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Spalding Gray missing

January 14, 2004 in Opinion

According to news reports, Spalding Gray, 62, has been reported missing by his family. The brilliant author, actor and playwright has apparently suffered from depression in recent years.

Our prayers are with his family as we hope for his safe return.

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Season's Greetings

December 25, 2003 in Opinion

It is disappointing that despite all of humankind’s advances, war and violence still remain the methods of choice for resolving disputes in many parts of the world. Please spare a thought for all those who suffered injuries or loss as a result of war, whether they are Canadian, American, Iraqi, Afghan, Israeli, Palestinian, white, black or brown.

Peace.

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The apprehension of Saddam Hussein raises thorny legal and moral questions for his captors. They could ship Saddam to Guantanamo Bay and let him languish there in legal limbo for the rest of his days. Alternatively, using the Manuel Noriega case as a precedent, the Americans could fly him to the U.S. for trial. President Bush could certainly find some acceptable courts in Texas, Virginia or Florida, the most fervent death penalty states in the Union.

However, the pesky and meddlesome United Nations keeps raising issues of international law, trial fairness and the inappropriateness of capital punishment. Even France and Germany have the nerve to chime in with similar concerns.

What to do then?

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On December 17, 2003, Mr. Justice Taylor of the Supreme Court of British Columbia issued reasons for judgment in Gibbs v. Law Society of British Columbia, holding that the Law Society has the power to compel its members to pay “equivalent to membership fees” in the CBA. Although s. 24(1) of the Legal Profession Act provides that the Law Society may “act as agent of the Canadian Bar Association for the purpose of collecting fees of that association from lawyers who are members of it”, the judge found that it was within the general mandate of the Law Society to collect fees from non-members also.

The decision is posted at www.bccba.org. There is no word yet on whether Mr. Gibbs, a past president of the Law Society, will appeal the decision.

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After deliberating for three and a half months, the Canadian Bar Association and the Canadian Bar Association, British Columbia Branch have decided that their members are not entitled to disclosure of the salaries and expenses paid to their Executive Directors.

Vancouver lawyer Cameron Ward had written both the CBA and CBA, BC Branch to request disclosure of the executive salaries and expenses, arguing that since he was compelled to pay an annual membership fee to the CBA, he ought to receive a full and transparent accounting of how his contributions were being spent.

The associations disagreed and politely advised Mr. Ward that such salary and expense information was none of his business. In a letter to Mr. Ward dated December 10, 2003, Robert C. Brun, President of the CBA, BC Branch, said, “your request for information regarding the salary and expenses of the Executive Director raised for us the conflicting interests of organizational transparency in operations, and the protection of personal privacy.” Similarly, Jack A. Innes, Q.C., Treasurer of the CBA, wrote Mr. Ward to advise that the salary of the Executive Director was confidential and was based on “an ongoing assessment of the appropriate compensation levels for an Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of a large professional association in the Ottawa market.”

For over fifty years the Law Society of British Columbia has required lawyers in the province to pay a membership fee or an “equivalent to membership fee” to the CBA in order maintain their practising status. Only one other Canadian jurisdiction, New Brunswick, has such a mandatory CBA fee regime. The British Columbia compulsory fee has been challenged in of at least five separate lawsuits over the years, most recently by Richard Gibbs, Q.C. a past President of the Law Society, but its validity remains unresolved.

This year, British Columbia’s approximately 10,000 lawyers will pay between $296 and $465 each to the CBA. “My British Columbia colleagues and I are forced to pay some $4 million every year to the Canadian Bar Association if we want to keep practising law in this province, so I think we are entitled to know where our money goes”, said Mr. Ward. “It doesn’t comfort me to be told that salaries and expenses are paid out in accordance with the standards prevailing in the Ottawa market.”

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