Steele Injustice

Without taking a position on the Steele Auto Group’s plans to bulldoze houses to expand their Honda dealership, let me say that I’ll keep this loathsome bullying in mind when the time comes for me to buy a new car:

A Halifax man who runs a satire website has received a cease and desist letter from a lawyer representing a car dealership he mocked for their expansion plans.

Matt Brand — who writes at brandreview.ca — posted a piece this week about Halifax Honda, which has come under fire recently for expansion plans in the city’s north end that involve demolishing several residential properties.

Steele Group  Launches Hondas Not Homes Campaign was the tongue-in-cheek headline on the story. “In direct response to the Homes Not Hondas Campaign, the Steele Auto Group has countered by launching a campaign of their own: Hondas not Homes.”

Brand has since removed the story from his site.

[…]

The cease and desist missive, penned by Halifax lawyer Nancy Rubin, says that a small hashtag at the bottom of the article labelling it satire does not make it defensible.

“While you are free to express your opinions on matters of public interest, so long as they are based on true facts, the creation of an entirely false group page and fake quotes is indefensible,” Rubin said.

“Even if considered ‘satire,’ satire is not protected speech in and of itself.”

Rubin insisted Brand “disable any public representation that the Steele Group launched or in any way was affiliated with the ‘Hondas not Homes campaign.’ Further, the false quotes must be removed and links to the defamatory postings disabled.”

I practice family and criminal law, not libel and slander cases, but I doubt this relatively mild, obvious satire is really defamatory.  Anyone who thinks it’s a real story probably believes Marilyn Manson is going door to door trying to shock people, too.  But it doesn’t have to be: Steele is a large company pushing around one man because it can.  The process is the punishment.

But as McDonald’s and Barbra Streisand found out, you can win a battle like this but lose the public-opinion war badly.  I hadn’t heard of brandreview.ca nor the Homes Not Hondas Campaign before, but I certainly have now.  And I bet I’m not alone.

The libertarian case for Trump (doesn’t exist)

The Volokh Conspiracy’s Ilya Somin is no fan of Hillary, but argues that she’s by far the lesser of two evils:

Unlike Trump, Hillary Clinton probably will not try to deport millions of immigrants, including hundreds of thousands of children who have never known any other home. Immigrants will not be the only victims of such draconian policies. The liberties of native-born Americans will be undermined as well. Unlike Trump, she will not build a wall on the Mexican border that threatens the freedom of migrants and the property rights of large numbers of Americans.

Unlike Trump, she will not engage in massive discrimination on the basis of religion. Unlike Trump, she does not plan to order US troops to massacre innocent civilians, an proposal that is not only evil in itself, but could cause a dangerous crisis in civil-military relations. Unlike Trump, she is unlikely to adopt a foreign policy that will earn praise from the regime of Ex-KGB Colonel Vladimir Putin.

Free trade is another relative strength for Hillary. Her record here is admittedly inconsistent. On the campaign trail, she has tilted toward protectionism. But, when in power as First Lady and Secretary of State, she has generally supported free trade. The latter is probably a better guide to her intentions than the former, as was also true of Barack Obama, who advocated protectionism during the 2008 campaign but then generally supported free trade while in office.

[…]

Over and above specific issues, Trump is a greater menace to freedom than Hillary Clinton because his ascendancy threatens to Europeanize American politics by transforming the GOP into a a US version of neo-Fascist European parties, such as France’s National Front, whose policies are very similar to Trumpism. Like Trump’s agenda, they combine big government welfare statism with protectionism and xenophobia. If Trump is elected president on such a platform, that ideological transformation is likely to proceed apace. Parties tend to rally around the policies of their president. That means the GOP is unlikely to ever be a force for limited government for a long time to come. We might then be faced with a political system where the only major-party options are left-liberal statism and the neo-fascist kind.

Imagine being a supporter of limited government in 1994, or 2004, or 2014, being told that someday Hillary Clinton would be the “libertarian” candidate compared to the Republican.  But here we are.

Update: This year, man…

image

Worse than Trump (and that’s saying something)

The GOP candidate for President is the most uncouth, ignorant, unprepared major-party Presidential candidate in my lifetime, but I’ll give him this much: at least he purports to be on our side.  So much that he endorses war crimes, but at least they’re against radical Islamists.  Ahem.

The leader of Britain’s Labour Party, by contrast, is on the other side:

… This is the whole “friends” speech in March 2009. It is nothing but a salute to Hamas and Hezbollah. At one point Corbyn even talks dreamily of Hamas having “tea with the Queen”. There is some disapproval, but it is reserved for the British government, Israel, Zionism tout court, and people concerned about the antisemitism on display in Corbyn’s circles.

[…]

Now a peace process in a protracted and bitter conflict does require meetings with people who are unpleasant, to say the least.

But who appointed Mr Corbyn, a backbencher at the time, as a one man Foreign Office?

Moreover, where does he grit his teeth and warmly salute “friends” who are, oh, violent religious settlers? Go on, show me.

Actually, when it comes to Israelis, for many years Corbyn backed “universal jurisdiction” for alleged war crimes, the tactic used by his thuggish friends to hassle Israeli leaders visiting this country. They want the likes of Tzipi Livni arrested on sight at Heathrow. No tea for her.

[…]

“Out of context!” is a familiar diversion when the far left and Islamists are held to account.

The context for the “friends” talk only makes it worse. Corbyn was attending a meeting organised by the so-called “Stop the War Coalition”, an alliance of far leftists and Islamists which actually backs the other side.

They chose the key title for this meeting. It was “Meet the Resistance”. The prize was not peace. No, they wanted to build stronger left wing support for jihadis.

The British love nothing more than mocking their American cousins’ politicians, and under any other circumstances I’d say they have good reason to.

But not while this guy is Leader of the Opposition.

What’s with all the Holocaust deniers flocking to Canada?

First there’s Ken O’Keefe speaking in Toronto tomorrow, and now French “comedian” Dieudonné M’bala M’bala is playing Montreal in May:

The comedian, who routinely makes jokes about gas chambers and has denied the holocaust publicly, was found guilty last year in France of condoning terrorism after posting a joke on his Facebook page about the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris.

Espace Mushagalusa, a small art gallery in downtown Montreal, has booked Dieudonné to play ten shows in a room that accommodates 200 people from May 11 to 16.

Gallery owner Mushagalusa Chigoho told CBC the shows sold out quickly, despite little publicity.

Chigoho said he was aware that Dieudonné is controversial, and so he asked to review the script of this particular show before agreeing to the booking.

“There was nothing insulting, nothing degrading, nothing racist. I can’t be responsible for what he’s said in the past,” Chigoho said.

Dieudonné has several previous convictions under hate speech laws in France and Belgium. He has been widely criticized in Quebec and has seen previous runs of shows booked here cancelled due to his controversial remarks.

We’re not obligated to let human garbage into our country, so the federal government would be justified in denying entry to Dieudonné (or O’Keefe, for that matter). But I think it would be a better idea to let him in and see which Canadians are willing to pay money to watch him perform.

Jewish group to host Holocaust denier

The extreme left, it turns out, is still capable of surprising me.

A fringe Toronto-based Jewish organization called Beit Zatoun is hosting a presentation by the famously happy and well-adjusted Ken O’Keefe on April 28. (via Eye on a Crazy Planet) Once a somewhat revered figure by the mainstream anti-war movement, O’Keefe is now better known for ranting about “fucking Jews” on YouTube and appearing on David Duke’s radio show.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a 9/11 and Sandy Hook troofer, Kooky Ken has also used his twitter feed to promote Holocaust denial.

Even for the rabid anti-Zionists of Beit Zeitoun, I figured this would be a bridge too far. But in an age where activist websites can declare that anti-Semitism may someday become respectable if Jews don’t stop acting so persecuted, I guess anything is possible.

Should O’Keefe even be allowed into the country? As with most creatures like him, I think it’s better to let him enter than to turn him into a martyr. The good news is, O’Keefe doesn’t always have the best luck being allowed onto planes to begin with.

Cirque Du Bai

Cirque du Soleil is the latest act announcing plans to boycott North Carolina:

The Canadian-based circus company Cirque du Soleil is cancelling upcoming stops in North Carolina by two of its touring shows to protest a state law that limits anti-discrimination protections for the LGBT community.

The company said Friday that it will scrap plans for “Ovo” to play Greensboro from April 20-24 and Charlotte from July 6-10, and “Toruk — The First Flight,” which was scheduled to play Raleigh from June 22-26.

The company said in a statement that it “strongly believes in diversity and equality for every individual and is opposed to discrimination in any form.”

North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” – passed by the legislature in an emergency sitting, no less – is appalling and almost certainly unconstitutional.  (Mississippi’s “religious freedom” legislation isn’t much better.) Even if you think boycotting the state goes too far, you can’t deny that after Indiana went though a similar mess not long ago, its legislators should have known what they were getting into.

But now that Cirque du Soleil is taking an admirable stand for gay rights, will it strike this upcoming show from its schedule?

Cirque du Soleil, the world’s most iconic live production, is coming back to Dubai.

Set to take over the Dubai World Trade Centre in Dubai, the company’s signature show, Varekai, promises to deliver a state-of-the-art performance of acrobatics, dance and circus-like acts.

The show, running from September 16 to 24, is the first in the UAE for three years, and has earned rave reviews around the globe.

Here’s the Wikipedia entry for LGBT rights in Dubai:

Article 177 of the Penal Code of Dubai imposes imprisonment of up to 10 years on consensual sodomy. The most common depiction in the local media of LGBT people involves foreigners, disease, and sex crimes such as rape.

One such case involved the kidnapping and rape of a sixteen-year-old French Swiss boy by a group of men.[6] Initially, the police treated the victim as a suspect and the fear of being charged under Article 177 prompted the boy and his family to leave the country.[6] Eventually no formal charges were brought against the teenager who returned to testify against his rapists. The story generated international media attention with government representatives defending the criminal laws against homosexuality as, “This is a conservative society. Homosexuality, conducted homosexuality is an illegal act. And we are not ashamed of that.” The boy’s mother had launched an international campaign to boycott Dubai for the treatment of her son, but ended the campaign when the government agreed to certain demands.[7] The boy was also awarded AED15 million ($4 million USD) in civil compensation.[8]

In 2008 two lesbian tourists were given a one-month jail sentence and then deported for engaging in public displays of affection while visiting a beach.[9] The trial, reportedly the first of its kind, prompted the police to create a special task force to combat homosexuality and other “indecent acts” from taking place on the beaches.[10]

The legal and social sanctions against LGBT people mean that no formal LGBT organizations or nightclubs exist in Dubai. One nightclub called the Diamond Club sponsored a special night for the LGBT community, featuring a British cross dressing DJ, only to be shut down by the government.[11]

In 2011, two men were caught having sex in a car and were sentenced to a year each in prison. Both men were deported following their prison terms.[12]

In 2012, police arrested two Indian men for having consensual sex in a public toilet at a bus station. Both were jailed for six months each and were deported following their prison terms.[13] In the same year, a 28-year-old British man who drunkenly had sex with another man in public were both sentenced to three years in jail followed by deportation.[14] On 21 March 2012, Police raided and broke up a gay party consisting of 30 men.[15] On 7 June 2012, a Belgian man admitted to police that he was in a homosexual relationship with a Filipino. He was arrested and jailed for a year to be followed by deportation.[16]

A Cirque du Soleil show is also playing in Moscow right now, even after the Russian Duma voted unanimously to outlaw “gay propaganda.”

I guess an argument can be made that a highly publicized boycott of an American state is more likely to get results than boycotting a Middle Eastern country. But for the likes of Bryan Adams (who made a big show of boycotting Mississippi not long after playing Egypt, which makes the Magnolia State look like Provincetown) it sure seems like some soft bigotry of low expectations is at work here, as though we can’t possibly expect these people to stop being so homophobic.

The ball’s in your court now, Cirque du Soleil.  Do your concerns about discrimination and tolerance apply everywhere, or are you just jumping on a bandwagon?

Satire is a crime in Germany

The Germans have been making fun of foreign leaders – especially American Presidents – for as long as I can remember, so I strongly suspect its law against “insulting foreign leaders” is only enforced if said foreign leader is humorless, self-righteous and thin-skinned enough to officially complain about it.

Why, hello, Mr. Erdogan, we were just talking about you:

The German government has approved a criminal inquiry into a comic who mocked the Turkish president, Chancellor Angel Merkel announced.

By law, the government must approve any use of an article of the criminal code on insulting foreign leaders.

Mrs Merkel stressed that the courts would have the final word.

And she added that her government would move to repeal the article. Turkey sought the prosecution after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was mocked.

Prosecutors will have to decide whether to proceed against comedian Jan Boehmermann, who crudely mocked Mr Erdogan in a poem. If convicted he could face a fine or a prison sentence.

Some experts say he has a strong defence because his poem could be seen as part of a wider piece of satire about free speech, rather than a deliberate insult, the BBC’s Damien McGuinness reports from Berlin.

[…]

The poem was broadcast by ZDF television two weeks ago. The public TV channel has decided not to broadcast his weekly satire programme this week because of the furore surrounding Boehmermann.

You’d think the Germans, of all people, would appreciate the value of satirizing foreign leaders:

charlie-chaplin-in-the-gr-004

 

The Price of Justice 

A report in a The Toronto Star describes how many litigants, unable to qualify for legal aid and faced with exorbitant lawyers’ bills, are choosing to represent themselves in court:

…With legal fees on the rise—the most recent survey from Canadian Lawyer Magazine shows bills for civil and family cases have jumped markedly since the global recession — there’s an increasing number of people who can’t afford a lawyer, according to studies by Julie Macfarlane, a law professor and researcher at the University of Windsor.

“The number of people who are going to court without lawyers has gone up enormously,” Macfarlane said in an interview this week. “We know around half of the people that represent themselves begin with a lawyer. And they run out of money.”

Macfarlane added that, according to her research, more than 50 per cent of people going to family court this year will not have a lawyer.

Cole Webber, with the Parkdale Legal Clinic, said there is a wide swath of people who can’t afford legal bills, but don’t qualify for Legal Aid assistance.

The threshold for eligibility varies depending on household size and whether your case involves domestic violence, but the general qualification limit is an income of $12,000 to $14,000 for a one-person household and $31,000 to $40,000 for a family of five or more.

“You basically have to be on social assistance to even qualify,” Webber said.

Macfarlane agreed, and called it an impediment to universal access to justice.

“This isn’t any longer, ‘there’s a group we have to assist because they’re the poor and vulnerable.’ It’s most people, and it’s certainly the middle class,” she said.

You might think we lawyers enjoy steamrolling over self-represented parties, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Without legal counsel, they often have no one to tell them they’re being unreasonable or that they fundamentally misunderstand the legal principle at issue.

Negotiations and pre-trial procedures can drag on for months longer than they should. And when the case finally makes it to trial, the case is dragged out even longer as the Judge is forced to explain things to the self-represented party.

All things considered, everyone is better served when both parties have legal counsel. That said, many people simply find themselves unable to afford proper representation, while not earning a low enough income to qualify for legal aid.

In response, more lawyers, myself included, are offering unbundled legal services, in which we may assist in drafting documents or reviewing the other party’s materials without committing to appear in court.

Many people don’t realize that they have access to Employee Assistance Programs through which they may be entitled to free or discounted legal services. A common arrangement is for the lawyer to provide a free half-hour consultation, and then agree to represent the person at a 25% discount from his or her regular fee.

Here in Nova Scotia, the Legal Information Association offers a Lawyer Referral Service through which people can obtain a 30-minute consultation for $20.00. A half hour may not seem like much, but you’d be surprised how much ground can be covered in that short time.

Mind you, even after a short consultation of even with a discounted fee, legal proceedings can still be very expensive, and it doesn’t look like governments will step in any time soon to ease the pain. But when you need a lawyer, every bit helps.

Book review – “Tough Crimes: True Cases by Top Canadian Criminal Lawyers” by Christopher D. Evans and Lorene Shyba

[originally posted at Canadian Lawyer]
It’s the question every criminal lawyer has been asked more than any other (after “Why did it cost that much?”): “How can you defend a person you know to be guilty?” And my answer is always that it’s really not that hard, relatively speaking.
If I know or strongly suspect my client is guilty, I still believe the Crown must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, without relying on means that violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.If a person’s liberty is to be taken away by the state, we’d better be sure the state has made its case. That protects the rights of everyone, not just the accused.

But defending a person whom I believe to be innocent, now, that’s the kind of case that keeps me up at night. The innocent person’s freedom depends largely on my competence as a lawyer, this can be emotionally exhausting.

Marie Henein, a contributor to the absorbing compilation Tough Crimes: True Cases by Top Canadian Criminal Lawyers and who is now in the spotlight as Jian Ghomeshi’s counsel, feels the same way. Recounting her representation of former Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant when he faced a charge of dangerous driving causing death, she notes, “any lawyer will tell you that it is the innocent who are the toughest to defend . . . I can think of no case in which I agonized so much over the strategy.”

Edited by C.D. Evans and Lorene Shyba, Tough Crimes features essays by several eminent Canadian lawyers, discussing the most interesting, notorious, or compelling cases they’ve worked on.  The most noteworthy thing about the book is that it illustrates the emotional toll criminal law can take on the people who practise it.

Vancouver’s Richard Peck, spent more than four years of his life representing Ajaib Singh Bagri, charged — and ultimately acquitted — in the Air India bombing case.

On the Crown side, meanwhile, New Brunswicker Fred Ferguson, discusses his emotionally exhausting participation in the heartbreaking case of John Ryan Turner, a young boy abused, neglected, and killed by his parents. The case reduced this hardened, experienced lawyer to tears.

Even where the client undeniably bears some responsibility for the alleged crime, there are sometimes mitigating circumstances that can make counsel more emotionally invested in the case.

Stan Koebel certainly made mistakes that contributed to the Walkerton contaminated water tragedy, but his lawyer William Trudell recalls his client’s feelings of soul-crushing remorse, and how other parties tried to make Koebel a scapegoat for their own errors and failings. Similarly, the teenager who opened fire on his classmates in Taber, Alta., did indeed pull the trigger, but his horrific act came only after a lifetime of sadistic bullying.

Tough Crimes also offers considerable insight into the idiosyncratic thinking that separates Canada’s top lawyers — the ones deemed worthy of contributing to this volume — from their peers.

Henein, for example, decided it was in her client’s best interests to disclose the evidence compiled for Bryant’s defence to the Crown, in the hopes that prosecutors would decide he was not criminally responsible for killing a pedestrian with his car, and refrain from laying charges in the first place.

Most of us would keep that evidence far away from the Crown, on the basis it’s their job to prove the guilt of the accused, not the job of the accused to prove his innocence. But Henein’s gamble paid off; the evidence very clearly showed Bryant was defending himself from an agitated, unstable, and violent “victim,” and no charges were laid.

The first essay in Tough Crimes is by none other than the recently deceased Edward Greenspan, describing a case in which a jury convicted his client despite absolutely overwhelming evidence he was not guilty. Every dedicated lawyer does everything he or she can for the client, and voluntarily takes on a heavy emotional and intellectual burden in doing so. But as Greenspan’s case illustrates, even the best can’t win ’em all.