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Posts Tagged "legal"

13Sep

Ian Mulgrew: Utah legal reform an example for B.C.

by admin

The Law Society of B.C. could do well to look to Utah for advice on how to address the province’s access-to-justice crisis caused by legal services that are too pricey and the inequity that perpetuates.

The state has embarked on an ambitious, radical restructuring of its legal regulatory system to provide more affordable services and a regulator that protects the public rather than lawyers.

The promising initiative was the product of a recent blue-ribbon working-group report — Narrowing the Access-to-Justice Gap by Re-imagining Regulation — that maintained the delivery of legal services must be dramatically changed “to harness the power of entrepreneurship, capital, and machine learning in the legal arena.”

Gillian Hadfield, the Toronto-based legal guru, was part of the high-powered committee that made the ground-breaking recommendations, considered by those in the field as perhaps the most significant action to address the access gap in years.

The top-flight academic, who was in Vancouver proselytizing earlier this year, has long argued it’s time to end the monopoly enjoyed by lawyers and dismantle regulatory barriers to provide legal help that is affordable and accessible.

The Utah Supreme Court is putting those ideas into practice — shifting the paradigm from a system regulating for lawyers to one regulating to increase access to and affordability of legal services.

Utah has established state-wide pro bono efforts, made forms and filings more easily accessible online, established Licensed Paralegal Practitioners, and piloted an online dispute resolution model for small claims.

B.C. has done the same — although it is dragging its heels on giving paralegals any real scope — and each of these initiatives takes a step toward narrowing the access-to-justice gap.

Still, they have been not anywhere near enough.

Expanding pro bono, improving legal aid and making minor regulatory reforms have been inadequate while technological disruption has exacerbated and widened the gap.

Millions experience problems with domestic violence, veterans’ benefits, disability access, housing conditions, health care, debt collection, and other civil justice issues cannot afford legal services and are not eligible for assistance from the civil legal aid system.

In the 71-page report, the experts proposed a two-tracked remedy — loosen restrictions on how legal firms are financed so lawyers can compete and innovate but also provide room for people other than lawyers to provide legal services.

That means, for instance, getting rid of bans on lawyers fee-sharing with non-lawyers (say accountants) or allowing non-lawyers to own or invest in law firms.

At the moment, mixed business models are prohibited in most jurisdictions hindering lawyers from partnering with entrepreneurs.

Within days of receiving the report at the end of last month, the Utah Supreme Court — which has constitutional responsibility for the administration of justice — unanimously adopted its recommendations.

Other states, such as Arizona, California and Illinois are mulling similar proposals. California in July published proposals to allow fee-sharing, non-lawyer ownership and the greater use of non-lawyers.

Utah, however, is blazing the trail.

Since the turn of the century, the U.K. and North America have been dealing with sadly similar crises in their legal systems — an access-to-justice gap that threatens civil society.

All of the data confirm the legal system isn’t meeting the needs of the middle-class and poor.

The courts are clogged with confused litigants who can’t afford a lawyer and have no access to any other source of legal services because of the regulated monopoly the legal profession enjoys.

In 2007, the U.K. redesigned its regulatory apparatus to increase legal competition in the marketplace, which was already far more liberal than here.

It did not have prohibitions against the unauthorized practice of law and the legal monopoly was restricted to a half-dozen services; advertising restrictions and referral fees were lifted years ago; wills, representation at tribunals and the provision of other low-level legal services were not regulated.

The U.K. was focused on increasing competition, in North America the paramount concern is access to justice.

Medicine has become a team sport: doctors, nurses, radiologic technologists, pharmacists all play. The law should be similar.

In Utah, the new system will be driven by data, monitoring, assessment and analysis “to ensure consumers access to a well-developed, high-quality, innovative, and competitive market for legal sevices.”

The first phase will see the formation of a task force to propose rule changes, establish a “Phase 1 regulator” to oversee a “sandbox” of non-traditional legal services and prepare a final report for the structure of the “Phase 2 regulator.”

In the sandbox, lawyers, law firms and proposed businesses will work with the regulator to pilot new services or new ways of working that might break current rules but appear to be safe.

These trial-and-error experiments with the baby-step process to remove regulatory restrictions and ease the historic persistent inhibition on innovation, hopefully, will lead to the right way to regulate new services.

The state hopes that phase 2 will see “some form of an independent, non-profit regulator with delegated regulatory authority over some or all legal services.”

It will be independent of lawyers but answerable to the Supreme Court.

That will be a real transformation — a regulatory system designed to not maintain the status quo but to provide affordable legal services while protecting the public from unacceptable risk and harm.

Seems like a no-brainer.

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twitter.com/ianmulgrew

1Jul

Ian Mulgrew: Legal costs dwarf police misconduct award

by admin

Those old enough will remember the Whalley Strip’s infamous Dell Hotel — a violent, unruly dump the cops frequently attended, but only in pairs, at a minimum.

Once, Michael Kwok Shuen Fong hoped to turn it into a gold mine, but his incompetence, mental health and animosity toward police produced only a tragedy.

The final chapter of his sad Surrey saga may have been written by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Murray Blok in a sympathetic costs decision that ended 13 years of litigation over an altercation with RCMP officers.

Surprisingly, the justice gave Fong twice as much to cover his costs for mounting the legal fight as he did for the minor injuries he suffered.

Blok awarded Fong only $71,000 in damages for the “hard takedown” by the Mounties, which left him dazed and bleeding, and for his brief unlawful arrest.

He had been seeking $1.3 million for near-complete disability!

The trial lasted 18 days and Fong wanted another roughly $170,000 for his costs — $69,000 in tariff items and $100,000 in disbursements.

The B.C. justice ministry, which offered to settle for $25,000, asked Blok to reduce the bill because much of the money spent on experts turned out to be wasted.

None of the evidence from the five medical specialists was accepted, the government argued because Fong misled them, and an economist’s report was disregarded.

Also, Fong claimed police beat him with a baton while repeatedly shouting racist and homophobic slurs — none of which proved true.

“Although I found that Mr. Fong was not a credible witness, I do not conclude he was lying to the court,” Blok explained. “I also do not conclude that Mr. Fong’s failure to tell physicians and experts about other negative events in his life was a deliberate scheme on his part to enhance his personal injury claim or that he displayed ‘a light regard for the truth.’”

Fong attributed all of his subsequent misery to the March 11, 2006 dust-up. However, Blok concluded several setbacks in his life triggered an “existential problem” that “altered his perception of his work identity.”

“These problems would have occurred even if the police incident had not taken place,” Blok decided.

The justice recited the events that dogged Fong after his bloody encounter with police — he lost his hotel management job, developed a crack cocaine habit, squandered $800,000 of his family’s money in a bad investment, and descended into depression.

Now in his 60s, Blok recounted, Fong worked in real estate from 1986 to 1999 before losing that job.

From 1999 to 2002, he managed the Byrd Pub in the Flamingo Hotel, then moved to the Dell.

In July 2005, Fong’s extended family partnered with another man and bought the business. Fong was not a shareholder, but had powers of attorney from his parents and controlled their 49 per cent.

The Dell was rechristened the Oasis Hotel and Fong became general manager.

He accelerated its nose-dive.

Although he disputed it, Fong appeared to bear a grudge against the RCMP because of the way it handled an investigation into $90,000 of missing cash and liquor while he was at the Byrd Pub.

In February 2006, the animosity erupted at a Chinese New Year party for about 20 of his employees and spouses.

Four officers arrived and wanted to know why so many people were still drinking after hours?

A seriously impaired Fong allegedly told them to either “give me a ticket or you f— off out of here. Happy Chinese New Year.”

His friends restrained him.

A month later, several officers arrived at the Oasis to confront a boisterous drunken crowd and demanded to see the hotel’s liquor licence.

During the visit, Fong was manhandled, knocked to the ground, and ended up bruised and bleeding. He was briefly handcuffed.

Several months later, in October, the hotel was shut for health and safety violations because of Fong’s “manifest incompetence.”

He was fired and the hotel sold in late 2006 or early 2007, Blok said.

Fong found a low-level job as a doorman at a Chilliwack hotel, but soon lost it due to his addiction and personal collapse.

In 2009, he was granted WCB benefits for a left shoulder injury and depression, and accepted for a CPP disability pension.

Unfortunately, the following year, Fong squandered $800,000 of his family’s money.

In March 2015, after a court rejected his suit over the investment loss, Fong attempted suicide.

He worked part-time briefly in 2017 and thought about returning to the hospitality industry, but Blok said, “he feels the RCMP would not leave him alone if he did.”

The case was no different than any other personal injury case where some of the injuries or damages claimed have not been proven, Blok maintained.

Although Fong won less than half the amount claimed as costs, the justice said that did not make the award nominal:

“As to the alleged misconduct on the part of (Fong), while he undoubtedly has some personality issues which affected his view of events, he did not proffer his evidence in order to hoodwink the court. His version of events might not have been accepted, but he should not be punished for seeing things as he does.”

The total Fong will receive for costs remains to be determined as the ministry wants them assessed.

“That is another two- to three-day process, and it is a Registrar who will ultimately determine how much the final amount will be,” Fong’s lawyer Paul Kent-Snowsell said.

“It was (and remains) tough slogging given the continued intransigence of the defendants. … I suppose they are trying to show other potential litigants that it will be a fight the whole way — at least, that is my perception.”

The government’s lawyer declined to comment.

[email protected]

twitter.com/ianmulgrew




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11Jun

City council expected to debate policy preventing legal weed sales in DTES

by admin

The debate on a motion proposing easier access for opioid alternatives in the city’s Downtown Eastside is expected to begin again Wednesday, when Vancouver city council meets to discuss policy and strategic priorities.

Submitted by Coun. Rebecca Bligh in late May, the motion titled “Cannabis as an Alternative to Opiates and More Dangerous Drugs on the Downtown Eastside” proposes amending an almost four-year-old exclusion zone keeping medical marijuana from being sold to one of the city’s most vulnerable communities.

“What I’m asking is well-considered exceptions to that rule, and that city staff come back and make recommendations to council,” Bligh told CTV News Vancouver in an interview Tuesday.

Vancouver’s city council approved a restrictive licensing regulation for “medical-cannabis” dispensaries in the Downtown Eastside in 2015, prohibiting marijuana sales on any properties that do not have a property line on either Hastings or Main streets.

In her motion, Bligh suggests the idea behind this exclusion zone was to limit the amount of cannabis being sold to a significantly vulnerable subset of the population. This decision was made before the opioid crisis set in however, and since April 2016, the councillor says more than 3,600 people have died in B.C. due to overdose, including 1,000 people in Vancouver alone.

“I don’t propose this is the right time to simply dismiss the exclusionary zoning, even though studies show in North America exclusionary zoning … it’s just not the best way to go about city planning,” said Bligh.

The councillor cites a study by University of British Columbia cannabis science specialist Dr. M-J Milloy, which showed hard drug users respond better to marijuana than opioid substitution treatment plans.

“We’re hearing form frontline workers and they’re dealing day to day with what’s happening in the Downtown Eastside, and I’ve heard from countless people that this is absolutely something we need to be taking proactive action on,” she said.

As it stands, there are four locations in the DTES with approved Development Permits from the city. Bligh contends, however, that in order to move forward with the mandatory provincial licensing application phase, they would need to shut down with no guarantee they’d be able to re-open. 

The councillor says the city should acknowledge the research done and funded by UBC and Simon Fraser University to ensure policies aren’t restricting a “progressive program” that could help people in the Downtown Eastside.

Referring to Milloy’s research, Bligh says shutting down those shops in the Downtown Eastside would limit people’s ability to access affordable legal marijuana, which could result in them turning back to opioids.

She adds that before the legalization process took hold,  a medicinal cannabis shop was able to sell at prices between three and six dollars per gram, which she says is affordable for people on disability or social assistance programs.

“As the recreational use of cannabis and the licensing that goes with that comes into effect, so does management of the supply chain, and management of the margins,” said Bligh. “Now we’re looking at these shops opening up and their market value for cannabis is now $12-15 per gram, which is totally unaffordable for people on limited income.”

This could effectively rob DTES residents and drug users of access to retail cannabis for the foreseeable future, the councillor claims.

The motion argues that both the Vancouver Overdose Prevention Society and High Hopes Social Enterprise, a DTES support and sustainability organization, support low-cost, legal cannabis options backed by Dr. Evan Wood, the executive director of the BC Centre on Substance Use, as well as Dr. Mark Tyndall, Executive Medical Director for BC Centre for Disease Control, and Dr. M-J Milloy.

Bligh said she believes the city and Vancouver Coastal Health have an opportunity to good for a large group of people working together, however admitted it could be difficult for the health organization to endorse a motion that affects a smaller, yet high-need group of the population.

“Evidence is leaning towards this as a viable recommendaiton and option towards harm reduction, but this would be far too soon for Coastal Health to eb able to bless that, and we deeply respect the work they do,” the councillor said.


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16Oct

Kamloops votes to support licence for B.C.’s first legal pot store

by admin

KAMLOOPS — So it begins. Recreational pot is legal in Canada and B.C.’s lone government-sanctioned store, in Kamloops, opens its doors at 10 a.m. Wednesday with unanimous support from city council.

The site of a former Dollar Store, adjacent to a Save-On-Foods on Summit Drive, has become ground zero for legalization in B.C. Elsewhere in the province, local governments await applications for government and private stores from the province for their own vetting, before public consultation and rezoning that could take up to 18 months in some cases.

On Tuesday, Kamloops city council voted unanimously to support the retail cannabis business licence for the B.C. government store — ‘No. CAN00001’, officially — a last-minute approval which had been expected to pass with little or no protest.

Coun. Denis Walsh recused himself from discussion and voting because of his own pending application for a cannabis store. A lone speaker raised questions about the store’s $5,000 business licence but there were no public comments otherwise. Staff told council they received no public submissions regarding the application.

“History has been made,” Mayor Ken Christian said after a quick vote, to a few chuckles and no celebration.

Later, Christian said he felt the cannabis store faced little resistance because council did good public consultation and city staff’s guidance on the file was effective.

Christian doesn’t expect a surge in tourism and believes interest in the store will cool off within months, when others open, he said. Still, he finds it curious that people have begun referring to his city as “Kamsterdam,” he added.

“There’s a lot of speculation about lineups and people driving from afar,” he said.

“Let’s be realistic. You can obtain cannabis in Kamloops, you can obtain it in Vernon or Kelowna, so I think to drive here for this novelty would be somewhat of a mistake, but that said there will be other municipalities that follow the lead of Kamloops.”

Early Tuesday, contractors made finishing touches to the facade beneath the store’s glowing white B.C. Cannabis Store sign in anticipation of the opening.

On Tuesday afternoon, B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch spokeswoman Viviana Zanocco spoke with locals outside the store about the opening, while staff inside unsealed dried cannabis and put it inside “sniff jars,” so customers can see and smell product up close.

“The energy is amazing, everybody’s just so excited,” Zannoco said. “A little bit of exhaustion is setting in because we’ve been preparing for weeks and months.”

The BCLDB has delayed media tours of the store’s interior until Wednesday morning before it opens to the public, but Zanocco expects customers will be impressed.

The first thing they will notice is the store’s front windows, made opaque by frosted film depicting trees and mountain peaks. A blue security strobe light and alarm siren hangs over the front door, which is monitored by a security camera.

A departure from pot shops, which are often cash-only, a sign near the entrance indicates the new store accepts Mastercard, Visa, American Express and Interac.

Everyone who enters is greeted by a staffer who asks for two pieces of ID — one government, the other something with the customer’s name — regardless of their apparent age. After the ID check, they walk through a second door and are met by staff who ask them a few questions about what products they seek, and chat with them about possession laws and safe consumption.

Signs inside the store provide information about cannabis, including explanations of THC, CBD, indicas, sativas and terpenes. Large flatscreen monitors serve as menus for the store’s 85 dried-flower varieties as well as oils, capsules and pre-rolled joints, with information about pricing.

After a customer decides, they fill out an order slip and bring it to a staff member to be fulfilled.

Zanocco said the BCLDB “hired people from the current dispensary world, so people who know the product and have been using and or selling until recently came to work for us.

“They helped us purchase the strains … and led some of our education sessions.”

Dave Jones, business-licence inspector and property-use coordinator for Kamloops, described the store’s interior as similar to an Apple Store, with plenty of glass and shining chrome.

While he wasn’t able to provide too many details, Jones said he was impressed by the store’s focus on customer education and its modern, inviting design.

“It’s nice and clean and bright,” he said. “It’s kind of like a high-end jewelry store.”

He expects it to be more than ready for the public on Wednesday.

“Any new business, there’s always going to be a hiccup or two, but I think from what I’ve seen — with the amount of time and effort the province put in — they want to be ready.”

The store will be open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

[email protected]

twitter.com/nickeagland

 




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