Saturday, May 19, 2012

A tiny victory!

Good Day Readers:

Spent the morning and a good part of the afternoon at the Douglas pre-Inquiry which is not expected to formally get underway until approximately September. Prior to then there will be other meetings focusing on procedural considerations.

We've read the Winnipeg Free Press, Winnipeg Sun and CBC Manitoba accounts and will be sharing some information with you not covered in them probably because they're unaware of this latest development..As noted, the 5-Member Review Committee made up of judges from across Canada has agreed Mr. Chapman will receive funding to retain counsel to assist him in the preparation of a written application seeking intervener standing once the actual inquiry begins. Whether his financial support to retain legal representation will extend beyond that remains an open question.

He're what we can share. Alex Chapman was approached during a break in the proceedings by a Winnipeg-based solicitor who has offered their services. However, as this is being written the two had not yet agreed in principle. It is preferable at this time we not name the lawyer, however, we are quite familiar with their work - they are very good.

At one point Alberta Chief Justice Catherine Fraser asked if anyone else wished to address the Panel. Two ladies did neither of whom had made previous written application for standing. Their situations are similar in that both involve child custody cases currently before Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench. Yes they were nervous because they never expected to be given the opportunity to speak before the Panel and, therefore, had not prepared any written comments - off the cuff as it were.

You had to admire their courage standing before 5 powerful judges to talk about their frustrations with the court system and what they perceive as bias against women in these types of cases. They were advised that if they wished standing they would have to formally apply in writing.

What was interesting is one of them has appeared before Justice Douglas in the past on several occasions and expressed concern and frustration over ACJ (Associate Chief Justice) Douglas' decision making. Her custody battle is still ongoing. We hope she will make formal application for intervenor standing.  

A Tiny Victory

As noted in the CBC Manitoba coverage, CyberSmokeBlog was also allowed to present. We offered the Panel two options - our short versus long argument. The former was based on two key considerations:

(1) As a layperson no guidelines or direction was provided by the independent counsel (Guy Pratte, Borden Ladner Gervais) charged with representing the public interest. We were simply instructed to set out in writing the reasons we felt our request for standing should be granted

(2) Perhaps more importantly, both the responses from Mr. Pratte and Sheila Block/Molly Reynolds (Partner/Associate, respectively, Toronto-based Tory's LLP counsel to ACJ Douglas) called for the Panel to dismiss our request while noting that since the inquiry's terms or reference (also referred to as the notice of allegations) had not yet been set forth it was premature to decide issues such as intervener status.

Going in we were quietly confident having had a lawyer review our argument which they deemed as very good. Therefore, we asked the Panel for leave to re-submit our application once the terms of reference had been decided. The longer argument we explained involved going through Mr. Pratte and the Block/Reynolds correspondence point by point which we had come prepared to do.

We knew our chances were good because when asked by Chairwoman Fraser both sides had no objection in allowing us to re-submit. The Panel adjourned and came back with the decision, yes, we could resubmit which we plan to do. A tiny victory but nevertheless a victory. CyberSmokeBlog must now wait to receive the terms of reference.

Today's proceedings were electronically recorded. We were advised by the court clerk that it should take approximately 1-2 weeks but once transcribed they will be available on the Canadian Judicial Council's website.

It was brought to our attention that under The Judges Act Lori Douglas' legal fees will be paid by the inquiry even if she is found guilty of professional misconduct. We will be seeking clarification whether this is accurate.

CyberSmokeBlog will also be looking into the issue of public accountability. Given taxpayers will ultimately pay for the Douglas Inquiry is there a requirement for public disclosure of its cost and how detailed must it be? But one example, legal fees?

Clare L. Pieuk


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