Blight is Trying to Walk on Water
Shall we laugh or cry? That is the real question arising out of Margot Blight’s written decision not to recuse herself as Chair of Harry Kopyto’s good character Hearing Panel.
It took Margot Blight six and a half months―until March 12, 2014― to release her reasons. It’s a good thing you didn’t hold your breath. If there was any doubt about her bias and conflict, it’s dissipated by her twisted excuses.
Is there a conflict of interest? Blight says no. But how does she get around the fact that she represented the Catholic School Board that Mike Giftopoulos, a key witness for Harry at the hearing before her, claims discriminated against him by refusing him to work full-time hours? And the fact that her colleague still represents the Board? The answer, she pleads, is simple. She has built a “conflict wall” to ensure that she has no further involvement in the case.
Remember, please, that no adjudicator or judge in the history of Canada has ever used such an argument to justify staying on a case. Even lawyers have problems arguing that they can oppose a former client in the same matter by establishing “conflict barriers”. Blight is not only skating on thin ice―she is actually trying to walk on water.
And what, exactly, Ms. Blight, have you done to establish these “conflict barriers” as you call them? What have you done that has now “isolated” you from further involvement? Are we not entitled to know? Apparently not. No details are given. Nothing is explained. Are we just to trust you? Don’t judges also have rules to ensure transparency? If we don’t know what you’ve done, how can you ever be held accountable?
Blight’s Client is Calling the Shots
And what about your financial interest in the ongoing case against Mike? Yes, you acknowledge that it is “fair to assume that the chairperson [Margot Blight] has a financial interest of some kind.” Are we not entitled to know the nature of that financial interest? Isn’t that knowledge critical to determining whether your financial conflict is serious enough to impair your competence to assess Mike’s evidence objectively? Once again, Blight rejects the “suggestions that those financial arrangements should be disclosed…” Why? Apparently, “they are privileged.” In other words, Blight’s client, the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic School Board from whom she is “isolated”, is calling the shots by refusing to divulge its financial arrangements with her. So Blight denies Harry access to the details of the financial interest that she admits she has in her firm’s case against Mike. And that’s the end of that.
We pinch ourselves in this Alice in Wonderland world of Blight’s twists and turns and ask ourselves: Is this for real?
Hang on, now. In case you still think there is a thread of logic in Blight’s reasoning, how about this zinger?
“One might speculate that the Chairperson’s [Blight’s] financial interest would be served by the candidate [i.e., Harry Kopyto] continuing to act in the human rights matter, as it is well known that he does not shy away from lengthy hearings.” So now Blight’s financial interest, which she refused to disclose in detail, drives her into Harry’s corner. Such bitter reasoning makes the Muse of Logic cry. Remember that Roman maxim, “Those whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first make mad”? Here is the proof, in technicolour.
There’s more. Blight now considers if her previous professional engagement against Mike gives rise to an appearance of bias. She relies on a case in which a Law Society adjudicator refused to resign because some witnesses were other lawyers or judges that he had dealt with professionally in other cases as a lawyer. There isn’t a single case, however, in Canadian law where a judge presided on a case that required him to assess the evidence of a witness that she or he had opposed. And moreover, in the same matter. That is a totally different kettle of fish.
Blight’s Cold-Hearted Role is Relevant
Further, Blight writes in her decision that her opposition to Mike had nothing to do with Harry. But isn’t that precisely why Harry agreed to act for Mike and to act for free―because of her and her client’s discrimination against Mike―because Mike needed Harry’s professional skills to take them on, because Mike’s case had clear merit and because of Harry’s commitment to justice in his case? Aren’t these all emphatically relevant to assessing Harry’s character? The Law Society has not disputed some of this evidence, but the Panel is not bound by their positions and is obligated to make its own assessment. So how can Blight argue, with a straight face, that her role in Mike’s case and its merits are not relevant? In fact, has Blight not allowed each of Harry’s other clients to detail their cases and their merits? Has Blight not allowed the only client called against Harry and all the lawyers called as witnesses by the Law Society to detail their cases and their merits? Why, all of a sudden, is Mike’s case and, more importantly, Blight’s cold-hearted role in pursuing it against him, irrelevant to assessing Harry’s character?
Ask the Right Question, Ms. Blight
And what about the appearance of bias arising out of Blight’s access to the Board’s information about Mike? She even admits that there may be “some basis for a concern…that it would cause her to lend less credence to his evidence…” But off she goes again, marshalling every possible argument, valid or not, to prove the purity of her objective mind. She had limited interaction with Mike. Her “relationship with Mike” is not a “significant” one. It would not result in “an opinion about Mr. G. (why not use his full name?) which would lead her to a negative view of the candidate’s [Harry’s] character.” But ask the right question, Ms. Blight. Could it lead her to a negative view of Mike’s character and influence the weight she would give his testimony? After all, she was paid to make false accusations against Mike in her response to his complaint against the Catholic School Board, couched, of course, in lawyer’s words. These included alleging aggressive conduct to some of his professional colleagues and discounting, without explanation, Mike’s medical reports clearing him to be able to work full-time hours. But, of course, Ms. Blight, balanced and objective as always, (excuse our sarcasm), instead referred to her reference in her response to evidence that the chairperson’s “opinion of Mr. G. was not negative.”
Then she quotes a reference in the response from the Board that was engaged in blatant discrimination against Mike that it has “enormous empathy and personal respect” for Mike. Oh, yea. Then why treat him like garbage? Thanks, but no thanks, Ms. Blight. A self-serving PR stunt.
Finally, Blight describes Mike as a “minor” witness for Harry despite his evidence regarding Harry’s agreement with Mike to work for free, to engage the media in a public airing of his grievances, to use the case as a precedent (which she emphatically acknowledges) and to seek public remedies including:
- Compliance with all Human Right Code jurisprudence relating to accommodation of disabled employees with particular emphasis on ensuring reasonable workload assignments;
- Training and supervision of all the Board’s administrative staff to ensure such compliance;
- Adequate support and counseling at the time of re-entry of disabled workers into the Board’s workforce;
- Empowering joint Health and Safety Committees at the workplace to provide immediate relief upon request from workers alleging discriminatory treatment by management that threatens their health and safety, subject to broad and effective grounds of appeal;
- Monetary relief from the Board to provide for the creation of a fund to ensure ongoing implementation and compliance with the above goals.
These are all remedies Blight and Blight’s firm has a history of opposing. These are remedies Harry has fought for all his professional life.
Aren’t these facts important to prove Harry’s good character? So what makes Mike “a minor witness”?
There is something bizarrely Kafkaesque about Blight’s decision. But there is more that underlines the absurdity of having her clear herself of bias using distorted logic and selective examples that fit into her own script. She goes out of her way to hint that Harry himself is in a conflict. Why? Because he has Mike testifying about his ongoing case in public to serve Harry’s interest in his good character hearing!
So here we are, on the cusp of the last few remaining hearing days in Harry’s case. And we are wandering madly in a strange world of legal constructs with mountains of biases and rivers filled with conflicts of interest. And here is the Law Society judging itself as neutral yet sheltered from reality and knotted in twists and turns full of self-serving excuses.
Blight, the accused (of appearance of bias and conflict) plays the role of Blight, the judge. Blight, the judge, judges herself as innocent and declares herself to be guilt- free. And then Blight, who is now innocent, penalizes Harry, the complainant, with an order for costs for questioning her innocence.
And there is Margot Blight, like the Pied Piper, blithely leading her entourage of devoted panel members into the setting sun on the horizon, with her fingers gaily leaping on her flute, oblivious to the falsity and artifice of her self-deluding serenade in praise of herself.
Should we laugh or cry?