ford had failed to show his contraventions of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act were the result of a good-faith error in judgment. “Outright ignorance of the law will not suffice, nor will wilful blindness as to one’s obligations,” he wrote.

It was a balanced ruling that demonstrated the judge was free from political concerns or interference. Hackland correctly noted, for example, that there may be some merit in considering reform of the act, particularly given Ford’s defence that he should have been able to defend himself from the integrity commissioner’s findings against him without being in violation of the law. But while that raises important concerns about procedural fairness, Hackland clearly applied the law as it currently is and held Ford to account for breaking it. That’s as it should be.

Hackland’s remedy was obviously drastic. While some people may not like it, that’s what the law requires even when the respondent is a wealthy and powerful politician. It’s refreshing to see judges like Hackland state that so eloquently and in an even-handed manner.
Glenn Kauth

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