Blight Goes Ballistic!—Part I
Something happened to Ms. Margot S. Blight to make her go ballistic on April 29th and 30th 2013.
Velma Demerson Meets Harry Kopyto
Could it have started with the testimony of Velma Demerson on that day? Velma was a witness at Harry Kopyto’s good character hearing before a Law Society (LSUC) Panel chaired by Ms. Blight at Osgoode Hall. Kopyto was in the middle of testifying on his own behalf. Velma was called out of turn because she was leaving to retire in Vancouver the following day. Frail as a delicate willow bending in a strong breeze, 92- year-old Velma traced her way to the witness stand in small steps. And then she told her story to an audience that sat on the edge of their seats listening intently to each of her words.
In a reedy voice, she testified how Harry was the architect of the stunning recapture of her dignity after a 25-year struggle for justice. In 1939, she was imprisoned for almost a year as a teenager in the Belmont Home and later, in Mercer Reformatory, in downtown Toronto. Her crime? Being “incorrigible” under the Female Refuges Act. Why? She was pregnant with the child of a Chinese man whom she wished to marry. For over 40 years, her brain erased memory of that experience, which included being operated on without an anesthetic and giving birth (while imprisoned) to a child who later died. Some years later after her release, she left Toronto for the west coast. She led a new life. She remarried. She raised a family. Life went on.
However, as she turned 60, memory of the horror of what happened to her gushed into her consciousness in a rush. She returned to the scene of the crime—Toronto—about 30 years ago. She began her search for justice. With the help of feminist academics, librarians and historians, she uncovered the paper trail of her personal journey through the darkness of the past. She spent weeks and months in libraries and archives. She mastered the history of the Female Refuges Act that scarred her life, from the law’s origins after the First World War to its final denouement in the 1960s. She developed an expertise in that sexist and racist provincial law that would make professors of history blush with jealousy. But one thing she could not do. Although she knocked on countless doors of law firms, no one would take her case to court. She was rejected as a client by a slew of lawyers she consulted over the years. Each one deemed her case to be hopeless, her rights lost in the fog of time. Then, she met Harry Kopyto…
“I Don’t Know,” Velma Testifies
Within a few short years, culminating in 2002, with Harry’s unpaid political and legal direction, she won a massive public and legal victory. She became a cause célebre. She won the support of the Premier of Ontario and every provincial political party leader, an official apology from the Government, widespread support from the Chinese community, the labour movement, women’s groups and academics and finally, 60 years after the event, favourable financial compensation. Her unusual lawsuit was crafted by Harry. Finally, justice. Velma wrote a well-received book about her treatment. She was a featured speaker at conferences, universities, colleges and high schools. Newspaper articles and television reports told her story which received public attention as far away as Europe and the United States. She became a living memory of dark times and a shining example that justice has no time limit.
In a fond farewell to Velma, Harry, who was questioning her before the LSUC panel, asked her who it was who presented the bouquet of flowers to her at the end of her book-launch attended by close to 100 people at Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel. “You did,” she replied. “May those flowers bloom forever,” Harry responded. And then he asked her one final question: “What would have happened if you hadn’t met me?” Velma thought deeply. “I don’t know,” she responded.
But if Velma didn’t know, Ms. Margot S. Blight knew. Everyone else in the Museum Room at Osgoode Hall knew. Nothing would have happened. They knew that lawyers, even highly esteemed ones with strong radical or humanist backgrounds, like Clay Ruby and the late Charles Roach, saw no perspective for her case. They knew that her suit was launched almost 60 years after the expiry of the limitation period. Impossible to win would have been too kind a phrase. They knew that an arid legal system, bereft of imagination and passion for justice, and a legal profession, obsessed with rule obedience and risk aversion, would have done nothing for her. Everyone turned her down. Except Harry.
Have Pity for Margot—The Pieces Don’t Fit
Velma’s story of Harry’s seminal role in her case did not fit in well with the Law Society’s virulent attack on his character. Have pity on Margot. It’s not easy to fit in a chapter on Velma in the book of moral condemnation that the Blight Panel needs to write to keep Harry from being grandparented as a paralegal. It just doesn’t fit. Blight, chewing nervously on her nails, appeared overwhelmed by Velma’s evidence. So, when Harry returned to the stand, Blight’s short fuse blew with attack dog prosecutor Susan Heakes lighting the match. It set off a pattern of harassment and interference with Harry’s testimony that continued into the second day of hearings.
Remember in March, after a similar fit of uncontrolled hostility, when Ms. Blight promised Harry that she would be on her best behaviour? That she would let him testify without interference for five more days except when the prosecutors raised a valid objection? Forget it. Not that Blight wasn’t sincere. But Ms. Blight is under pressure. Perhaps she is losing her stamina. She needs to cement the Panel members behind her, including one who seems to waiver. This means she needs to discredit Harry. And that may be why Velma’s evidence affirming Harry’s good character touched off an uncontrolled rampage that lasted two days during which Ms. Blight was boisterous, confrontational, grossly insensitive, demeaning, glib, officious, obstructive and clearly losing it. Her hostile ranting finally ended with a profuse shower of apologies at the end of the second hearing day for egregiously trying to shorten Harry’s allotted time on the stand by one day. While Harry politely said no apology was necessary, Blight’s bizarre conduct suggested otherwise.
Ms. Blight Doesn’t Get it
What were some of the highlights of Blight’s obstructive behaviour during the back to back April 29th and 30th hearing days?
For the second time, Blight made an unfeeling, apathetic comment that showed how cold-hearted and abstracted she is. She just doesn’t get it. The first time was last March when she told Harry not to repeat himself. She told Harry, a child of the Holocaust whose nuclear family were the only surviving relatives, that she did not want to hear any further about how “You were born with the taste of ashes in your mouth.” It was a grossly insensitive example from dozens she could have given. But then Blight appeared to try to redeem herself. She promised Harry five days of virtually uninterrupted testimony. But bad habits die hard. On April 30th, she crossed the line again.
In a shocking aside, Blight snarkily claimed that Harry’s views on a legal issue that arose in his evidence were ironic. Why? Because they were similar to those of the late lawyer, Doug Christie. Christie used the defence of truth to defend neo-Nazi clients who deny the Holocaust. Harry defended his right to assert the defence of truth after being charged with contempt (scandalizing the court) for describing the close relationship between the police and courts. Doug Christie was a political activist and lawyer who specialized in defending anti-Semites such as Ernst Zundel and Nazi prison guard Michael Seifert. The Law Society discipline chair, Harvey Strosberg, rejected a complaint against him even though he described statements by Christie as anti-Semitic.
So whose irony was it? Is it Harry’s because he uses a logically correct argument about truth? Or is it Christie’s, who abused such arguments to advance untruth? If there is irony, it lies in the fact that Christie, who was outrageous, was considered sufficiently respectable (i.e., he obeyed Law Society rules) to never be disbarred. On the other hand, Harry, whose “crime” was to have sloppy accounts, but no fraud, has been permanently disbarred as he continues to defend the very people who are similar to the victims of Christie’s racist and fascist clients.
Blight’s recklessly insensitive comment and her strenuous defence of her decision to make it shows how perversely out of touch she is. A more apt comparison would have been with Margaret Atwood and the head of Amnesty International who both rushed to defend Harry’s right to speak truth to power. Prosecutor Heakes’ response to Ms. Blight’s callousness? True to form, she promptly stood up to object—not to the egregious conduct of Ms. Blight but to angrily denounce Harry for arguing with the panel chair. Such is the conformist impulse that governs bureaucrats of the LSUC.
Endless Stream of Wrath and Scorn
Blight intervenes and disputes Harry’s evidence with an endless stream of wrath and scorn. She scolds Harry for repeating evidence but herself repeats comments she had forgotten she had previously made with a shrug. She volunteers, in a bullying and intimidating tone, that she won’t extend Harry’s testimony beyond the allotted five days when nobody asked her, only to suggest his evidence is a waste of time. She expresses surprise at the large number of cases where Harry admits his work exceeds the scope of practice allowed paralegals. She sees this as a sign of bad character rather than Harry’s filling a void created by the LSUC’s failure to make justice accessible to those who can’t afford astronomical legal bills.
She blows her cool. “Don’t tell me how to do my job!” she exclaims when Harry asks her to consult the other two panel members before making a ruling. She reacts as if the fact that her ruling was in Harry’s favour allows her to continue to treat her fellow panelists like chopped liver and make a mockery of Harry’s right to have them participate in the panel’s decisions. She misses the point. However, she has no problem, hypocritically, telling Harry how to defend himself and even preventing him from refuting a hostile witness on grounds of his own choosing.
A favourite ploy of Blight involves making a hostile ruling, usually under pressure from the prosecution whom she seldom reins in. She then unfairly refuses Harry the right to respond. When Harry questions her refusal to hear him, she accuses him of arguing with her. Hence, he’s “ungovernable”. This routine plays over and over like a tired rerun of an old Marx brothers’ shtick. It’s nothing more than a cheap and transparent contrivance more sad then clever.
Blight Plays Schoolyard Games
Blight plays schoolyard games. She “owes” him 35 minutes to replace Velma’s time as a witness. (No, thanks.) She lets him choose when the breaks take place. (Ah, such munificence!) She castigates him and puts on the record when he is late. But she herself has yet to appear on time for the start of the hearings. She speaks down to him. She distorts his evidence. She pontificates with him and comments frequently in an injudicious manner.
Blight went off the record and falsely accused Harry of wasting “most of the day” on April 30th. When challenged by Harry over this accusation, she referred to his testimony about his prosecution by both the Law Society and the Ontario government in the 1980s. As mentioned earlier, Harry described the relationship between the police and courts as being “stuck together with Krazy Glue.” He was charged with a form of contempt. Harry’s successful defence on the criminal charges of scandalizing the court resulted in this feudal law being abolished on appeal for denying freedom of expression under the Charter. Harry’s evidence that Blight said was a waste of time focused on the massive support for him in his defence within the legal profession and the public at large to the embarrassment of the legal elite that the Law Society represents. Even a younger Blight attended a wine and cheese party held by the University of Toronto Faculty of Law to celebrate Harry’s victory in his honour. This historic victory catapulted Harry into a popular public figure in the media. He was hailed as a champion of free speech with no less than nine editorials in Toronto newspapers backing him.
But Big Law also reads the papers, Big Law also watches the news. Big Law is obsessed with public perception. Very soon after, Harry’s challenge to authority became a prelude to his disbarment which the Law Society engineered on false charges of overbilling the Legal Aid Plan. The fact that Legal Aid paid out all Harry’s accounts after his disbarment, thus exposing the Law Society’s fraudulent case against him, became an insignificant footnote. Eventually, it was Harry’s disbarment which resulted in the decision to invoke the good character hearing before Blight to stop him from continuing to work as a paralegal as he has since 1989.
A Stream of Bullying Bluster
Ms. Blight demands that Harry explain why he dwelt on this history. “We can read it, Mr. Kopyto,” she said, referring to articles and reports Harry was using to illustrate his points. “Then why are we having a hearing since you can read everything?” Harry asked. Harry then described his testimony as “evidence”. He said that it supported his theory that he was a victim of systemic bias by the Law Society rooted in its history of antagonism with him. He said that such bias continues to the present. He said that such bias stretched back to Big Law’s humiliating historic defeat over his victory for freedom of expression. And he pointed out that his evidence was far from a waste of “most of the day” as it was given in a short time in the afternoon.
That’s when Blight went ballistic. Blight went off the record. She confronted Harry in a burst of emotional angst. On her face, almost in anguish, you could see how Harry’s evidence deeply disturbed her. She immediately segued into a rescheduling mode. She insisted that Harry was allotted only one day of additional evidence to give when he actually had two. She persisted with a loud and uncontrolled stream of bullying bluster even when the prosecutors expressed agreement with Harry. She quickly set five additional hearing days between August 29th and September 11th on top of the four scheduled days of hearings during May and June. It was only minutes later when she was confronted with a transcript of her own words spoken during a March hearing allowing Harry two more days to testify that Blight conceded her embarrassing error in a profuse series of apologies. It was definitely not one of her better days. But even to a disbeliever of Freud, Blight’s subconscious mistake clearly shows an unrestrained desire to silence Kopyto whose words evoke such a raw response from deep inside her psyche.
TO BE CONTINUED. READ “BLIGHT GOES BALLISTIC-PART II” on FRIDAY MAY 10, 2013.
Harry Kopyto is back before the Law Society Hearing Panel next Thursday May 16, 2013 at 9:30 a.m. in the Museum Room, Osgoode Hall. Your presence will let the panel know that Harry is not alone in his battle for affordable justice. Support him. Be there.