The Hillbilly Elegy: One Man’s Ploy Into Politics

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In the Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance tells the tale of his struggle to attain the American Dream. From his humble roots of “white trash” (self-described) to Yale law school graduate, Vance paints the story of a home life in crisis. He then extrapolates from his personal experience to comment on the sociological causes of poverty.

Although touching at times with some poignant insights, this memoir reeks of white, male privilege. Vance recognizes his privilege in passing. But his acknowledgement rings hollow, especially as he compares his plight to that of impoverished black Americans.

Vance is a tall, attractive, white, Christian, heterosexual, healthy, able-bodied man. He can walk into any room and command an audience by virtue of these characteristics. A privilege that he comments on, more for lip service and optics, than for anything else.

Rather the narrative is constructed perfectly and tactically for a future career in politics (my prediction). At its core the narrative is simple – a must for any political campaign. He worked hard. He escaped poverty. He enlisted in the army. He went to Yale. He got married. And he clerked for a judge.

Now at 32 years of age, he feels empowered to tell you what’s wrong with America. No doctorate needed. Just personal experience.

Vance explains why his people are poor:

“We spend our way into the poorhouse. We buy giant TVs and iPads. Our children wear nice clothes thanks to high-interest credit cards and payday loans… We spend to pretend that we’re upper middle class… Our homes are a chaotic mess. We scream and yell at each other… At least one member of the family uses drugs… We don’t study as children, and we don’t make our kids study when we’re parents… We choose not to work when we should be looking for jobs… We talk to our children about responsibility, but we never walk the walk… Our eating and exercise habits seem designed to send us to an early grave…” [Emphasis added.]

There are kernels of truths in his statements. But his under-valuing of the systemic roots of poverty goes to show how deep his own luck and privilege runs. Poverty has nothing to do with iPads.

Not everyone can just pick themselves up by their bootstraps and attain the American dream.  Systemic barriers run deep.

 

(Views expressed in this blog are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization.)

Once a Lawyer Always a Lawyer?

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On February 20, 2017 law professors from across the United States filed a disciplinary complaint against Ms. Kellyanne Conway. Ms. Conway is currently a suspended lawyer due to her failure to pay fees to the District of Columbia Bar.

In the disciplinary complaint, the professors cite several instances of misconduct by Ms. Conway, including putting forth alternative facts about the size of Mr. Trump’s inauguration crowd.  They argue that “[i]f Ms. Conway were not a lawyer and was ‘only’ engaging in politics, there would be few limits on her conduct outside of the political process itself. She could say and do what she wished and still call herself a politician. But she is a lawyer…”

Under Rule 8.4(c) of the DC Rules of Professional Conduct, it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to engage in conduct that involves dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. The professors then go on to argue that lawyers in public office have a higher obligation to avoid conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation than lawyers outside public office.

In “Government Lawyers in the Trump Administration”, W. Bradley Wendel states that while any government official must take an oath to support and defend the Constitution, lawyers have additional obligations. There is a fine line “between doggedly seeking a lawful solution to the problems facing a President and his administration, on the one hand, and assisting government officials in conduct that is unlawful, on the other”.

It appears that Ms. Conway has crossed a line. After all, his goals are her goals. His message is her message.

But does it make a difference that she crossed the line while not actually practicing law? And, what would the punishment be? She’s already suspended.

Hopefully, the complaint does not turn into a circus show.

(The views expressed in this blog are my personal views and do not reflect the views of any organization)

Candid Conversations with Supreme Court of Canada Judges

On February 6, I had the honour to attend the program “Candid Conversations on the Challenges and Seizing Opportunities in the Practice of Law Today”, held by the Ontario Bar Association. It was an honour to hear from Justice Moldaver, Justice Cote, and Justice Wagner of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Program participants were divided into three groups, and the judges rotated through each group. A multitude of topics were discussed, including career insights and the role of the judiciary. Below are a few interesting comments I heard:

  1. Think outside the box when arguing for a change in the law. Judgments have a shelf life.
  2. Be resilient.
  3. Preparation is key. You can never be too prepared when arguing a case.
  4. To attract business, it is important to be seen in the business community.
  5. Don’t feel stuck in a practice area or firm. There is flexibility. The path of life is filled with the improbable. When one door closes another one opens. It just might be an unexpected door.
  6. There is no certainty in the courtroom.
  7. There are no small cases. Only small lawyers. (reference to the quote – no small parts, only small actors). Every case is important.
  8. You don’t have to have your name in lights to help people get through the morass of laws.
  9. To keep the public’s faith in the judicial system, we have to explain to the public what the courts do, who the judges are, where they come from, and why we do things a certain way. The court needs to communicate with the public. Courts need to be transparent.
  10. The essential ingredient in the judicial system is faith. Without faith in the judicial system, there will be anarchy.
  11. People take news from social media now. We have to update the judicial system’s communication with the public to reflect that.
  12. Lawyers need to be more creative with their fee structures. We are starting see self-represented litigants trickle up to the appellate levels at higher rates.

 

 

(The views expressed in this blog are my personal views and do not reflect the views of any organization)

None is too Many

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“None is too many.” That was the famous Canadian response to the question of how many Jewish refugees could enter Canada during the Second World War. During that time, only 5,000 Jewish refugees were allowed to enter Canada, while six million Jews died.

In December 2016, Toronto Jewish Holocaust survivors spoke out about the atrocities in Syria and the need to do more. Holocaust survivor Vera Schiff said: “You see those pictures come out of there with all this heartbreak with those maimed and crying children. It breaks my heart because I can see the replay of those children, of our children which were lined up to be gassed in the camps and the mothers who could not save them.”

Now one month later, President Trump has signed an executive order titled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States“. The order states: “I hereby proclaim that the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I have determined that sufficient changes have been made to the USRAP to ensure that admission of Syrian refugees is consistent with the national interest.”

The Order has plunged the world into chaos, strained diplomatic ties, and further fractured the American people. An Article by the New York Times titled “Judge Blocks Trump Order on Refugees Amid Chaos and Outcry Worldwide” tells the story of lives turned upside down by a poorly thought out decree. People worried about returning home to the United States while away on travel. People suddenly denied entrance into the United States after months of being vetted.

Trump’s decree is truly disturbing and is laced with the same xenophobia experienced by Jewish refugees decades ago.

Closeted Sexists 

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Why did Trump win? There are multiple theories out there. Populace thinking. People’s ignorance. Human stupidity. Hatred for Hillary. And sexism. 

Sexism is alive and well. For some men and women, the idea of a woman being President is just too much to handle. 

It makes me wonder how many people out there are closeted sexists too. Afraid to announce that they too think a woman is unfit for leadership. 

The Case of the Stolen Jewellery

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This week Kim Kardashian made headlines. It went far beyond her normal headlines. She was robbed. In the middle of the night. In a foreign city. In a secluded hotel. In a shocking manner. Most likely by a gang of organized criminals. The execution: perfect. The legal remedy: predictable.

So who might she sue?

First, she can sue the hotel for failing to have adequate security measures and by creating a situation of danger. Then she can sue the hotel’s employees for failing to take proper care of her and by allowing danger to unfold.

Second, she can sue her own security team for failing to properly watch her or perhaps for breach of contract (depending on the terms). Rumour has it, her security team left her completely unattended as they guarded her sisters in a nightclub.

Third, she can sue her own insurer if they refuse to reimburse her for the stolen jewellery (assuming she has insurance).

Fourth, assuming she has inadequate insurance, she can sue her advisers for failing to reasonably advise her of her insurance needs.

But what about the defendants?

The defendants might argue that she was the author of her own misfortune. That she was the careless one. That she invited this danger. She endlessly paraded around her jewels. She bragged to the world about her whereabouts. She took picture after picture of herself wearing expensive diamonds. She invited cameras to capture her in all of her wealth. And she pursued constant attention from television, to books, to pictures, to apps, to selfies, to Instagram, to Snapchat, to Twitter, and beyond. Thereby allowing the perpetrators to plan the perfect scheme.

Injury aside, I look forward to the reality tv show “Kardashian vs the Hotel: the saga of the stolen jewellery”. They say it will be her best work to date.

 

Moving Forward: From Ink Quills to Electronic Documents

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This weekend I attended the Ontario Bar Association Annual General Meeting  (AGM) as a Provincial Council Member. The AGM brought together lawyers from across the province, from different practice areas, and from different career stages. This led to invigorating discussions about the future of our profession.

A significant topic was the Law Practice Program (an alternative program to the traditional articling program in law firms). The Law Society of Upper Canada recently released a report commenting on the viability of the Law Practice Program. As a reason for possibly scrapping the program, it was stated that graduates of the Law Practice Program are seen as second tier to traditional articling graduates.

At the AGM, many individuals argued that the perception that graduates of the Law Practice Program are second tier is nonsense. This is because the program offers standardization and acts as a check on the unregulated nature of articling in private practice. Furthermore, traditional articling is rife with problems, which arise from its inherent structure. The problems mentioned echoed the sentiments written by Professor Adam Dodek in his 2013 article “The Ethics of Articling“.

It seems to me that the recommendation that the Law Practice Program be scrapped and that articling be shortened is a move by the Law Society to inch towards an American style practice of qualifying lawyers (i.e. no articles, tough bar exam).

Another topic of discussion was the modernization of the court system. This year the President of the Ontario Bar Association David Sterns plans to keep the Attorney General’s “feet to the fire” and shine a light on changes to the court infrastructure. As someone who frequently writes about electronic filing, I welcome this goal.

To end, I would like to echo Colin Stevenson’s (Chair of the Policy & Public Affairs Standing Committee) eloquent statement that “while we are bound by history, we need to be firm on progress.”

 

 

 

 

Canada’s Most Important Challenge to Healthcare

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“There was no difference between men, in intelligence or race, so profound as the difference between the sick and the well.” – The Great Gatsby 

What is the best way to run our health care system? Is it privatized? Hybrid? Or, Public?

Right now, in British Columbia Dr. Brian Day is challenging the very way we fund essential health care services. He argues that the province’s ban on the purchase of private insurance for essential medical procedures is unconstitutional. As the ban requires many patients to endure gruelling wait times, thereby exacerbating their medical conditions. The trial is predicted to go for 6 months.

Eventually, the case will be appealed to the Court of Appeal and then to the Supreme Court of Canada (its true destination). The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision will have national ramifications, and may change the way we fund health care across the country.

“Dr. Day argues that Canada’s inefficient system is the product of a wasteful bureaucracy, a lack of competition and a misguided attachment to universal coverage.”

Although it could be said that a lack of competition has fostered a lower level of customer service from doctors, this lack of competition has allowed the government to keep health care costs down. Doctors are prevented from charging too much, and the costs of administration are controlled.

Regardless of how this case resolves, I predict that a hybrid system for essential medical services will continue to creep in. Technology is eroding the boundaries of provincial control, the baby boomer generation is aging, and the economy feels as unstable as ever. All of these conditions are creating a time of uncertainty and are paving the way for change.

I personally have huge concerns about the erosion of the public health care system. The ramifications of which will be felt by the most marginalized.

Poor. Rich. White. Black. Jewish. Christian. Criminal. Saint. Heterosexual. Homosexual. No matter how we identify or are identified, we are all entitled to health care. And not just any health care, but good health care.

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Scorned

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In Toronto Life Magazine, there’s an article about Eleanor McCain, the heir to the McCain fortune. She is currently divorcing Jeff Melanson, former president and CEO of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. In their divorce proceedings, she is claiming that he tricked her into marriage and is requesting an annulment on that basis.

An annulment would allow her to avoid paying him anything. According to the marital contract, he is entitled to $5 million (a paltry sum for a family worth $2 billion). Yet she is fighting him for every dime, hiring private investigators to dig up his past, paying the best lawyers to fight for her, and smearing his name across the country.

It is unlikely that she will convince a judge to grant her an annulment. It would be hard to show that she married him by reason of fraud or duress. She is a wealthy woman, with every advantage at her disposal. If she wanted to investigate him beforehand, she could have. No one held a gun to her head and forced her to marry him. To somehow say that she was duped into this marriage is a stretch.  What it really sounds like is a severe case of buyer’s remorse. Someone quick – call the doctor and cure her of that.

To read more, click here: Public Enemies – McCain and Melanson