The resident who challenged Coun. Jim Karygiannis’s return to city hall has filed an appeal of his reinstatement in court.
Adam Chaleff filed a notice of appeal in court Monday after a Superior Court judge ruled that Karygiannis should get his Scarborough-Agincourt seat back.
The councillor was automatically removed from office on Nov. 6 after he filed paperwork for his 2018 campaign that showed he had overspent a strict limit by nearly $26,000. But last Monday, Justice William Chalmers agreed with Karygiannis’s argument that the financial statement had been changed “inadvertently.”
“If left unchallenged, Justice Chalmers’ decision would signal to every local politician in the province that they can overspend with impunity on their election campaigns because they can run to court afterwards to keep their office,” Chaleff said in a news release Monday.
At city hall on Monday, Karygiannis said he was made aware of the appeal by his lawyer.
“I’m just going to wait until my legal team responds and we’ll go from there,” Karygiannis told reporters.
In Superior Court, Chaleff’s lawyer had argued that Karygiannis had not proven the financial statement changes were made in error. In a separate process, Chaleff — a fair elections advocate who has challenged several municipal politicians over their spending — also successfully requested an audit of Karygiannis’s campaign finances in June, a process that is still ongoing pending an appeal by the councillor.
In the notice of appeal filed Monday with the Ontario Court of Appeal, Chaleff — represented pro bono by Stockwoods LLP — asks that Chalmers’ decision be set aside, meaning Karygiannis’s forfeiture from office would stand and he would no longer be a councillor.
The notice goes on to argue that the Superior Court judge erred in ruling that he even had the jurisdiction to return Karygiannis to office, an argument made by Chaleff’s lawyer in front of Chalmers, which the judge rejected.
Karygiannis’s earlier removal from office largely stems from a $27,000 dinner he held two months after the election in December 2018.
Karygiannis originally listed the dinner as a fundraising event, a category which is not subject to campaign limits. Receipts filed with the elections office showed he spent most of that money, more than $20,000, on consulting expenses, including $11,300 for “fundraising event services” paid to pollster Nick Kouvalis.
His paperwork, however, shows no funds raised that are connected to that event.
The dinner was one of the items on Karygiannis’s original statement that drew the criticism of Chaleff in is request to the city-appointed compliance audit committee.
After an audit was ordered, Karygiannis reopened his campaign to raise money for his legal bills. That required him to file a supplementary financial statement with the city.
In that second statement, the $27,000 in expenses related to the dinner were moved to the parties and appreciation category, subject to a strict $6,120.80 for Ward 22.
According to the Municipal Elections Act, provincial legislation, anyone who overspends that campaign limit immediately forfeits their office — relatively new rules enacted in 2016 that former minister Ted McMeekin says were purposely harsh.
The law did not create a way for someone automatically ousted in this fashion to ask a judge to show leniency. But Chalmers agreed with Karygiannis’s lawyer that the legislature created an “absurdity” in the law where someone found guilty of an elections act offence could ask a judge to use their discretion while someone automatically kicked out of office could not.
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Chaleff’s appeal notice also argues that Chalmers erred in both law and fact by agreeing with Karygiannis that listing the $27,000 dinner under the parties and “other expressions of appreciation” was a technical error when Chaleff says Karygiannis’s own affidavit shows the dinner was an appreciation event, not a fundraiser.
“In creating an election finance system that relies on politicians’ honesty, the Ontario legislature was sensible rather than absurd when it set a harsh and unforgiving penalty,” Chaleff said in the news release.
A date for the appeal to be heard has not yet been set.
Karygiannis would not comment Monday on whether he still plans to appeal the separate audit process.