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The good lawyer

If there’s a heaven for sole practitioners, I’m sure he’s there.
He died much too young, but before he passed away, my colleague expressed the following lament: “My clients want to talk to me and need my advice, whether they are purchasing or selling a home, need a will or powers of attorney, are starting a new business or purchasing an existing one.
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Take your place in legal history

What did you do in the law, dad (or mom)?
Few things in legal history are harder to track than things that seem most obvious at the time. What was it like practising law in a sole practice or in a small Ontario town in the 1960s, say? How did the lawyers get along? What was a big case or a big deal like?

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A Criminal Mind: Finding those articles

In mid-July, the Ontario government doubled the legal aid rate for articling students from $23 to $46 an hour, but the effects won’t be felt for years.

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The Hill: Judges hope to heal rift

Canadian judges are tired of being nickel and dimed by the Harper government over their annual pay raises. But there’s hope on the horizon, with new Justice Minister Rob Nicholson - who may want to do something about it. It would be a welcome change from the continuing fight for the past 18 months between the almost-new Conservative government and the Canadian judiciary.

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Editorial: To what extent should police powers trump individual rights?

One can easily imagine that the three members of the Ontario Court of Appeal who wrote the R. v. Clayton ruling would feel they’d been given a bit of a slap in the face by Justice Rosalie Abella and the Supreme Court of Canada. In a fairly stinging rejection of the appeal ruling excluding handgun evidence obtained during an informal roadblock, the top court has listed toward giving more power to police over protecting individuals’ civil liberties.

In excluding the evidence, the Ontario court said, “There was no suggestion that anyone was in imminent danger.” It said the police chose to ignore significant information from the 911 call that led to the roadblock when they stopped two black men in a Jaguar from leaving a strip club parking lot.

But the Supreme Court said the police were justified under common law powers to set up a roadblock. The 911 call provided “reasonable grounds” to believe there were several handguns in a public place which posed a “genuine risk” to the public. The test for determining whether such an exercise of police power is justified is whether the roadblock is “reasonably necessary,” wrote Abella.

Essentially, the top court expanded police powers where guns may be involved. As Justice Ian Binnie in his concurring reasons noted, the common law must adapt to the evolution of society and as such the balance is tipping away from civil liberties as gun problems “infect” society.

It seems that much in the same way civil liberties seem to be violable in the name of the “war on terror,” they’re going the same way in a similar war on guns. But as commentators in our page 1 story note, the concern is where the line gets drawn in these kinds of searches. In this case, the officers stopped the men - whose car did not match the description of the 911 call - because they were also black and leaving the parking lot at the time when the gun call was received. No crime had yet been committed and the two were not identified by the 911 caller.

But what if those men didn’t have any guns; would the court still have ruled that the search was justified? Will the same reasons stand up where knives, box cutters, even baseball bats are concerned?

As law professor Tim Quigley warns, an “end justifies the means” philosophy to police powers will likely result in improper searches that are never made public because a weapon was not found. And that will make it hard to guard against them.

The biggest problem with the Supreme Court’s ruling is not that it allowed this evidence, but rather that it hasn’t set any guidance for such searches in the future. The court will be looking at another high-profile case, R. v. Grant, on the constitutionality of a search that turned up a concealed handgun. In that case, the evidence/gun gathered from an 18-year-old black man who was walking “suspiciously” was allowed by the Ontario Court of Appeal because it said police did not overstep the bounds of legitimate questioning. Will the Supreme Court somehow bring both of the cases together and create constitutionally viable guidelines for police searches relating to guns, or will the validity of such searches continue to be decided on a case-by-case basis?

Either way, Parliament should be stepping in and tackling to what extent the police should have search powers, particularly at roadblocks in circumstances where crimes have yet to be committed.
- Gail J. Cohen
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High court sends cities strong message on open meetings

Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court of Canada sent municipalities across the country a strong message that they must comply with applicable open meeting provisions and refrain from holding unauthorized closed sessions.
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McMurtry notable among 28 chief justices

Roy McMurtry retired this spring after 11 years as chief justice of Ontario. The acclaim and the tributes that have accompanied his retirement suggest many would place him among the really distinguished chief justices of Ontario, at least of recent times. Which raises the question: who else might rate among the memorable chief justices of Ontario?

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Debating merits of court-appointed experts

The rules of expert evidence are on the table and being scrutinized carefully and thoughtfully.

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Bits & Bytes: Alternatives to costly cell phones while travelling

On a recent vacation in the United States, rather than pay the relatively high roaming rates charged by Canadian cellular providers, I decided to explore alternatives.

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Contentious human rights law brings changes

Both complainants and respondents are set to see some significant changes to the way human rights complaints are managed in Ontario, following the passing of Bill 107 into law last month. However, while some are content with the provisions of the new legislation, others remain concerned with the new structure and with the way the process was handled.

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Crown delays, dodgy witnesses sink prosecution

An unprecedented prosecution that spanned 16 years, cost taxpayers more than $30 million, and eventually hung on questionable evidence from the aging memory of an unscrupulous paid informant came to a close last week when Superior Court Justice Colin McKinnon stayed proceedings in the first-degree murder retrial of Richard Trudel and James Sauvé.

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Judge raps lawyers for flouting rules

A Federal Court of Appeal judge has cautioned counsel on both sides in a case for failing "to live up to the letter and spirit of the Federal Courts Rules."

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  • Access to Justice
    Access to Justice The Action Group on Access to Justice (TAG) strives to inform the public on the importance of the people having access to legal resources and…
  • Legal Aid lawyers rally for collective bargaining rights
    Legal Aid lawyers rally for collective bargaining rights Legal Aid Ontario lawyers held three protests in July to push the provincial government to support their attempts to unionize. The lawyers have been in…
  • Jane-Finch community gets employment law help
    Jane-Finch community gets employment law help Osgoode Hall Law School's Community Legal Aid Services Programme recently opened an employment law division for Toronto's Jane-Finch community.Phanath Im, review counsel for the division,…
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Law Times poll

A recent Court of Appeal decision acknowledged a ‘new reality’ of civil litigation in which courts are seeing a significant number of self-represented litigants. Are courts are doing a good job of addressing the needs of self-represented litigants?
Yes, judges are doing a good job of ensuring trial fairness.
No, courts have only just begun to consider the many issues surrounding self-represented litigants.