By Craig Gilbert/London Community News/Twitter: @CraigbGilbert
London Mayor Joe Fontana says he is innocent and that he will not step down while fighting a trio of fraud-related RCMP charges in 2013.
”I am innocent of all these charges,” he said at a news conference at his lawyer’s office Thursday morning. “I intend to fight as hard as I can to clear my name.”
Fontana has resigned from the London Police Services Board, a requirement for any police board member in Ontario who is charged with a crime.
But the mayor said he was given a mandate by the citizenry. He said he takes that seriously and intends to discharge his duties on a daily basis.
Fontana’s lawyer Gordon Cudmore said he would enter a not guilty plea when Fontana makes his first appearance in court Jan. 8.
Fontana is facing three charges, laid by the RCMP on Wednesday (Nov. 21), related to allegations he used a government cheque to pay for a deposit for his son’s wedding reception seven years ago while he was serving as the MP for London North Centre. Fontana was charged with fraud under $5,000, uttering forged documents and breach of trust by a public official by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
He denied that the trial would be a distraction during the city’s billion-dollar budget process, and rebuked claims that the national press fury the charges created on Wednesday would affect the city itself negatively or discourage potential investors.
“This city has a lot to offer,” he said, adding he met with a group of Japanese investors just days ago.
Asked if he believes he has the support of the city-at-large, Fontana said “Yes.”
When a reporter asked how Fontana thinks he will be able to lead council through the budget process while facing charges, Cudmore responded passionately that in Canada every person is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law – not the court of public opinion.
“It’s not lip service,” he said. “It’s not a fancy saying. It’s an absolute right.”
Earlier in the day, Liberal cabinet ministers and local MPPs Deb Matthews and Christ Bentley were asked about Fontana at a funding announcement at the Hellenic Centre.
Bentley repeated a one-paragraph answer a number of times, echoing Cudmore’s position that it is important to remember there is a due process to get through, and that as yet, the charges remain unproven.
Speaking generally, Matthews said that politicians are held to a higher account than the rest of the citizenry.
“In the interim, I do believe when politicians are facing serious charges, the right thing to do is step aside," she said. "I think political leaders should be held to a very high standard. It is a huge responsibility to always do what is right. It hurts everyone in public life when there are allegations.”
She added that it “disturbs” her when people are so quick to convict in the court of public opinion.
“The people I know who ran for public life all want to make things better for people,” she said. “It’s why we do what we do.”