Commentary

Friday, 03 October 2008 09:02

Editor's Desk - Fling open the doors

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In June, we devoted the issue of Canadian Lawyer to women in the law. The idea behind that issue was to look at the strides women have made in the profession.

About five years ago I met a lawyer from the Vancouver area who told me he lived on an island “off the grid.” In other words, he generated all his own electricity. I was impressed, awed even, that someone so close to a city that provided ample electricity with easy access would choose to take this difficult (and likely expensive to set up) route to powering his property. At the time, clean, renewable energy was neither in fashion nor easy to procure. Let’s not even talk about the cost.


Things sure have changed in the last few years. Canadians’ attitudes about the environment, fossil fuels, greenhouse gases, energy use and generation, and even recycling have dramatically changed. Green business is booming and a new language and economy are growing out of that. And that’s good news for lawyers, particularly those who are looking for new and innovative areas of practice as well as interesting and enthusiastic clients. Our cover story looks at the growth of practices relating to the clean technology sector. Windmills and solar panels used to be the purview of the granola set, but they’ve gone mainstream and Canadians are innovating and coming up with new products and new methods for better, more efficient, and more economical ways of generating renewable energy. The B.C. government has put out a call for proposals on clean ways to generate energy for that province, and the sector is buzzing. Lawyers, along with these entrepreneurs, are learning a new industry and it’s building lots of excitement.


There’s also carbon trading and the growth of that new market, which is providing new and interesting work for lawyers on the finance side. Judging from the carbon-trading markets in other parts of the world, this area is just getting going. Construction and real estate are also changing in this new reality. The green lease is in; read all about it in this month’s real estate column on page 21.


But it’s not just about the new opportunities for your law practice. The green revolution is hitting everything from IT to office supplies. Using less power and even less paper makes good business sense. It’s good for the environment but it also saves money, and in many cases improves internal processes, making your firm attractive to clients looking for legal counsel that reflect their ethos about the environment. There are lots of ideas about what your firm could be doing better in our 10 tips to green up the office on page 48, and a couple case studies about greening your IT in Gerry Blackwell’s technology column on page 27.


While advances are being made and Canadian consumers and businesses are mostly becoming better environmental citizens, there are still many battles to be fought. In this month’s managing partner interview, Devon Page, the recently appointed executive director of Ecojustice, talks about his organization’s continuing struggle to ensure federal and provincial legislation protects this country’s animals, waterways, earth, and sky.

Our IP story on page 53 also looks at ways regulators are trying to make sure consumers don’t get “green washed” with false claims of environmentally friendly products. There’s a need for vigilance on many levels.


I do hope readers find our mix of “green” stories to be enjoyable. It was definitely extremely interesting putting this issue together.

— Gail J. Cohen

Friday, 29 August 2008 08:37

When harm is defined politically

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There is no greater punishment the state can mete out than seizing a child from a parent.
Thursday, 21 August 2008 10:23

Hysteria about human rights commissions

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There has been considerable media coverage of Canadian human rights commissions and tribunals recently. Most of it has focused on a couple of controversial “hate-speech” cases — one in Alberta, and one in British Columbia.
Tuesday, 05 August 2008 06:24

Editor's Desk - Time for a radical overhaul

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When gathering my thoughts to put together this issue of Canadian Lawyer, I went through a series of ideas for a cover story that quickly got shelved. Then, I started thinking about human rights law and the part it plays in our lives both as Canadians and citizens of the world. I am a voracious consumer of news and much of my news-reading time over the last few months has been spent focused on the situation in Zimbabwe, the land of my birth, where the rule of law and respect for human rights has all but disappeared. With that in the back of my mind and the editorial calendar (and its looming deadlines) at the fore of my mind, I realized that human rights law, particularly in the form of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, has really shaped labour and employment law in this country.


But with that focus on human rights, many labour and employment cases end up mired in the massive backlogs that plague many of the country’s human rights systems. As one lawyer points out in our cover story, “Signs of change,” by the time many cases wend their way through the system so much time has passed that the resolution may end up being meaningless in many ways. In other situations, the length of time leads complainants to drop or settle their complaints without feeling they’ve got any justice. Ontario and British Columbia have revamped their systems. Neither has been met with unqualified enthusiasm, although Ontario’s is still in its infancy. There is a glimmer of hope from most labour lawyers that these new systems will work out better for both employees and employers caught up in the process.


Success, however, does remain elusive and the workings of human rights commissions and tribunals across the country remain a mystery to most ordinary folks. Ezra Levant highlights in his Back Page column how the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal heard a complaint against Maclean’s magazine brought by an Ontario man about something in a publication originating in Ontario. Although Levant has had his own run-in with human rights tribunals (over complaints about publishing Danish cartoons portraying the prophet Mohammed) and does not hide his disdain for them in general, he does have a point. Why should a case that has nothing to do with B.C., other than there are Muslims in the province who may have read and been offended by the complained-about article, be heard before a tribunal there?


The Ontario Human Rights Commission wouldn’t proceed with a similar complaints against the magazine (neither would the Canadian Human Rights Commission), but in an odd twist, while the Ontario commission’s press release said it wasn’t within its jurisdiction to deal with the contents of magazine articles, it cast judgment anyway, saying it “strongly condemns the Islamophobic portrayal of Muslims, Arabs, South Asians and indeed any racialized community in the media, such as the Maclean’s article and others like them, as being inconsistent

with the values enshrined in our human rights codes.”


As Canadians, we understand the value of protecting human rights but the process has become so convoluted (see the chart of Alberta’s on page 58), and some may even say unfair, that a comprehensive and massive overhaul is likely necessary before the parties who get embroiled in these systems, either as a complainant or respondent, feel that justice is being served. Will Ontario’s most radical change thus far be the one for the rest of the country to follow? Perhaps. But perhaps even that is not enough and the next province to try will build on Ontario’s mistakes. Time will tell, but the systems of human rights tribunals and commissions across this great country need some serious work — and I don’t mean tinkering.

Tuesday, 05 August 2008 05:41

The right forum for commercial disputes?

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What a circus! On the morning of June 17, while the Supreme Court of Canada was hearing BCE v. A Group of 1976 Debentureholders, the trading volume of BCE shares doubled, and the stock price moved with every question asked from the bench.
Friday, 04 July 2008 09:21

Money and accolades

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After a hiatus of a few years, Canadian Lawyer can once again share the results of our legal fees survey with readers.
Friday, 04 July 2008 09:02

One lawyer can make a difference

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Sometimes an individual lawyer shows what can be done about the legal profession’s biggest ethical issue — lack of access to justice — if you care enough. Recently, I’ve come across two interesting examples.

Friday, 06 June 2008 07:30

BACK PAGE: A civil rights scandal in Texas

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Acting on a tip from a frightened girl, Texas police raided a ranch belonging to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, seizing 437 children. A 16-year-old named Sarah had phoned for help, saying she had been beaten and raped by her 50-year-old husband. 
Friday, 06 June 2008 07:26

Editor's Desk - Working it!

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