Amici Curiae: Toronto Mayor Faces Legal Action, Bill C-10, and Big Tobacco Feels the Heat

A Coup de Ford

Paul Madger brought an action forward in an effort to oust Mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, from office on Monday (March 12). Madger alleges that Mayor Ford violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act (the Act). The case will appear in court on March 23.

Madger, represented by constitutional lawyer Clayton Ruby, claims that Ford breached the Act when he participated in a council vote absolving his obligation to pay back donations collected for his private football charity amounting to $3,150. According to Ruby, the Act is strict in an effort to stop corruption.

Ford was a councillor and solicited these private sector donations using City Council stationery at the time in question. Although the money was used to purchase football equipment for students in need, the Commissioner found that, in using stationery from the office, the power of his office was used to strengthen business dealings distinct from his civic duties.

At the February 7 2012 council meeting, Ford successfully requested counsel remove sanctions imposed against him from the previous summer. This request will shape Ford’s political future. Pursuant to the Act, unless Mayor Ford can prove that the “contravention was committed through inadvertence or by reason of an error in judgment,” he may be forced to forfeit his seat. Ruby explained at a press conference Monday morning, “Inadvertence is the opposite of somebody who is willfully blind, who is reckless or who acts deliberately. If you do any of those things, that defence is not available. Error in judgment, it requires that someone — when they make the decision — is honest and frank, acts with candour and complete good faith.”

Torontonians have had their eye on Mayor Ford in recent months – not simply to slip up, but do so in a way that could lead to his ejection. Although this mayor has been subject to a great deal of criticism since he came into office in December 2010, the irony would not be lost if what takes him down is a charitable act.


Are Good Decisions Based on Numbers or Knowledge?

The Conservative government pushed through its Safe Streets and Communities Act (better known as Bill C-10) this past Monday, an omnibus amendment setting new minimum sentencing guidelines for a number of crimes. The issues it covers have a long history in the form of smaller amendments introduced as far back as 2010.

The Act addresses a number of provisions in the Criminal Code related to terrorism, drugs, refugees, youth criminal justice, and sexual offences against children. While some changes – like tougher penalties for sexual offences against children (targeting Internet predators) and organized drug crime (targeting drug manufacturers and date-rape drug offenders) – have been long expected, and even laudable, much of the bill has been criticized for ignoring social science research on the deleterious effects of using the criminal law as a blunt tool for behaviour modification.

Opponents (and especially advocates of restorative justice) argue that the criminal law should be used with restraint, and that increasing minimum sentences does little to deter crime when used in place of rehabilitation. At best, they argue, the changes will be inefficient in reaching the eponymous objective of the bill. A number of provincial governments have suggested that they do not have the resources to cover the additional costs of housing more inmates and building new prisons. Ontario expects the bill will cost the province at least one billion dollars.

Setting aside merits or problems, it is clear that the Act has been a polarizing issue for the country, passing with a vote of 154/165 Conservative party members against 129/142 voting members of the Liberal, NDP, Bloc Québécois, and Green parties (these numbers exclude the 1 vacant seat in Toronto-Danfoth, which has historically voted NDP or Liberal). There is always a curious question to ask in these situations: is this democracy at work, or something less?


The Biggest Smoker

The Quebec courts begun hearing the largest class action suit in Canadian history as close to 1.8 million Quebec residents have laid a suit against the three largest Canadian tobacco companies for $27 billion. The case has taken over thirteen years to get before a judge, and hearings began on March 12. While it is finally in front of a judge, it will take years to litigate.

The legal action is based upon the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement of 1998.  In that case, forty-six US states challenged the four largest American tobacco companies in litigation. After twenty-five years, they won a combined payout of $206 billion in 1998.

The plaintiffs in this case claim that the tobacco companies were aware for decades that products were harmful, and that the companies stirred up medical controversy with scientific evidence their researchers knew to be unreliable and specifically targeted youth as a consumer group. The two representative plaintiffs in this matter are Jean Yves Blais (who represents 90,000 plaintiffs suffering from smoking related illness) and Cecilia Letrournea (who represent 1.8 million Quebeckers who were or are addicted to cigarettes and tobacco products)

The defendants, Imperial Tobacco Canada, Rothmans, and Benson and Hedges deflect blame onto consumers and the government. They claim that for the last fifty years, dangers of tobacco have been known. Individuals must assume the consequences of their own choices. The defendants further stipulate that they will go after the federal government if they lose, who collected taxes and heavily regulated the industry.

The irony of this litigation is that, regardless of how the case is decided, taxpayers will end up footing the bill. If the plaintiffs lose, taxpayers will pay for healthcare-related costs associated with smoking. If the plaintiffs win, Big Tobacco will go after the federal government. Regardless of the outcome, taxpayers will pay what will inevitably be high litigation fees.

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