Waiting for Canada’s New Euthanasia Law

GEO_edited-1A perfectly healthy 24-year old woman in Belgium will be killed by her doctors only because she has “suicidal thoughts”. She does not suffer from any terminal disease or physical illness.

While Nazi Germany pioneered legal euthanasia, Switzerland was an early adopter, followed by Columbia in 1997, Holland in 2002 and Belgium in 2003. Belgium’s original law applied only to adults, but in February 2015 they extended the law to include children.

The United Kingdom’s Daily Mail quotes the woman as saying:

‘Death feels to me not as a choice. If I had a choice, I would choose a bearable life, but I have done everything and that was unsuccessful. I played all my life with these thoughts of suicide, I have also done a few attempts. But then there is someone who needs me, and I don’t want to hurt anyone. That has always stopped me.

Canada, of course, is never far behind when it comes to controversial social justice issues, such as abortion, same-sex marriage, legalized prostitution, and most recently, euthanasia.

In a historic decision this year, (Carter v. Canada) the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled that desperately suffering patients have a constitutional right to doctor-assisted suicide, giving the government twelve months to draft legislation.

The criteria established by the Court is that the person must be a consenting adult under a physician’s care, who cannot tolerate the physical or psychological suffering brought on by a severe, incurable illness, disease or disability.

Only last week the government indicated that because of the coming election it will need more time to draft appropriate laws, a situation that will not likely induce sympathy from the high court.

But Belgium’s data on euthanasia will undoubtedly be studied by the government as they shape the new law. Interesting statistics include the following:

1. Euthanasia deaths are increasing year over year. In 2011 there were 1,133 and in 2012 1,432, an increase of 25%. In 2013 1,816 were euthanized, an increase of 27% over 2012.

2. Of the total cases in 2013 51.7% were men, while 48.3% were women.

3. Persons aged between 70 and 90 years accounted for 53.5%, those aged 60 to 70 represented 21% and those over 90, 7%. Persons under 60 made up 15% of the total cases.

Most of Belgium’s euthanasia deaths attract no attention, however, there have been several media-worthy deaths, including the assisted suicides of 45-year-old Belgian twins, Mark and Eddy Verbessem.

The twins were deaf and conversed in sign language and had been told to expect to lose their sight, but there was no indication their condition was “medically futile” or their mental suffering at the prospects of becoming blind, could not be alleviated with appropriate medical treatment. Also recent was the euthanization of a transgendered Belgium man who applied because he was horrified at the way he looked after hormone therapy and surgery.

Whoever forms the next government in Canada will be saddled with the responsibility of crafting a law that allows terminally ill patients to die with dignity, while still ensuring that vulnerable adults are protected, a goal that has apparently eluded the Belgians.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

The Vexatious Litigant

BarristerDr. Valery Fabrikant was an unstable, temperamental, and frustrated engineering professor at Concordia University in Montreal when he slaughtered four of his colleagues in 1992. Acting as his own lawyer, he sabotaged his case at trial, although his murderous actions were never in issue.

No doubt impressed with his own legal prowess, he continued to file lawsuits and was eventually declared a vexatious litigant by the Quebec Superior Court in 2000, an apparently ineffective tool as today the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed his attempt to appeal a Federal Court of Appeal ruling made in 2014.

So, how does one merit a vexatious litigant label? A vexatious litigant is a person who continually brings frivolous, unmeritorious law suits intended to harass, insult and abuse the victims of his court actions and to undermine the justice system. Vexatious litigants typically represent themselves as no legitimate lawyer will take on these cases.

Attaching this label to a litigant and curtailing his recourse to the courts or ensuring that no claim can be brought without the permission of the Chief Justice of the Court is a draconian measure that is only ordered in extreme cases.

Notable vexatious litigants include:

1. JULIAN KNIGHT, an Australian mass murderer with an IQ of 132 who gunned down seven people and injured 19 in the Hoddle Street Massacre in Victoria in 1987. Knight’s multiple lawsuits were directed at prison officials and the Australian government over issues concerning prison conditions, prison discipline, access to mail, solitary confinement, and a myriad of other petty complaints. Knight was eligible for parole in 2014 but the government enacted legislation that year preventing Knight’s release from prison.

2. LAWRENCE BITTAKER, a serial murderer from California who raped, tortured, and murdered five young female hitchhikers over a period of six months in 1979. Bittaker, with an !Q of 138, sits on California’s Death Row. He filed 40 separate lawsuits against the State of California including one claiming “cruel and unusual punishment” because he was served a broken cookie. He was declared a vexatious litigant in 1993 and requires the permission of a lawyer or judge before he can commence any court actions.

3. CLIFFORD OLSON, British Columbia serial killer of 11 children between the ages of 8 and 15, in 1981, was declared a vexatious litigant by the federal court in 1994. He had filed over 30 lawsuits over issues including his lack of access to the media, his designation as a sexual offender, and his inability to vote in elections. It was reported that his case prompted the Canadian government to legislate against early release law, called the “faint hope clause”, for serial killers.

Of course, not all vexatious litigants are deranged murderers, however, prison inmates seem to be attracted to this attention-getting tactic.

4. JONATHAN LEE RICHES is a former federal prisoner in Kentucky, convicted of wire fraud, who filed over 2,600 lawsuits in six years. Victims of his court filings included publishing maven Martha Stewart; former president George W. Bush; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick; gossip columnist Perez Hilton; pop singer Britney Spears; Apple founder Steve Jobs, and Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Psychiatrists describe vexatious litigants as suffering from “querulous paranoia” or “litigious paranoia”, a subtype of a delusional disorder manifested in persons who feel obsessively wronged about minor issues and petty offences, accompanied by groundless allegations.

Their deleterious impact on the justice system cannot be overstated and unfortunately, their numbers have escalated in the last twenty years.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Supreme Court of Canada Strikes Down Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Prohibited Firearms

BarristerEveryone said Hussein Nur, age 19, was a fine young man, smart, athletic, and a leader among his high school peers. Unfortunately, Mr. Nur was caught by the Toronto police with a working 22‑calibre semi-automatic gun with an oversized ammunition clip. There were 23 bullets in the clip and one in the chamber. When working properly, this prohibited firearm fires 24 rounds in 3.5 seconds. Nur, a first-time offender, was arrested and plead guilty to possession of a restricted weapon. He was sentenced to the mandatory minimum sentence of 3 years prescribed by the Criminal Code.

Sidney Charles was also arrested when Toronto police found a loaded Ruger semi-automatic handgun and ammunition in his bedroom. It was equipped with an over-capacity magazine, a prohibited device under the Criminal Code, containing 13 rounds of live 9-mm ammunition. The gun’s serial number had been scratched off. As a career criminal with multiple criminal convictions he was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment, the mandatory minimum for a repeat offender.

Both accused argued that the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences as prescribed by Canada’s Criminal Code constituted “cruel and unusual punishment” and ought to be struck down as unconstitutional. Their cases wound their way up to the Supreme Court of Canada where six Justices agreed the law could not survive Charter scrutiny, although neither accused had their sentence reduced. (R. v. Nur 2015 SCC 15)

Perplexing isn’t it? The Court held the law was unconstitutional, but the minimum mandatory sentences were appropriate for each of Mr. Nur and Mr. Charles. How could the law be unconstitutional if the mandatory sentencing scheme was not cruel and unusual punishment?

Very simply, six Justices, Chief Justice McLachlan, LeBel, Abella, Cromwell, Karakatsanis and Gascon JJ. held that while the Nur and Charles’ sentences fit the crimes, there may be other cases where it would be “cruel and unusual” so better to get rid of the law now, before those cases occurred. Yes, the Court concluded that a minimum sentence may be challenged based on the circumstances of the offender before the court, or on other persons in hypothetical situations who may reasonably be caught unfairly by the law, such as persons who may commit minor licensing infractions without moral turpitude or danger to the public.

To that proposition three dissenting Justices, (Moldaver, Rothstein and Wagner JJ.) vigorously objected, declaring that the weapons applicable to mandatory sentences “have few legitimate purposes and are commonly used by criminals to devastating effect. Yet, despite Parliament’s valid and important objectives, the majority would declare these mandatory minimums unconstitutional on the basis that, in “reasonably foreseeable” cases, they could lead to grossly disproportionate sentences in violation of s. 12 (cruel and unusual punishment) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms”.

The dissenters take issue with the majority’s suggestion that innocuous licensing cases, that may or may not occur, support the striking down of the mandatory gun law, keeping in mind Chief Justice McLachlan’s statement that “gun-related crime poses a grave danger to Canadians.”

They note that Section 95 of the Criminal Code was enacted in 1995 and has been in force for nearly two decades. They say it has always included a mandatory minimum sentence for cases prosecuted by indictment. Since 2008, it has included the present three-year and five-year mandatory minimums. The Criminal Code gives prosecutors the option of proceeding with a matter by indictment or summarily, a discretion that abounds in the Criminal Code. Summary proceedings do not attract mandatory minimum sentences. They point out the unlikely probability of the majority’s concerns:

“And yet, the respondents Mr. Nur and Mr. Charles are unable to point to a single licensing-type case over its entire history where a mandatory minimum imposed under s. 95(2) could be regarded as grossly disproportionate. Moreover, they cannot identify a single case where an offender who has committed a “licensing offenc[e] . . . involv[ing] little or no moral fault and little or no danger to the public” has been prosecuted and subject to a mandatory sentence.”

In an unusual departure from Supreme Court of Canada protocol, the Chief Justice remarks that she has read the dissenting Reasons in advance and criticizes the dissenters’ opinion:

“I add this about my colleague’s proposed framework. The protection it offers against grossly disproportionate punishment is illusory: in practice it would create a situation where the exercise of the prosecutor’s discretion is effectively immune from meaningful review. The abuse of discretion standard is a notoriously high bar and has no place in this Court’s jurisprudence under s. 12 of the Charter. The proposed framework would be a radical departure from the constitutional framework in these cases, and offers scant protection from grossly disproportionate sentences being imposed on offender.”

Commendably the dissenters express the obvious: That it is our elected representatives who are responsible for making Canada's laws and "it is not for this Court to frustrate the policy goals of our elected representatives based on questionable assumptions or loose conjecture."

Alas, the majority rules, as it should, but the polarization of the Court's judges is worthy of note, as is the majority's propensity to once again turf Stephen Harper's "law and order" agenda.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Tough Talk With Judges: Dore v. Barreau du Quebec

The Canadian courtroom is not a venue for the faint of heart. It is “ground zero” for our adversarial system of justice, pitting the state against a criminal accused; corporate titans battling competitors; spouses jousting to establish a fair division of the spoils of their marriage; and average citizens seeking redress for motor vehicle accidents, human rights complaints, estate disputes and so many other legal matters that are part of everyday life.

“See you in court” is a threat that is feared by most people, with the exception of trial lawyers, who have studied, practiced and for the most part, crave the adrenalin pumping through their veins, like gladiators entering the arena.

In hard-fought cases, clients expect their lawyers to champion their cause aggressively with a “take-no-prisoners” zeal. Many trial lawyers are proud to be called “a bulldog, a bruiser, a basher, a pit-bull” and other normally unflattering nicknames.

Within this milieu it is inevitable that advocates will lock horns with opposing counsel, and judges and lawyers will occasionally spar with one other. However, there is a fine line between passionate argument and unchecked invective when the heat in a courtroom accelerates.

In a 2012 decision from the Supreme Court of Canada, Dore v. Barreau du Quebec, lawyers and judges alike have been provided with guidance on courtroom etiquette that balances an advocate’s duty to aggressively defend a client, with their obligation to maintain professional decorum.

Quebec lawyer Gilles Dore was representing an accused in a criminal matter involving a Hells Angels prosecution before Quebec Superior Court Justice Jean-Guy Boilard. During Mr. Dore’s submissions, Judge Boilard chastised Mr. Dore, saying “an insolent lawyer is rarely of use to his client”, and later criticized Mr. Dore for his “bombastic rhetoric and hyperbole” and dismissed his “ridiculous” application.

After the hearing Mr. Dore delivered a scathing letter to Judge Boilard, calling him a “coward…pedantic…aggressive…petty… arrogant… unjust…that he was of dubious legal acumen” and made “shamefully ugly, vulgar and mean personal attacks on the unsuspecting”.

Mr. Dore also wrote the Chief Justice of the Quebec Court and the Canadian Judicial Council about Judge Boilard’s behavior.

Canada’s Judicial Council determined that Judge Boilard’s remarks were “insulting and unjustifiably derogatory…displaying a flagrant lack of respect for an officer of the court”. The Council also reviewed Judge Boilard’s track record and noted he had “a penchant for leveling personal, denigrating attacks against lawyers”.

Judge Boilard responded by removing himself as trial judge on the Hells Angel’s trial, while Mr. Dore was defending himself against a complaint made to the Barreau du Quebec, who ultimately found that his letter to Judge Boilard was “likely to offend and was rude and insulting”. Mr. Dore had his license to practice law suspended for 21 days. His suspension was upheld by the Quebec trial and appeal courts.

Canada’s highest court in a 7-0 decision, agreed with the lower courts, but held that judges are not fragile flowers unable to withstand withering critiques from lawyers who argue before them.

Madam Justice Rosalie Abella said “Lawyers should not be expected to behave like verbal eunuchs. They not only have a right to speak their minds freely, they arguably have a duty to do so. But they are constrained by their profession to do so with dignified restraint.”

Judge Abella also recognized the conundrum lawyers face when provoked by opposing counsel or members of the bench noting, “…it is precisely when a lawyer’s equilibrium is unduly tested that he or she is particularly called upon to behave with transcendent civility.”

This case is important, not only for addressing the difficult topic of conflict between counsel and the Court, but also in providing a framework for lawyers and other players in the justice system to understand the boundaries when speaking out about flaws in the system they work in.

While lawyers enjoy freedom of expression, their words must still be chosen wisely in order to balance their obligations to their clients, with the professionalism required of them by their governing bodies and the public.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

The Politicization of Canada’s Supreme Court

GEO CASUALWe should have known that the failed appointment of Mr. Justice Marc Nadon to Canada’s Supreme Court of Canada was just the beginning of the politicization of Canada’s Supreme Court.

It was surprising to many that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin of the Supreme Court of Canada, sparred publicly, albeit gently, over allegations that the Chief Justice had improperly interfered with the executive branch of government’s appointment of Federal Court of Appeal Justice Nadon to Canada’s highest court.

Ultimately, the issue was thrown back to the high court when Toronto lawyer Rocco Galati successfully challenged Nadon’s appointment before Quebec’s Federal Court, a move that forced Mr. Harper to obtain the opinion of the judges who were now Justice Nadon’s colleagues in Ottawa.

The Court’s ruling against Justice Nadon’s appointment was seen as a “slap in the face” to Mr. Harper, and the liberal media took obvious delight in putting Harper “in his place”, amid nasty insults and demeaning comments directed at the beleaguered Nadon.

Justice Nadon slinked back to the Federal Court, more battered and bruised than when he departed.

But surely this was a one-off, not to be repeated? How I wish that were so. Mr. Harper’s recent appointment of Suzanne Cote is now being slammed by certain Canadian “law students, lawyers, and law professors”, a whopping 350 of them.

They are apparently upset that Madam Justice Cote was not vetted by a multi-party parliamentary committee prior to her appointment. They must have short memories, because when Mr. Harper introduced a vetting process for the first time in Canada in 2006, with the appointment of Mr. Justice Rothstein, many anti-Conservative lawyers and law professors criticized the Americanization of the appointment process.

Gallingly, the naysayers are now at work trashing Ms. Cote’s reputation, alleging misconduct in respect of two cases she handled as a lawyer.

In a class-action lawsuit brought by ill and addicted smokers against several multi-national tobacco companies, Ms. Cote acted for Imperial Tobacco commencing in 2010. The lawsuit began more than a decade before her involvement, nonetheless, they blame her for the delay and also claim an “abuse of process” in the multiplicity of allegedly frivolous applications and appeals.

It’s called “hard-fought” litigation folks and I expect the plaintiffs are giving as good as they get, with their own phalanx of high-priced lawyers.

Their second complaint is in a letter to the Canadian Judicial Council, where they suggest that Ms. Cote’s conduct as independent counsel for the Inquiry panel hearing the Judge Lori Douglas bondage scandal deserves censure. The case revolves around nude photos of Judge Douglas, taken by her husband and posted by him online.

Ms. Cote’s sin is that she argued that the photos must be entered as evidence in the Douglas Inquiry, a position opposed by Judge Douglas and called “callous and gratuitous” by Ms. Cote’s critics.

The panel admitted the photos and shortly thereafter, Ms. Douglas announced her upcoming resignation and the Inquiry adjourned. The complainants suggest that Ms. Cote’s conduct was demeaning and forced Judge Lori Douglas to resign.

The executive director of the Canadian Judicial Council properly belittled the complaint, spearheaded by second-year law student Esther Mendelsohn of Osgoode Hall Law School, saying:

“I hate to say something like this, it’s not my style, but a second-year law student saying one of the most esteemed lawyers in Canada didn’t do things the way she should have is something I reject

Given Ms. Mendelsohn’s intemperate remarks, she must be planning to skip any Supreme Court of Canada litigation in the future.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Why I Support Canada’s Proposed New Law on Prostitution

BarristerOn Tuesday I will make submissions to the House of Commons Justice Committee on Canada’s new prostitution laws, which passed second reading several weeks ago, and will surely become the law of the land, perhaps with some amendments.

As many of you know, I was counsel for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada in Attorney General v. Bedford and one of the few voices in the Supreme Court of Canada that urged that prostitution not be legalized.

Of course, we all know that the law criminalizing activities related to prostitution was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada last December, thus opening the door for our federal government to create new law, taking into account the necessity for it to pass constitutional muster.

The new law does just that. It decriminalizes prostitution for the women and girls that trade in sexual services, but makes it illegal to purchase sex in Canada, thus targeting customers (johns) and those who seek to exploit (pimps) the mostly female, often aboriginal victims of the sex trade. It permits the selling of sexual services so long as it is not conducted in the vicinity of children 18 or under. It also forbids the advertisement of sexual services.

The basis of my objections to the legalization of prostitution is founded on one of Canada’s underlying principles, that respect for the human dignity of each person is foundational to our society, a dignity whose inherent value was confirmed by our highest court in the Rodriguez case (euthanasia) and finds expression in the 1949 United Nations Protocol on the trafficking of humans, a convention signed by Canada which provides:

“Prostitution and the accompanying evil of the traffic in persons for the purpose of prostitution are incompatible with the dignity and worth of a person and endanger the welfare of the individual, the family and the community.”

The view that prostitution subordinates and victimizes women and girls is not particularly popular, but I have seen it first hand when I lived on Granville Street in the early 1970’s and in Vancouver’s west end in the 80’s. The image of a “happy hooker” is a Madison Avenue gimmick that has no basis in reality.

When my husband, Doug, ran the Vancouver Vice Squad, I saw again the squalor and exploitation of young, addicted woman, both tragic and poignant.

To those who say that legalization is the only answer, one only has to look at those countries who have based their social policy on sex work as a legitimate job with benefits paid and tax collected.

Perhaps the best example that the harms inherent in prostitution are not alleviated by legalization is the State of Victoria in Australia where prostitution was legalized in the 1990’s.

It was said that legalizing sex work would assist in eradicating the criminal element, guard against unregulated expansion, and combat violence against prostitutes.

How wrong they were…violence was not eliminated, street prostitution was not curtailed as they naively expected, working conditions were no safer than before, prostitution escalated and turning sex work into a legitimate business opportunity for women and girls did not dignify or professionalize prostitutes.

Instead there occurred massive expansion, particularly in the illegal sector with unlicensed brothels. Women were not empowered to become self- sufficient entrepreneurs, as they could not compete with the businessmen who took over the brothel business. Street prostitution was not eliminated as street workers had a host of social problems including addictions, mental illness, and an inability to be hired by legal brothels because of their lifestyles.

Canada’s new prostitution bill addresses many of the safety concerns identified by the Supreme Court of Canada, but more than that, the tenor of the law does not accede to the notion that prostitution is acceptable and legitimate in a free and democratic society.

In my view, prostitution not only harms the women and girls involved but also undermines the social fabric of Canada. It is too easy not to try to provide a way out for our mothers, sisters and aunts who are trapped in this degrading practice. It is a basic issue of human rights.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

SCC Cherry-Picks Principles of Interpretation to Bounce Justice Nadon

GEO CASUALWhen it came time for Prime Minister Harper to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court of Canada left open by the departure of Mr. Justice Fish (who I had the honour of appearing before on his last day sitting as a justice of the high court), the Liberals and the NDP joined forces with the Conservatives last October to welcome Mr. Justice Marc Nadon to the prestigious Ottawa bench.

In accordance with the Constitution he would sit as one of three judges representing the Province of Quebec, an appointment that was constitutionally vetted by two former Supreme Court of Canada judges and Canada’s leading constitutional scholar.

Unfortunately for Justice Nadon, on the day he was appointed, Toronto lawyer Rocco Galati, took the unprecedented step of applying to oust him, suggesting that as a Federal Court of Appeal judge and a former member of the Quebec bar for 20 years, he was not qualified for the appointment.

Apparently Mr. Galati and Justice Nadon shared some history together during the Omar Khadr terrorist trial, a decision that went against Mr. Kadhr.

In a 6-1 decision last Friday, the Supreme Court ruled that Justice Nadon’s appointment was “void ab initio” meaning it was invalid from the outset.

How did this happen and where do we go from here? Let me explain.

Sections 5 and 6 of the Supreme Court Act set out the terms for the appointment of Supreme Court justices.

Section 5 says that current and former judges of any Superior Court in Canada or current or former lawyers with ten years experience are eligible for appointment.

Section 6 reads: “At least 3 of the judges shall be appointed from among the judges of the Court of Appeal or of the Superior Court of the Province of Quebec or from among the advocates of that Province.”

You will see that the language is problematic, as section 6 does not stipulate that Quebec lawyers or advocates must have ten years experience. As absurd as it seems, section 6 would permit a government to appoint a lawyer with only one year or less at the Quebec bar. As well, section 6 does not clearly identify whether former lawyers from Quebec are eligible as they are in every other Province in Canada.

What to do, what to do? The Supreme Court of Canada relying on principles of statutory interpretation agreed that for section 6 to make sense it had to be read together with section 5 and accordingly, they imported the requirement of ten years into section 6. So far, so good.

However, they declined to link the section 5 stipulation that the appointment of lawyers was not restricted to current lawyers, but also included lawyers who had previously practiced for ten years in Quebec.

Why would there be a difference depending on your Province of practice? The majority opined that it was not enough that Quebec was constitutionally entitled to three judges, while British Columbia and Alberta have to share one judge, but that Quebec’s legal traditions and social values required that appointees who are lawyers must be current members of the Quebec bar.

Query why section 5 must be read with section 6 when it comes to a lawyer’s time at the Quebec bar, but not read with section 6 with respect to former lawyers of the Quebec bar? A cynic, like me, would say that the learned Justices decided on the outcome and then interpreted the law to accommodate their views.

As a lone voice in the wilderness, dissenting judge, Mr. Justice Moldaver apparently agrees, pointing out that a lawyer can join the Quebec bar after paying the required dues and taking 30 hours of legal education over a two-year period, not an insurmountable task. Those who wish to qualify for the Quebec bar don’t even have to live in Quebec or practice law in Quebec, in fact, it appears that a day at the Quebec bar would guarantee eligibility for an appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada.

As for the vitriolic coming from Harper naysayers, their knives are flailing as they take their potshots. Some suggest that Mr. Justice Nadon was never qualified intellectually; that he was nothing more than a part-time (supernumerary) judge, as if that is a shameful position; that our highest Court has delivered a fatal blow to the Conservative government; and that a defiant Supreme Court has stopped Harper from “stacking” the court with Conservative hacks, an assertion that is not borne out by his previous five appointments.

Are we forgetting that the Liberals and NDP also supported Nadon’s appointment? I think so.

I predict that Justice Nadon’s “ride” is over, after all who would put themselves in a position to be drawn and quartered more than once?

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang