Canadians can’t afford price of justice

***see the Thin Skull Blog for similar views

Sunday, February 15

  • By: Angelo Persichilli
  • Organization: Toronto Star

Opinion – Canadians can’t afford price of justice

When provincial NDP Leader Howard Hampton says the $23.4 million the Ontario government spent on outside lawyers and consultants for a corruption case related to its real estate agency is "simply money blown out the door," he is right..

However, he is wrong when he blames Dalton McGuinty’s government. Queen’s Park had a duty to pursue the fight against corruption. Had the government stopped the legal proceedings, I’m pretty sure we would now have the NDP accusing the government of colluding with corruption.

Given the legal quagmire we live in, there is no middle way. You either give up and allow the abuse, or you put up a fight and spend such a huge amount of money on lawyers that the fight seems pointless. It’s a lose-lose situation for politicians and taxpayers, and a win-win situation for lawyers and for crooks with money – because the issue is all about money, not justice.

Let me elaborate.

Two of the most important rights that should be guaranteed to every citizen are access to the health-care and justice systems.

Unfortunately, while we all enjoy a basic medicare system, justice is still just an aspiration for most of us. There are only two groups of people who can enjoy it: the rich because they have money and the very poor because they have legal aid. For most Canadians, justice is like a Ferrari: You can have it if you sell the house

When former prime minister Brian Mulroney felt unjustly targeted by the RCMP, he fought and he won. Do you think that if he didn’t have the $2 million for the legal fees he would have had any chance to win the case? Yes, he got the money back, but only after his lawyers were able to defend him.

At the other extreme, we had to pay millions of dollars to provide top lawyers to defend Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo.

In the middle are the majority of Canadians like you and me who are neither rich nor poor. For us, justice is only an aspiration because we don’t have the money to get through the convoluted legal system that seems to have been built to help lawyers make money.

Someone told me he believed he was unfairly overcharged $5,000 by Revenue Canada. He went to a lawyer who told him that he could win the case but there was no guarantee. Furthermore, the legal bill could go over $5,000. Basically, he was told, "If you don’t have money to gamble, pay and shut up." He paid. At the same time, we have many corporations that, with the help of good lawyers, challenge Revenue Canada and many are able to slash their payments by millions.

There are companies that have more lawyers than managers to protect them from possible legal nightmares. They succeed in that, but entrepreneurship suffers and the only people left unprotected are the majority of Canadians. Every day we sign papers with fine print even to buy an extension cord in an electronics store. You can rest assured that the fine print is not there to protect the customers.

But even if we stay away from lawyers, we receive hefty bills from them via governments.

Do you remember the Gomery inquiry? It spent almost $90 million to find out what happened to $60 million. In the end, only $3 million was recovered and the only people arrested were those charged by the RCMP. There are many other examples. The legal system is failing Canadians twice: We pay millions of dollars to run it and in return most of us cannot afford to use it when we need it.

If Hampton believes, rightly, that $23.4 million in taxpayers’ money to fight a corruption case is "simply money blown out the door," he and McGuinty should start working together to make the justice system less convoluted and more accessible.

Everyone may be equal before the law, but justice comes only if you have money.

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