A Christian Response to Racism

BarristerOne common thread throughout mankind is the endemic ugliness of racism.

Human history is rife with examples: early Romans subjugated the Jews; slavery was rampant; India’s caste system ostracizes the untouchables; Japanese immigrants to Canada and the United States were rounded up and forced into internment camps; indigenous peoples in Canada, Australia, the United States live amid poverty and discrimination; Germany oversaw the murder of Jews, political prisoners, homosexuals, and the mentally disabled; colonialism and apartheid ruled South Africa;  Jim Crow laws ruled the south, and today in North America, African-Americans have risen up to demand an end to systemic racism, their action propelled by a wave of police shootings of black men.

Meanwhile, white America reels as black vigilantes assassinate white and black police officers in retaliation, as Black Lives Matter assumes centre stage in the public arena.

The question I pose is whether Christians should believe and act upon the notion that racial injustice is a gospel issue that deserves our energy and attention. I believe it is.

How could it not be when the spirit-breathed Word of God tells us that Christians should be peacemakers: “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up building.” Romans 14:19

We are told to forgive those who do harm to us and treat our enemies with love. “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Colossians 3:12

Admittedly, these are difficult aspirations for flawed mortals to embrace, but the message of the Gospel demands the abolition of discrimination of any kind, be it sexism, homophobia, ageism, disablism, fat-shaming, or religious discrimination.

When Moses descended from Mount Sinai with the commandments of God, men and women had no difficulty understanding the Sixth Commandment: “Thou Shall Not Kill.” Later, in the Gospel of John we read: “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” 1 John 3:15

Jesus Christ, delivering his Sermon on the Mount, admonished his followers: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matthew 5:43-45

It seems there are so many ways that people hurt people, often inadvertently, but the pain remains the same. Is the Church of Jesus Christ prepared to tackle this difficult issue?

Following on the heels of a Sunnyvale, California church, a congregation in Concord, North Carolina is taking action to defeat the affliction of racism. Based on the 12-Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, this predominantly white church invites their members and the public to join weekly meetings of Racists Anonymous, encouraging and fostering this decidedly uncomfortable conversation. Pastor Nathan King reports that the meetings attract old and young, those admittedly racist, and others who are unsure or believe they may have a problem.

The only sure remedy for racism is the love of Jesus Christ. The gospel of Christ has the power to transform our understanding of race and discrimination. We must confront it, name it, shame it, and banish it forever.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Even Divorce Lawyers Can’t Afford to Hire a Divorce Lawyer

It should come as no surprise to anyone that most Canadians cannot afford a lawyer. In fact, lawyers often joke that if they had to pay a lawyer, they too couldn’t afford it. Nowhere is this dilemma more obvious than in family courts.

It is now commonplace to see self-represented litigants dueling with lawyers in most of our family courts in Canada. In British Columbia a parent or spouse can apply for custody and child and spousal support in the Provincial Court, which is purposely “user-friendly”. The Provincial Family Courts across Canada have successfully implemented reforms including plain-language court documents that are readily decipherable by lay litigants. The judges in Provincial Court are accustomed to hearing cases without lawyers and graciously assist those who act for themselves.

However, to obtain a divorce or property division, the only venue is each province’s Supreme Court, sometimes called “Queen’s Bench”, a most inhospitable environment for in-person litigants.

In a 2011 survey of Ontario divorce lawyers, conducted by Professor Nick Bala of Queen’s University Law School, he found that 48% of 167 responding lawyers indicated they were seeing many cases with at least one lay litigant and more cases where at some point in the litigation, neither party had counsel.

As family law becomes increasingly more complicated, despite the Canadian government’s sensible introduction of both Child Support Guidelines in 1997 and Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines in 2006, there are minefields enough for lawyers, never mind those who are forced to act as their own lawyer.

Will a lay litigant understand that in calculating their income for the payment of child support they must consider and understand complex nuances such as the possibility of the exclusion of non-recurring income; the need to include all of their capital gains income in their calculation and not just the portion they see on page two of their tax return; and their ability to deduct business expenses, union or professional dues and carrying costs? I doubt it. Not all lawyers have figured it out yet!

But affordability is not the only reason litigants refuse to retain counsel. There is another group of litigants who believe they can handle their divorce case just as well as a lawyer can. This smaller segment often become serial litigators who, because it costs them nothing, bring multiple frivolous applications, although some would say that lawyers do the same thing! Often when offered pro bono counsel, they decline.

Problems abound for all involved in the family justice system in the wake of the impact of lay litigants. Judges who must ensure that justice is both done, and seen to be done, are at the centre of the dilemma. If they provide too much help for an in-person litigant, that litigant’s spouse will see it as an unfair advantage and often, the court Rules that govern court procedures are less stringently enforced when it comes to litigants with no lawyer.

As well, litigants that pay for their own lawyer often become disenchanted with their counsel when they see their lawyer “helping” their estranged spouse who has no counsel. Lawyers are bound to treat participants in the justice system with courtesy and respect, traits that are frequently misconceived as their lawyer being “too friendly” with their opponent. Fee-paying litigants resent their lawyer telling their spouse what the law is or how the court process works.

For lawyers the problems are multiplied. They must walk a fine line in dealing with an unrepresented spouse and must ensure that all communication with an in-person litigant is documented in writing, with no exceptions. Of course, their clients are even more unhappy since it is their clients who pay the bills for the extra time and effort required to work with a lay litigant.

Lay litigants have also been known to send abusive communication to their spouse’s lawyer and from time to time, report their spouse’s lawyer to the Law Society, a complaint which can cost a lawyer hours of wasted time to respond to the often ill-founded allegations.

Is there a cure? They say that recognizing a problem is the first step to solving it. Certainly, the issue can no longer be avoided. It has taken centre stage as a result of lawyers, judges, court administrators, law professors, lawmakers, and the Canadian public decrying the slow demise of Canada’s family justice system.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Judge Presides Over His Own Divorce Case

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How would you feel if your jurist husband filed for divorce and coincidentally had his divorce petition assigned to his courtroom?  Hard to believe, but that is exactly what occurred with Texas Judge Miguel (Mike) Herrara.

 

In Judge Herrara’s discipline hearing he acknowledged that the same day he filed his divorce petition he learned it had been assigned to his courtroom. He didn’t think it was a problem because he and his wife, Melissa Carrasco were “trying to save the marriage and he did not want to do anything on the case”. (In my 28 years of practicing family law I have never seen a litigant file a divorce petition, while seriously “trying to save the marriage”).

He explained that he saw his role in the divorce as that of a husband, not an attorney or judge and justified his behaviour, saying:

“I did not care to place my family in the same position as other litigants find themselves, in conflicts and court hearings, which, for the most part only benefit the attorneys financially. It is really sad and embarrassing to see the reputation of some of the litigants being dragged in the mud in these court proceedings.”

Judge Herrara’s breach of ethics may have escaped scrutiny if he and his wife reconciled, but that didn’t happen. Instead, she retained lawyer Angelica Carreon who filed a counter-petition for divorce against Judge Herrara.

This did not please the judge who asked his wife why she was involving Ms. Carreon  who he alleged did not like  him. In his testimony he admitted that he refused to recognize the “legitimacy” of Ms. Carreon’s representation because she had improperly solicited his wife as her client, had campaigned against him during judicial elections, and was “dishonest, unethical and unreasonable”.

Several months after the judge’s original filing he terminated his divorce petition, leaving his wife’s counter-petition to be determined. At this stage, Ms.  Carrasco’s lawyer filed a motion requesting the judge to produce certain documents. Judge Herrara responded by filing a motion in his court for an order to extend the time beyond the normal time-frame for responding to the document request. He also filed a motion for a protective order.

Again, Judge Herrara did not recognize the absurdity of filing motions in his own court, saying that he did nothing wrong as he did not rule on the motions. But that wasn’t the end of his problems. His wife’s lawyer began filing motions requesting that he recuse himself from officiating over a number of other cases that were scheduled to be heard in his courtroom. Ms. Carreon alleged that Judge Herrara could not be fair and unbiased, because of the difficult professional relationship that had developed between them over her representation of Ms. Carrasco.

Many of the recusal motions were resolved by moving the cases to another judge, but several others remained in his courtroom and were not referred out. But, Herrara wasn’t done yet. He filed yet another motion to intervene in certain recusal cases because he wanted his views to be heard by the court. He testified that if he agreed to recuse himself he would be admitting the truth of Ms. Carreon’s allegations and would suffer at the polls in the next election.

The Texas Discipline Commission found that Judge Herrara failed to comply with the law, demonstrated a lack of professional competence, and engaged in wilful and persistent conduct that was inconsistent with his judicial duties.

They also determined that Judge Herrara showed no genuine remorse and continued to believe his conduct was justified.

His discipline? Six hours of instruction with a “mentor”. In 2016 he was re-elected for an additional four-year term.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Supreme Court of Canada Refuses to Hear Lawyers Who Argue “Gonzo Logic”

GeorgiaLeeLang025While President Trump’s opponent are having a large-scale melt-down over his recent appointments, perhaps the most consequential of these appointments is his nomination of Justice  Neil Grosuch to replace the late Justice Scalia on the United States Supreme Court.

But lest you think that Canada’s judicial appointments lack the intensity and angst of our American friends, you need only refer back to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s appointment of Federal Court of Appeal Justice Marc Nadon to the Supreme Court of Canada in 2013.

You may also recall that Ontario lawyer, Rocco Galati, challenged Mr. Harper’s appointment by filing a lawsuit against Mr. Harper, the Governor-General, Justice Nadon, the Attorney-General, and the Minister of Justice, which undoubtedly prompted the government’s prompt action to have the Supreme Court of Canada issue a ruling on Justice Nadon’s eligibility for our highest court, this after he had already been appointed.

The argument against his appointment was that Mr. Justice Nadon, as a  Federal Court judge, was not qualified to represent Quebec on the Supreme Court of Canada, despite his long tenure as a lawyer in Quebec.

The eventual outcome confirmed Mr. Galati’s position that Judge Nadon was not eligible, a surprise to the Harper government who had contrary opinions from two retired Supreme Court of Canada justices and several constitutional experts.

Most of this has been long forgotten by Canadians, but Mr. Galati’s 2016 application to the Federal Court of Appeal to be paid $800.00 per hour by Canadian taxpayers for his legal work in bringing this challenge has brought this case back to media scrutiny, particularly in light of the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision this week to refuse to hear the case.

Mr. Galati claimed the sum of $51,706.00 and his co-counsel, Paul Slansky, wished to be paid $16,769.oo, again at a rate of $800.00 per hour.

Both counsel admitted that this is not the hourly rate they normally charge, but this amount reflects their years at the bar and their expertise, a proposition that was soundly rejected by the Federal Court of Appeal in their Reasons.

The Court found that Mr. Galati’s and Mr. Slansky’s request for full indemnity for their legal services, called “special costs” was unwarranted for a variety of sensible reasons. For starters, their litigation did not decide the outcome of the Nadon issue, as shortly after they filed their action, the Supreme Court of Canada stepped in, thus ousting their private action. They were not successful litigants.

As well, “special costs”are only awarded when the opposing litigant’s behaviour has been egregious, even outrageous. Short of that, a costs tariff comes into play, a tariff that is far from reimbursement for all legal costs. Additionally, Mr. Galati and his colleague were representing themselves and were actually in-person litigants, not entitled to costs.

The Federal Court also remarked that experienced counsel would know that if costs were to be awarded, the tariff rules would govern. But the court’s ire was raised in response to Mr. Galati’s argument that the constitution supported his request for special costs and that to deny his claim was to be evidence that the Federal Court was “in bed” with the federal government.  To this audacious statement the court replied:

“It is therefore unnecessary for me to deal with the argument as to constitutional entitlement as it does not arise on these facts. That said, it sometimes occurs that a party makes an argument that is so scandalous that it deserves to be condemned, whether it arises on the facts of the case or not. This is such a case.”

The Court found that Mr. Galati’s  allegation of collusion between the court and the government was “reminiscent of the Gonzo logic of the Vietnam War era, where entire villages were destroyed to save them from the enemy…this argument deserves to be condemned without reservation.”

Regrettably, it is cases like this that lower the reputation of lawyers to right-thinking members of the Canadian public. But “gonzo” aptly describes arguments that are “weird, eccentric and crazy”.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

 

 

 

 

Get Over It Hillary…

GeorgiaLeeLang057In a recent interview with HUMANSOFNEWYORK.COM Hillary Clinton explains why she may appear to be “cold and unemotional”.

“I was taking a law school admissions test in a big classroom at Harvard. My friend and I were some of the only women in the room. I was feeling nervous. I was a senior in college. I wasn’t sure how well I’d do. And while we’re waiting for the exam to start, a group of men began to yell things like: ‘You don’t need to be here.’ And ‘There’s plenty else you can do.’ It turned into a real ‘pile on.’ One of them even said: ‘If you take my spot, I’ll get drafted, and I’ll go to Vietnam, and I’ll die.’ And they weren’t kidding around. It was intense. It got very personal. But I couldn’t respond. I couldn’t afford to get distracted because I didn’t want to mess up the test. So I just kept looking down, hoping that the proctor would walk in the room. I know that I can be perceived as aloof or cold or unemotional. But I had to learn as a young woman to control my emotions. And that’s a hard path to walk. Because you need to protect yourself, you need to keep steady, but at the same time you don’t want to seem ‘walled off.’ And sometimes I think I come across more in the ‘walled off’ arena. And if I create that perception, then I take responsibility. I don’t view myself as cold or unemotional. And neither do my friends. And neither does my family. But if that sometimes is the perception I create, then I can’t blame people for thinking that.”

Imagine if Hillary had faced real trauma as a young woman: like civil war, rape, incest, addictions, eating disorders, other psychiatric problems,serious illness, catastrophic accident, losing a parent, or living in poverty.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Should This Be Stopped? Foreign Mothers Give Birth to Children in Canada to Secure Citizenship

DSC00275_1Canada, the true north strong and free, is the envy of the world and one of its most valuable assets is its citizenship. Before the Harper government left office they made sweeping changes to Canada’s Immigration Act, making it more difficult to qualify for citizenship. Meeting great opposition however, the Conservative government did not tackle  the phenomenon of “birth tourism”, a subject that remains  highly controversial, particularly in Vancouver.

Those who favour birth tourism argue that innocent children, born in Canada to a foreign mother, should not be deprived of the benefits and advantages of  birth citizenship, saying that to ban birth citizenship is a racist response to what is a miniscule practice in Canada.

Kerry Starchuk of Richmond BC, a suburb of Vancouver, is an advocate for a ban on birth tourism. She has organized a petition to raise the issue in the House of Commons this fall. Backed by Conservative Member of Parliament Alice Wong, the petition was posted on-line in mid-June 2016 and quickly acquired more than double the 500 required signatures to be referred to the House of Commons.

The petition favours the elimination of birthright citizenship in Canada unless one of the parents of the child born in Canada is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada.

Ms. Starchuk’s chief complaint is that her home for 28 years is now bordered by a “maternity motel” for pregnant women from China, one of several such homes in Richmond. Local Chinese newspapers and websites in Vancouver and Asia display advertisements soliciting Mandarin-speaking mothers, and promote the advantages of delivering a baby in Canada, suggesting that having a Canadian child will assist them to obtain citizenship as well.

Services offered include airport shuttles, language translation services, provision of obstetricians, and assistance with birth certificates, child tax benefits, medical coverage,  social insurance numbers, and passport and visa applications. These maternity motels boast of healthy  food prepared by professional chefs and describe  views of the snow-capped north shore mountains from their  facility.

China and Hong Kong are well-versed in the potential exploitation of birth tourism, a phenomenon they struggled with when mainland Chinese mothers travelled to Hong Kong to give birth in order to obtain better health care, Hong Kong residency, and the freedom to dodge China’s one-child policy. Until Hong Kong  passed laws banning birth tourism in 2013, statistics indicate that up to half of all children born in Hong Kong had parents who lived elsewhere.

Immigration lawyer Richard Kurland presents the argument that this isn’t really a  Canadian problem, citing the huge number of foreign workers and long-term visitors to Canada of over a million people per year, compared to 232 births attributed to birth tourism.

I predict that Ms. Starchuk’s petition will languish just like similar proposals to rid Canada of birth tourism.

Interestingly, Canada and the United States are the only G7 countries that permit babies born on their soil to obtain citizenship.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lawyer Jailed for Refusing to Remove “Black Lives Matter” Pin

GeorgiaLeeLang100Ohio lawyer, Andrea Burton, was handcuffed and led out of a courtroom by an attending sheriff when she refused to comply with Judge Robert Milich’s  multiple requests that she remove her Black Lives Matter pin.  After her refusal, the Judge and Ms. Burton  adjourned to his chambers to discuss the impasse created by Ms. Burton’s position. She argued that the Court’s ruling was an unjustified infringement on her First Amendment right of free speech.

Judge Robert Milich reminded Ms. Burton  that based on Supreme Court case law, he had authority to prohibit any symbolic political expression in his courtroom. He later spoke to the media declaring, “There’s a difference between a flag, a pin from your church or the Eagles and having a pin that’s on a political issue”.

Judge Milich emphasized that his personal opinions had nothing to do with his decision.

“A judge doesn’t support either side, a judge is objective and tries to make sure everyone has an opportunity to have a fair hearing, and it was a situation where it was just in violation of the law.”

Burton was sentenced to five days in jail for contempt of court, although she was later released and her jail sentence “stayed” pending her appeal of the Judge’s contempt finding and  jail sentence.

Upon her release she told the local media that she believed that her First Amendment right overruled the Supreme Court law and Judge Milich’s discretion, and that she ignored the judge’s instructions because she didn’t want to remain neutral to injustice.  “To remain neutral becomes an accomplice to oppression, ” she remarked. She also said:

“It’s an act of civil disobedience, I understand that. I’m not anti-police, I work with law enforcement and I hold them in the highest regard, and just to say for the record I do believe all lives matter. But at this point they don’t all matter equally, and that’s the problem in the justice system.”

Not surprisingly, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People announced they would be following Burton’s case and believe her civil rights may have been violated.

My view is that judges have full authority and discretion to determine what is said and what is worn in their courtrooms. They  have jurisdiction to make findings of contempt for behaviour that does not comport with the required decorum and solemnity of our courts of law.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang