A. Cameron Ward Barristers and Solicitors » Opinion
A. Cameron Ward Tel: (604)688-6881
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As a guest on the Bill Good show this morning, I opined that our system of civil justice is broken.

I believe that access to the system is becoming restricted to wealthy institutions who have the resources to treat civil litigation as a game to be won at all costs.  The average person cannot afford to be on the playing field with such cynical opponents.  As a result only those individuals with significant wealth or with a case that may be worth a lawyer’s involvement on a contingency fee basis can entertain seeking “justice” from the courts.

How did it come to this?

Measures designed to enhance access to justice and streamline processes have had the opposite effect.  Changes to the Rules of Court, as Chris Harvey, Q.C. has alluded to in the editorial posted below, have required more legal resources to be consumed on every case.  A simple Chambers application, for example, once could be brought on two days’ notice with minimal paperwork.  Now, it takes a couple of weeks to get an audience with a judge after preparing, exchanging and filing binders of material.  Judicial case management, while having some positive aspects, means that litigants are expected to attend pretrial hearings much more frequently.

All this comes at a cost.

This cost is going to discourage people from hiring lawyers and force them to either abandon meritorious claims or attempt to represent themselves before the courts.  From a societal point of view, this cannot be desirable.  We (lawyers, judges and the public) have to stop paying lip service to systemic reform and take a good hard look at the civil justice system from the perspective of the average person.  A justice system that is the preserve of only the very wealthy is really no system at all.

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The Law Society of British Columbia’s upcoming Annual General Meeting will give its members an opportunity to consider some governance issues, including a members’ resolution concerning the disclosure of benchers’ (governors’) expenses.

I have co-sponsored this resolution because I feel that the Law Society should be a leader in conducting its business in a way that is both transparent and accountable to its membership.  It recently paid B.C. lawyer Elizabeth Watson’s firm the sum of $150,000 to review the Law Society’s governance practices.  Watson’s 2012 report to the Law Society’s Governance Committee caused it to recommend, among other things, that the benchers consider disclosing their expense reimbursements to the membership, but the benchers rejected that recommendation.

On September 9, 2013, a few weeks after Marti Katenberg and I had submitted our resolution to the Law Society, it circulated the following notice to the membership:

“The resolution submitted by Mr. Ward and Ms. Katerberg for consideration by the members at the Annual General Meeting proposes that that the Law Society disclose the complete individual Bencher expense records of all Benchers, from January 1, 2012 forward, by posting them on its website.

The Benchers considered the disclosure of individual Bencher expenses in conjunction with many other recommendations arising from the 2012 governance review. At the time, the Benchers were concerned that disclosure of individual Bencher expenses would be unfair to those Benchers from outside the lower mainland whose expenses are invariably higher due to travel and accommodation costs associated with their attendance to Law Society business. However, the Benchers also created a new Governance Committee and charged it with considering governance issues and making further recommendations to the Benchers.

The Governance Committee has now considered the issue of disclosing individual Bencher expenses. It has recommended that the Benchers publish on the Law Society website an annual summary of individual Bencher expenses by category, which will provide an appropriate level of transparency that will permit members to understand the differences in Bencher expenses. The Benchers will consider this recommendation before the annual general meeting.”

….

Although the benchers may have changed their minds on this issue, the devil is in the details.  If the Law Society does not agree to disclose individual bencher expense records, effective January 1, 2012, then I urge all members who care about governance issues to attend the AGM and vote “yes’ to Resolution 3.

If adopted, the resolution would require the Law Society to be more transparent and accountable to its membership, and would remind them that the $30 million or so at their disposal each year comes from us, the members, and should be spent with care.

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The news that James Forcillo has been charged with second degree murder in the death of eighteen year old Sammy Yatim in July indicates that the Ontario system of criminal justice, while perhaps not perfect, is still light years ahead of this province’s in such cases.

No British Columbia police officer has ever faced a criminal trial as a result of a death caused by the application of force.  We should soon know if that perfect record remains intact when special prosecutor Mark Jette completes his review of the Paul Boyd shooting.

British Columbia police officers have shot, beaten and Tasered people to death with impunity for years, secure in the knowledge that Crown Counsel have never prosecuted a police officer as a result of such homicides.  Indeed, although the Crown knew that Paul Boyd was crawling across a Vancouver street on his hands and knees, unarmed, when the fatal shot was fired into his brain by one of the numerous Vancouver police officers on the scene, the prosecutors somehow concluded (more than two years later) that there was insufficient evidence to establish that the police use of force was excessive. Only when a bystander’s video graphically depicted the enormity of the matter did the Crown act to refer the case to a special prosecutor for an independent assessment.

I have dealt with enough grieving families to understand that they do not seek revenge when their loved ones die at the hands of police officers-they just want a fair and unbiased application of the criminal law that supposedly exists for the benefit of every Canadian.  In British Columbia, unlike Ontario, they haven’t had that…yet.

…..

A few of the other egregious fatalities in which Crown Counsel concluded, after lengthy reviews of over a year in each case, that charges would not be laid against the police officer who killed the deceased:

Ian Bush: unarmed, shot in the back of the head after being taken into custody on a minor liquor infraction.

Kevin St. Arnaud: unarmed, shot in the chest from 15 feet away, there was evidence that  St. Arnaud’s hands were raised in surrender at the time.

Jeffrey Berg: unarmed, beaten and kicked eleven times in the head and neck while offering no resistance.

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I’m not sure what is more disturbing…the news story reproduced below, or the apathetic shrug the vast majority have on hearing the news that police will stop people engaged in perfectly legal activity (e.g. walking down the street with an unopened bottle of wine) and confiscate their property if not satisfied with the explanation.

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VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – Vancouver Police are surprised people continue to take booze to events like the Celebration of Light, despite repeated warnings not to.

But there is a way to get back any liquor the cops may confiscate. If your booze isn’t open, an officer will hand you a receipt, sort of like a coat check, so you can take it to the police station later to reclaim your alcohol.

Cst. Brian Montague explains what happens if you don’t go back to get it. “It’ll just be unclaimed property. Like any other unclaimed property, it would get destroyed. Other property is burned, I don’t know if they would add it to the incineration pile but it’s destroyed with other property.”

If your drink is already open, it will poured out in front of you.

Montague says an officer can use his or her own discretion. “I had a situation last week, stopped a man and woman walking down the beach and they had a perfectly logical explanation as to where they were coming from, where they were going to, they were able to provide me with some basic information and I let them proceed on their way, alcohol in hand.”

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When the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry was established on September 27, 2010, many observers felt it might be a waste of time and money.  It concluded its work on November 22, 2012 when the Commissioner delivered his report recommending, among other things, that the “Provincial Government establish a compensation fund for the children of the missing and murdered women” and “a healing fund for the families of the missing and murdered women”.  At this point, more than eight months later, the funds have not been established and the children and families of the missing and murdered women have yet to receive a dime of compensation for the losses of their loved ones.  One could say they have been forsaken yet again by a government that does not care a whit about the disadvantaged and marginalized.

Some others were well funded by the government, however.  When the province’s Public Accounts for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2013 were released Tuesday, they revealed that Wally T Oppal (the Commissioner) received $405,000 for the fiscal year, making his total remuneration $839,535 for a little over two years’ work (including $324,267 for 2012 plus $110,268 for 2011).  All this presumably went into his personal pocket, as office, staffing and other resources were budgeted separately.

Commission Counsel Art Vertlieb Q.C. was paid $219,744 for the year ended March 31, 2013.  When added to his payments for 2012 ($483,741) and 2011 ($197,171), he took home a total of $900,656 for his service to the inquiry.

Associate Commission Counsel Karey Brooks did much of the counsel work at the hearings.  She billed BC taxpayers $373,920 for the year ended March 31, 2013, through her law firm Janes Freedman Kyle Law Corporation.  With billings of $482,139 in 2012 and $95,571 in 2011, Ms. Brooks’ firm raked in $951,630 for the duration of the Commission’s mandate.

Mr. Vertlieb’s friend John Boddie, a former Vancouver police officer turned stock promoter who served as the Commission’s Executive Director, apparently received $268,352 for 2013 through billings rendered by his wife’s firm, Paula Boddie and Associates.  Mr. Boddie’s total haul was $668,665 (including $100,506 for 2011 and $299,807), which is not bad for a former beat cop.

When it’s added up, these four- Oppal, Vertlieb, Brooks and Boddie- were paid a total of $3,360,486.  That’s $3.3 million of taxpayers money for the services of just four people, which is a fraction of the total spent on the legions of police lawyers, other staff, experts, office administration, hearing room fees, court reporters etc.  On the other hand, the children and families of the fifty women who were murdered by Robert William Pickton and his associates while the police ignored the disappearances are still waiting for something tangible to come of the whole thing.

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