Editorial: Bay Street steps up to the plate

Bay Street firms stepped up to the plate last week for people struggling with the legal system.

Those accused of wrongdoing by the Ontario Securities Commission might not be the obvious people in need of free legal help, but lots of them can’t afford legal representation or go without it.

Of course, with the hefty fees the most prominent securities lawyers charge, it’s not surprising that even the wealthiest people would struggle to pay for representation before the regulator. According to the OSC, in fact, 70 per cent of respondents go without counsel.

It’s good then, to see the OSC and several Bay Street firms come out with a new litigation assistance program for unrepresented respondents. The program will provide volunteer counsel for certain parts of OSC enforcement proceedings. During the one-year pilot, respondents can apply for legal help to get through pre-hearing conferences, settlement conferences, and hearings on sanctions and costs.

James Camp of Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP, Gillian Dingle of Torys LLP, and Usman Sheikh of the OSC’s enforcement branch conceived and developed the program. The working committee includes Paul Le Vay of Stockwoods LLP and Joel Wiesenfeld, also of Torys.

News of the program came the same week that Miller Thomson LLP announced it’s looking at a constitutional challenge, possibly through a class action, against the federal government for its treatment of injured soldiers.

The concern relates to the new veterans’ charter that altered the way the government compensates wounded soldiers. While the government announced improvements to the benefits last year in light of criticism over the lump-sum payments it had earlier introduced, concerns remain over the adequacy of the compensation and the perception that the changes are more about cutting costs.

Personal injury lawyers had already offered to help veterans when the issue came to light last year, but now Miller Thomson is adding its legal resources to the efforts.

What’s also interesting, however, is that the firm wants to help injured soldiers with their transition to civilian jobs as well, according to a story in the Toronto Star. The effort is a good example, then, of lawyers going beyond their usual scope to do even more to help their clients.

The two announcements won’t do much to address the broader concerns about equity in our justice system, particularly at a time when protesters in the various Occupy movements are voicing their opinions on inequality in Canada, but they do show that lawyers are getting involved. As worries about the economy grow, let’s hope we see more examples like these ones.
— Glenn Kauth

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