In this edition of Lorinc’s Legal Briefs, let’s begin with Exhibit A: the rulebook of the Canadian Football League.
When Rob Ford leads teenagers onto the gridiron, as he has done on hundreds of occasions, it’s safe to say that he does not counsel them to break the rules, which represent the operating system of the sport he so loves. He does not urge his quarterbacks to cross the scrimmage line and throw the ball. He doesn’t advise the linesmen to grab the facemasks of fast moving running backs.
Why? Because the referees’ flags will fly, and his team will be penalized. It is not complicated.
And so, in the wake of Justice Charles Hackland’s bombshell ruling, we must ponder why Ford — whose day job involves the creation and administration of countless rules, procedures, and policies — was never able or willing to translate the basic principles of organized sport to the arena of politics. It was as if he lived a double life.
This obdurate unwillingness to abide by the rules is Ford’s tragic flaw, and it will be the epitaph on the gravestone of his short, unhappy career as mayor (Ford has stated he will appeal the decision). All politicians have these ticking time bombs within their souls. But few have courted disaster with what can be only described as a perverse desire to be caught out.
If Denise Bellamy’s report about the MFP computer leasing inquiry read like a thriller, Justice Hackland’s meticulous 24-page ruling has the reflective quality of an essay on the intimate relationship between the rule of law and politics.
Ford, explains Hackland, ignored the basic laws governing council debates, chose not to familiarize himself with established procedures, disregarded warnings from colleagues and professional advisors, and failed repeatedly to acknowledge the formal authority of an officer of council.
Those gestures amount to a test of leadership. When the judge quotes at length from integrity commissioner Janet Leiper’s report — which he called “excellent” — on the risks of blurring the lines between private philanthropy and the duties of a public office holder, he includes this trenchant observation from the Bellamy report: “The Mayor of Toronto has many responsibilities, pressures, and functions, but perhaps the greatest is providing leadership for integrity in government….”
“In view of the respondent’s leadership role in ensuring integrity in municipal government,” Hackland continues, “it is difficult to accept an error in judgment defense based essentially on a stubborn sense of entitlement (concerning his football foundation) and a dismissive and confrontational attitude to the Integrity Commission and the Code of Conduct. In my opinion, the respondent’s actions were characterized by ignorance of the law and a lack of diligence in securing professional advice, amount to willful blindness.”
These tough words are directed at the conflict of interest allegation, but they could just as easily apply to any number of Ford’s transgressions: the mishandling of his election finances, the reading-while-driving incident, the attempts to use his office to extract penny-ante benefits for the family business…. The common denominator is an apparent belief that the rules don’t apply to him.
I personally don’t believe that Ford’s pathologically entitled mindset is necessarily linked to wealth per se. I know lots of affluent people who respect society’s laws. But it is difficult to ignore the lines leading from his reckless conduct to the libertarian form of extreme fiscal conservatism that he has espoused since joining council in 2000. There’s not much daylight between Ford’s shrill calls for less and cheaper government and the naïve belief that society somehow functions most effectively in the absence of laws and regulations and the economic or social obligations citizens have to one another.
In this view of the world, “rules” represent nothing but an externally imposed constraint on the personal freedom to act however the hell one pleases.
There will always be some people who believe — out of ideological conviction or due to some private psychological demon — that they can operate in defiance of the law. But only a very few ever find themselves in a position where they are called upon to govern. As Hackland’s judgment makes clear, politicians must be held to a higher standard of behaviour specifically because they serve the public interest. They can never be above the law, because the law — much more than an election result — represents the most enduring form of collective expression in a democracy.
“The suggestion of conflict,” writes Hackland, citing a recent divisional court ruling, “runs to the core of the process of governmental decision-making. It challenges the integrity of the process.”
Rob Ford, the football coach, would never tolerate such defiant conduct on the part of his players, and especially from the team leaders. Yet at virtually every turn, Rob Ford, the mayor, insisted on challenging the “integrity of the process.”
It was only a matter of time before the referee threw him out of the game.