Kopyto continues to testify before the Law Society Panel judging his character back-to-back on Tuesday November 6, 2012 and Wednesday November 7, 2012. The same place—Osgoode Hall, Museum Room at Queen and University. Same time—9:30 a.m. Same shtick.
If you are keeping count, it is probably the 60th day or so of hearings. The Panel is impatient. Kopyto is being rushed along by Panel Chair, Margot Blight. The Panel is anxious to execute its writ. Kopyto is the last man standing or a dead man walking, depending upon how much confidence you have in the ability of the Panel to admit somebody to continue to practice as a paralegal who does not fit into the Law Society’s cookie-cutter mold.
While the rush to end the Kopyto hearings is on (Wink! Wink! He just wants to stretch it out so that he can continue working as a paralegal!), the Panel seems totally oblivious to the fact that the Law Society Old Boy’s Club took two years before initiating the hearings after he applied to be grandparented. It is totally oblivious to the fact that two previous panels, one self-admittedly biased and the other, openly and unabashedly hostile, self-imploded.
Kopyto is taking his time, meticulously establishing—largely through public records such as legal cases and newspaper and magazine articles—his lifelong commitment to making the legal system that he has been part of since 1970 responsive to the needs of working people, of minorities, of women, of gays, of the young, of the elderly, of the poor, of the disabled, of victims of police abuse, of tenants and of every other group that does not have the power and influence to get justice from a system dominated by Big Law and Big Money.
Shakers and Movers Against the Shaken and Moved
His evidence is telling and compelling. Kopyto has always fought the shakers and movers who run the legal system against those whom they shake and move. True, it may not be the best optics to try to win accolades from the three panel members appointed by the legal potentates chosen by Big Law to represent its interests. But, nevertheless is convincing proof of his moral fortitude.
Although mandated by law to represent the “public interest”, that phrase means just about anything the Panel may want it to mean. For Harry, it means organizing the first protest against the War Measures Act in 1970. It means fighting the first gay rights case in the legal history of Canada and eventually winning inclusion of gays and lesbians under the Ontario Human Rights Code. It means fighting precedent-setting cases for workers fired for trying to organize unions. It means winning the most important freedom of the press case in the last 50 years in the Supreme Court of Canada. It means protecting the right of private prosecution when the Ontario government tried to stop Kopyto from charging RCMP officers for their admitted criminal acts—once again before the Supreme Court of Canada. It means prosecuting crooked cops to the point where courts have been forced to find them guilty of perjury.
It means organizing lawyers on numerous issues from defending Henry Morgantaler in his early struggles to legalize the right of choice to convincing them to volunteer hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of legal services to prosecute RCMP officers who admitted committing criminal acts as part of the RCMP Security Service in the 1960s and 1970s. It means playing a critical role in the founding of the Law Union of Ontario which continues to encourage a socially conscious bar and has the support of hundreds of lawyers. It means getting recognition of sexual harassment of women workers as a workplace hazard under the Occupational Health and Safety Act as a means of obtaining timely justice unavailable to them otherwise. It means representing the orphaned children who were subjected to sexual abuse by the Christian Brothers in Mount Cashel, Newfoundland.
Kopyto’s Case Ends “Scandalizing the Court” Law
It means winning the right of lawyers to advertise so consumers of legal services would know what fees they charge. It means representing victims of police abuse before several inquests. It means fighting and expanding the rights of disabled persons denied universal access in housing and transportation. It means Kopyto’s willingness to sacrifice his freedom and risking jail by publicly describing the relationship between the police and the courts as being stuck together with Krazy-glue. For this uttered quote, reported in the Globe & Mail in the mid-1980s, Kopyto was found guilty of contempt by a Judge. Eventually, his historic and internationally acclaimed constitutional challenge to the anachronistic “scandalizing the court” law succeeded before the Ontario Court of Appeal, abolishing this law forever on grounds that it denied freedom of expression. It means being instrumental in winning dozens and dozens of precedent-setting cases over a period of 38 years against those with power and influence on behalf of those who have neither.
Yet this history of near-total devotion to social justice, equal rights and civil liberties may mean nothing to the Panel members whose glazed attention is focused on Harry’s admitted willingness to assist clients in the high courts—clients who don’t have the money to pay lawyers astronomical fees—in breach of the Law Society’s own restrictive rules on unauthorized practice.
Kopyto’s struggle continues. The public has an interest in the outcome. The “public interest” demands that Kopyto, and others like him, be allowed to continue his lifelong pattern of fighting for real justice. Kopyto practices what he preaches while the backroom boys who control Big Law use every lawyer’s trick to pretend they are protecting the public when they are, too often stuffing their own pockets with lucre and expanding their monopolistic control over the provision of legal services, thereby driving up legal costs to the point where the vast majority of Canadians cannot afford to exercise a right that should be fundamental in a free and democratic society.
The Best Defense is an Offence
Kopyto believes that the best defence is a good offence. Therefore, he is launching a constitutional challenge to the relevance of the unauthorized practice rules of the Law Society—to the evaluation of his character before the Law Society Hearing Panel. He will argue that these rules restrict the constitutional principle of access to justice which his clients cannot afford to exercise except through his assistance. In the meantime, he is also pursuing an appeal of the Panel’s decision last year refusing to overturn the takeover of the paralegal profession by the Law Society. This coming November 26th has been set as the hearing date for his appeal. The takeover, approved by the Ontario legislature in 2006, crowned the expansionist drive by the legal profession to monopolize the provision of legal services in Ontario. This takeover by lawyers of their more affordable paralegal competitors allowed Big Law to drive up the cost of legal services even more thereby denying the public access to affordable justice.
Kopyto – and justice – needs your presence to watch the watchers and to judge the judges on November 6th and 7th as much now as ever. The knives are being sharpened. The gallows are strung. The odds are not great but the struggle itself is liberating.
Your presence as an audience at the upcoming hearings helps inhibit the elitist legal establishment from crushing one of its fiercest opponents. Simply by being present, you play a role in shedding light on a process that seeks to perform its dirty work in dark corners. Be there.
Harry Kopyto Defence Committee