Cornwall Ontario – Cornwall Lawyer Milena Cardinal may not be a great lawyer, but she once posited that we journalists needed to spend more time in the courts because lawyers, justices, and the system can brutalize lives. She even went on about how police lie on the stand frequently. Of course spending time and reporting on court cases is very resource heavy, and many newspaper budgets have been shrinking rather than growing.
So when informed about our own City Councilor Bernadette Clement was litigating at a Human Rights Tribunal I was of mixed thoughts. Firstly the running gag among other lawyers was that Ms Clement didn’t actually “practice” the law even though she’s now the poobah at the former SD&G Legal Clinic, but now named after Roy McMurtry who by all accounts was in fact a good lawyer who eventually became a government minister.
Ms Clement’s practice is essentially paid for by the public. So while most lawyers hourly or block rates are decided by market conditions; location, reputation, etc, or in instances where a lawyer takes a contingency fee (as much as 35% in some cases) where they feel that there is a good chance for success, but the client can’t afford the costs of mounting a trial, Ms Clement gets her legal aid fees whether she wins or loses thanks to the residents and government of Ontario.
Legal Aid of course is there to help those of us that simply can’t afford basic legal support which is very expensive.
From the Legal Aid website:
If a person is dismissed from his/her job, or forced out of his/her job, and he/she was not at fault, then that person has been “wrongfully dismissed.” Damages can be claimed in Superior Court, as well as in Small Claims Court. The Clinic provides advice only with respect to this area of the law. We do not represent clients in court.
Legal Aid of course is limited, again to those with little to no income and for very specific purposes.
Areas of law where we provide help
- Criminal legal matters – You have been arrested, have done something illegal or are in trouble with the law.
- Family – You need help for legal issues such as separation, support, access or custody of children; or you would like to try and solve these or other family issues together, outside of court, through mediation.
- Refugee/immigration – You are entering or remaining in Canada as an immigrant or refugee
The plaintiff, Ms Clement’s client, had worked for a Cornwall Business for many years. She’s “quit” several times without ever being fired. She elected to return at least two times according to her testimony. Her salary was over double the Cornwall average while working for the defendant; clearly by far over the amount to qualify for Legal Aid.
Again, only in rare cases would someone be allowed to get legal aid in a case of this nature. The website clearly says that Small Claims or Superior Court are the route for employment issues such as this however the plaintiff never attempted that route because she said it was too expensive.
She was asking for $94,000 in compensation plus a letter of apology. The defendant had spent over $40,000 defending the case because as he stated to this writer when asked why:
I gave her enough. I helped her get a mortgage for her house, gave her forgivable loans, a car, a washer and dryer, even tires for her kid. It’s enough.
Those items and amounts were substantiated by the plaintiff when questioned by Ms Clement and the defendant’s lawyer.
Ms Clement meanwhile had offered previous to the hearing to settle on behalf of her client for only $4,000 plus an apology which the defendant again refused on principle. He clearly valued his name and reputation highly, and clearly stated a feeling of injustice at the entire process.
The Human Rights Tribunal Vice Chair, Leslie Reaume after all was being paid by the government, Ms Clement as well, and ultimately his taxes were being used against him to try and gain what someone hearing of the case referred to as a form of extortion.
The fact the the gentleman fights a mental illness and clearly was emotionally stressed during the two days this writer covered the hearing turned the hearing into an odd Kafkaesque experience where it felt like he was convicted before his hearing opened.
In fact Ms Reaume discussed financial remedies after the plaintiff’s testimony and cross examination prior to the defendants.
The Tribunal took place at a Byward Market hotel in Ottawa. The defendant had to wait upstairs, in other words, was not allowed to face his accuser even though no acts of violence or even threat was part of the plaintiffs testimony.
Ms Clement spent the first day asking questions of her client and by early the second day cross examination was over.
The plaintiff’s testimony was pocked with contradictions and odd responses such as when asked why “gender” was part of her claim, she said it was because the defendant had made comment of her weight, as well as claiming sexaul assault/abuse while admitting that the defendant had never touched her or even suggested anything towards her, but that she had alleged he had done so to other women.
The defence lawyer, while being very gentle with the plaintiff clearly established contradictions in her testimony and confirmed that she had resigned from several positions prior to her employment with the plaintiff who she also had quit, but returned several times. When asked why, she simply said that she was a single mother and needed the income. She also had said she couldn’t find other work because she wasn’t bilingual, but then admitted to being able to speak French, and finding a job in Alexandria with Community Living, a government funded agency in a designated francophone community.
In fact her direct manager with Community Living sits next to Ms Clement on the City of Cornwall Ontario City Council.
I asked Ms Clement, who’d already enjoyed a popcorn remark about the hearing after the defendant became ill and left the hearing, for her email address at the legal clinic as it’s not provided on their website and she suggested that I email her via her council address.
Contacted over the weekend she responded that the email was just for council business without providing her clinic email address.
These are the questions I would have asked her. I phoned the clinic in the morning, but it only answers in voicemail.
- Why is it that this case was taken by your clinic when your client clearly is above the income level for legal aid?
- Did you ever discuss this case with Councilor Maurice Dupelle?
- How many Human Rights Tribunal cases have you represented?
- Why did you not simply provide your correct email address when requested so you or your client could answer some basic questions?
- How much has this case cost the taxpayer?
- Why is there no link to the legal clinic’s board of directors on your website or email address?
When it was time for the defendant to tell his story, on the second day of testimony he clearly was physically and emotionally distressed. He was also upset that Ms Reaume had agreed to have the plaintiff also sit upstairs but she instead sat outside of the hearing room within his sight line.
He was rapidly drinking water and complaining of being thirsty and requested to go to hospital and bring back a doctor’s letter which Vice Chair Reaume refused. She instead firmly told him he’d have two hours to testify.
His stress levels increased, his face was turning red, his hands shook as he attempted to drink from a water bottle, and his breathing was rapid. At that point he requested an ambulance which again was refused until finally his lawyer requested that one be called. It appeared that Vice Chair Reaume thought he was faking and essentially stated within earshot of many that she’d wait for paramedics to clear him to continue.
He was helped upstairs to wait and eventually the lawyers, madame chair, and this writer followed, as well as the plaintiff’s daughter who was not asked by the Chair to leave the room where the defendant was in stress.
When the paramedics arrived, at the front door of the hotel, Ms Reaume greeted them personally explaining what had happened and some of his symptoms within full earshot of the front desk staff and others in the lobby.
When asked to answer why she stated that she couldn’t answer media questions.
The paramedics discovered a high pulse rate, high blood pressure, but most disturbing, a blood sugar level of 30 which is close to a diabetic coma.
He was taken immediately by ambulance to hospital, hooked to IV via both his arms, and kept until the next day at an Ottawa hospital.
What’s the link between hypoglycemia and anxiety? A sudden drop in blood sugar deprives the brain of oxygen. This, in turn, causes the adrenal glands to release adrenaline, the “emergency” hormone, which may lead to agitation, or anxiety, as the body’s fight-or-flight mechanism kicks in.
And this is why it’s important for more media to cover more cases. Madame Vice Chair Reaume is a highly thought of academic and legal mind with a long history with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.
In this case why didn’t she simply let the clearly physically and emotionally distressed man go to the hospital and return with a note. Clearly if he had been faking she could take that into account of any decision she might make?
Why did she interrupt his lawyer requesting that he not use people’s names when cross examining the plaintiff when Ms Clement wasn’t sanctioned in the same manner during her client’s entire testimony which included several names in a public forum with media present?
Why did Vice Chair Reaume stop the paramedics in an emergency situation and share private and very personal health info in the front lobby of a hotel with people within earshot?
Clearly the situation was unusual.
Luckily this situation didn’t turn into a fatality or tragedy.
We will be reporting more in depth on this case as we sort through over 200 pages of notes and get some questions answered, as well as wait to see the outcome of this case.
A Human Rights Tribunal, while having the ability to inflict awards like a court, doesn’t have a stenographer like court to get a transcript from. It’s not recorded, nor are recording devices allowed. Maybe it’s time to change that if for no other reason to prevent possible bias and hold adjudicators responsible?
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