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Lawyer stymied in pro bono efforts

|Written By Helen Burnett-Nichols

An Ontario lawyer is voicing his frustration at roadblocks to his plan to offer free legal services to Toronto’s homeless.

Mukhtiar Dahiya doesn’t want to work through an approved organization to get his LSUC fee waived.

The people Mukhtiar Dahiya is looking to help aren’t able to afford the services of a lawyer and can’t get legal aid because of a lack of address and identification, he says.

However, he’s not able to offer his services because the Law Society of Upper Canada won’t waive his licence fee if he volunteers on his own rather than through a charity.

Dahiya, previously a lawyer in India, moved to Canada in the 1990s and attended law school in Ottawa. After finishing his degree in 1995, he did his articles in 1996 with a Toronto firm.

However, an accident soon after left him in failing health, leading him to go on disability and not seek admission to the bar at the time. “I was feeling lonely. Because my grandfather was a barrister and my brothers-in-law are barristers, I know nothing other than practising law. So what I did, I started helping homeless people,” he says.

Dahiya went to the law society for permission to write his bar exam in 2006 and was called to the bar in September of that year. He then started going to court to defend the homeless in summary trials as an agent.

However, because he was on disability, he couldn’t afford his insurance or licensing fee.

Last May, Dahiya sent a letter to Gavin MacKenzie, then treasurer of the law society, explaining his situation along with a request for the LSUC to pay his licence fee so that he could “help these people in the street for free as a volunteer lawyer.”

He says he gave assurances that no money or billing would be involved and that if the law society felt he wasn’t competent or he was in poor health, it should appoint him a mentor.

In June 2008, the LSUC amended two of its bylaws permitting lawyers in the 25- and 50-per-cent fee categories who wish to provide pro bono legal services through approved Pro Bono Law Ontario programs to apply for an exemption from paying the full annual fee. The change mirrored the LawPRO exemption for pro bono practice through PBLO.

Subsequently, Dahiya attended a training session for free duty counsel and another on working as a volunteer lawyer run by PBLO.

He says he told them he wanted to start what he calls the City Law Centre to help people who are “shunned by the legal profession.”

“I will involve social workers and I will help them to return to society. This is what I want to do. I’m an old man, 58 years old, [and] I don’t need money. I have seen everything.”

However, he doesn’t want to join a charity in order to launch his services, something he says he’s been told he would have to do.

“I said no, I won’t join any charity because I know what I want to do. Through charity, I cannot achieve anything. Then I’m their employee, then I’m at their mercy. I want to shake things up because these people, they need a special kind of protection and help.”

PBLO executive director Lynn Burns says the organization can’t comment on whether the law society or LawPRO will amend their rules to facilitate individual lawyers wanting to provide pro bono legal services on an ad hoc basis.

She explains that the law society and LawPRO’s provisions for lawyers volunteering through PBLO-approved programs “are predicated on the understanding that these projects operate according to best practices which guarantee the allocation of sufficient administrative resources to adequately train and support volunteer lawyers on the one hand and ensure that clients receive high-quality legal services provided by competent lawyers in an ethical and professional manner on the other.”

A spokesperson for the law society says the LSUC has no plans to change its current rules that are “designed to ensure that clients receive an appropriate level of legal services provided by fully competent and professional lawyers and paralegals.”

At the moment, Dahiya says he is paying 25 per cent of the law society fee in order to keep his licence.

“They say that if you will practise or you will help or you will talk to destitute people in the street, you are practising, you will pay 100 per cent of the licence fee, and you will have to pay insurance, too, which I cannot,” he says. He adds that besides having his fees waived, he wants free space to run his service, likely from the city or provincial government. “The rest I will manage. No money will be involved at any stage.”

In the meantime, Dahiya says he notarizes documents for senior citizens or anybody who can’t afford representation, not as a lawyer but as a neighbour.

“I just don’t represent them in courts anymore. I don’t tell them that I’m a lawyer. I just tell them that I just have a licence and I have two law degrees,” he says.

His preference, however, is to work with the homeless. “They need help, they deserve help, and their constitutional rights are trampled.”

  • im for Mark Dahiya

    Rose Perri Mark Dahiyas legal
    Mark Dahiyas long time experience as a street legal advocate for the homeless brought him insight into this antiquated corporate elite law profession which is useless in todays social environment..Many years of advocacy sharpened his understanding of the need to revamp the law profession.There are many cases which he dealt with especially that of abused women and children. There are no safeguards in place for the vulnerable who by no fault of their own have not the money for council. In this broken society , the have nots verses the haves will escallate to the point of frustration therefore leaving society aware that lawyers are useless. In this great recession we are experiencing will only add more numbers of jobless and underemployed to the list of people who drop out or become suicidal. The law profession should be a nation building society not one of greed letting its poor citizens fall through the cracks. The middle class avoid lawyers as if they were robber barons. Once in the justice system, this same system can leave you isolated and on the streets homeless holding a tin cup in your hand. The mistrust is everywhere. Give mark Dahiya what he deserves. I am willing to help in his achieving his goals in any way i can.As a social advocate for the church at trinity square , every vigil i attend i see more deaths on the streets. Stop this death by bureaucracy, let Mark Dahiya achieve his nation building goals. Give him a licence insurance fee and a space in an office of volunteer street lawyers. Help his practice take off in every way possible. His selflessness amazes me. Remember justice delayed is justice denied.- Rose Perri
  • Barrie Victims Against Violence

    Cheryl Bullock
    When there are people to help the homeless why stop them? The almighty dollar again is in the way..Give Life A Break! Allow this man to help people...Who is he hurting...obviously no one ecept the receipients of the fees! Open your eyes...these people need help and this man cares...obviously you don't
  • Homeless Shunned--Not

    catherine currie
    I and my colleagues represent homeless people all the time in court. I am frequently appointed as Special Duty Counsel by Legal Aid for the homeless and represent them on bail hearings, trials, etc. and then help them to find homes and services. As well there are any number of criminal defence lawyers who do the same. We pay the LSUC & LPIC fees. Surely these clients are deserving of the same level of professionalism as anyone else accused of a criminal offence. Criminal law, as practiced by many of us, is for the most part poverty law. However, when the system chooses to continue to put its finger on the scales of justice and tip it by increasing salaries of judges, crowns and police and not funding Legal Aid, it becomes difficult to provide defences for both those charged with serious offences and less serious crimes. Is the answer to underfunding Legal Aid, pro bono? Many of my homeless clients suffer from major mental illnesses and deserve to be properly represented in court and connected to the health system and housing. In my view the AG should recognize the rights of these marginalized citizens and properly fund Legal Aid so that when the homeless are arrested and before the justice system they can have the benefit of experienced advocacy. Please give credit to the members of the defence bar who have for many years represented homeless people on Legal Aid Certificates which do not cover the overhead of office and liability insurance but do give homeless people the professional legal services they deserve.
  • How much are these fees?

    It's like $1700, right? Surely we can find 9 of us to fork over $200 apiece. I'm in for $200. Anyone else?
  • I\'m in for $200

    Carol Wolkove
    With respect to the insurance fees, if we can get enough money together to pay them I'm in for $200. Dayiha only needs to pay 50% of the fees as a part time lawyer.
  • disband law society - colonial institution

    It's not only 50% of $1700 license fee, insurance fee is around $ 3000 a year than Ontario Bar fee, Canadian Bar fee and many more expenses hard to count. History is a proof Law profession in Canada has become a tool of the rich and corrupt in society; Canada will be better of without Barristers and Solicitors. Mark Dahiya is a temporary measure needed badly in the present degradation the ultimate goal should be to disband colonial corrupt institution Law Society of Upper Canada - blot on the name of democratic Canada.
  • John Legge
    In the provision of services to the homeless and marginalized, great creativity and diversity are essential. Out of the Cold, the Sally Ann, The Good Shepherd Mission, The Fred Victor Mission, the Good Neighbour's Club - all very different services - all quite essential. One size never fits all.

    Hey LSUC, if on balance Mark Dahiya's work is reasonable, and judges are grateful for his representation of the powerless, Give him an Office, a Licence, Insurance and after 10 years of good work a QC, an LSM and name a Library after him.
  • Editor

    Victor Fletcher
    Mark Dahiya's experience has pointed him in the right direction.

    The homeless are denied access to legal advice -- the Law Society's claims that 'adequate' services in an organization are required for a lawyer before he can speak for them is the whole point.

    So, again there is NO ACCESS for legal advice. The Law Society appears to be content to leave the homeless to sometimes commit suicide as their frustrations drive them to this.
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