Harry’s Security and Liberty Interest at Stake
On July 7, 2011, the Blight Panel sitting at Osgoode Hall concluded its tenth and likely last day of sittings on preliminary motions brought by Harry Kopyto since January in the proceedings brought by the Law Society (LSUC) to convince the Panel’s three members that he has does not have the good character needed to continue working as a paralegal.
Harry argued before the Panel that it had to be certain of its assessment of his character and not base their decision on evidence that was only probably reliable. He also asked the Panel to place the burden of proof that he lacked good character on the Law Society giving him a presumption of innocence similar to the one in the criminal courts. Kopyto is seeking a ruling that the existing law devised by the LSUC lawyer-appointed panels which denies him such protection, is inapplicable in his case because of his unique situation which requires “fundamental justice” as guaranteed by the Charter.
His argument was that these procedural safeguards are justified because of the seriousness of the personal consequences of a refusal to allow him to continue to work as a legal advocate. He argued that s. 7 of the Charter of Rights protects his “liberty” interest which guarantees freedom and autonomy to make personal choices of fundamental importance in his life. He also argued that the right to “security” of the person protects him from serious psychological harm and infringement of his identity that would befall him if the Panel denied him the right to continue his lifelong pursuit of justice through legal advocacy.
Kopyto outlined how his pursuit of legal advocacy resulted from his personal circumstances. He was born in a Displaced Person’s Camp in Ulm, Germany in 1946 to parents who were the sole survivors from their large families of the Nazi Holocaust. His only other surviving living relative is his older brother. Thus, at a very young age, Harry decided to dedicate his entire life to fight for justice, against war and racism and equal treatment to all.
Harry’s Legal Career is a Weapon for the Disadvantaged
Harry’s legal career resulted in precedent-setting cases that changed existing laws in favour of Blacks, Muslims, women, workers, victims of police abuse, gays and lesbians, victims of gender discrimination and sexual abuse, the physically and emotionally disabled and people discriminated on the basis of age and tenants, to mention only some of his constituencies. Harry was successful in obtaining the largest human rights award in the history of Canada in 1996, in playing the critical role in obtaining the protection of gays under the Ontario Human Rights Code in 1981, in defending sexually abused orphans at Mont Cashel in 1989 and in achieving the leading freedom of the press case in the last 50 years in the Supreme Court of Canada (Gate v Vancouver Sun, 1977). He described to the Panel his role in defending victims of the RCMP’s admitted illegal abuse in the 1970s and 1980s exposed by him before the McDonald and Krever Commissions and his work defending members of the Ottawa Peace Camp in the 1980s.
Harry has a record of using law as a weapon for justice from winning the right of lawyers to advertise their fees to the benefit of consumers to abolishing the criminal “scandalizing the court” law that repressed criticism of the Courts to advocating for Velma Demerson who won a stunning legal victory, apology and compensation in 2003 for being jailed under the racist and sexist Female Refuges Act in the 1930s. Recently, he has represented hundreds of Black and minority members of the Ontario Nurses Association fighting for equal treatment within their union. Harry’s work on these cases, which are only some of the highlights of a 38-year career, has been both as a legal advocate as well as a movement builder and organizer.
No One Holding Their Breath
Kopyto’s legal career combined with social and political activism and working as a public broadcaster who has enjoyed his own TV and radio programs and who often comments on public issues in the media, has been the focus of his life. To disrupt his life choice at this stage by determining he lacks good character without giving due weight to his right to fairness in assessing his right to autonomy and the integrity of his life choices would violate the Charter’s guarantee of fundamental justice. This is the crux of Harry’s motion before the Blight Panel argued on July 7, 2011.
The LSUC prosecutors made, at best, a half-hearted effort to rebut his argument while misconstruing it as an appeal to let him pursue economic rights to practice a profession, not presently protected by the Charter. Blight, however, who had just rejected Kopyto’s appeal to rule in his favour three days earlier on other motions previously argued by him, seemed to appreciate his legal argument. Whether she will reject this Charter challenge, as she has his other constitutional challenge to the paralegal takeover by the LSUC, remains to be seen. However it would take an independent, critical and bold adjudicator to break out of the LSUC mold and ensure real justice for Harry. No one is holding their breath.