Galati was representing Abdurahman Khadr, a Canadian man released from a U.S. military holding centre in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who was held on suspicion of
terrorist links. Galati
received a telephone death threat, and as a result, he stepped down from several
national security cases.
of the task force, John McMunagle, a criminal lawyer at McCann Law Offices in
Ottawa, said since the Galati incident there have been the courthouse shootings
in Atlanta, in which a court reporter and judge were fatally wounded, and a
case in Chicago in which the husband and mother of a federal judge were gunned
down in the judge's home.
these cases are extreme, McMunagle said threats against lawyers are common and
happen all the time, but should be taken seriously.
almost used to be badge of honour as a criminal lawyer if you weren't
threatened with death on a regular basis. I know it's funny, and at the time I
thought it was funny too, but not anymore. The climate has changed," he said.
the other hand, I don't want the impression to be that lawyers are running
around like scared little rabbits running to the police all the time. No, in
fact, the exact opposite is the truth from our work on this task force. Lawyers
don't want to report it.
sort of this machismo, I don't know what the gender-neutral term is, that 'I'm
tough. My client threatened me.' It's almost like a one-upmanship in talking to
some of my colleagues privately and what I'm trying to make people understand
is it's time to get this issue out of the closet."
said it's not just criminal lawyers who should be increasing their level of
awareness about personal safety. Through the work of the task force, he said
they found most incidents arose in a family law context.
handbook, which has been sent out to the OBA's more than 15,000 members,
details how to understand and react to various threats, how to prevent
harassment, what to do if someone is following you, and precautions you can
take to protect yourself at home.
we wanted everyone to understand was we're not talking about someone putting a
gun to your head," McMunagle said. "That can happen and if that's going to
happen, frankly, there's very little anyone can do about it. What we're talking
about primarily is the verbal threats, the e-mail threats, this type of thing.
It happens all the time the thing is people just blow it off. . . .
message is 'we're tired of being threatened and we're not going to take it
anymore.' The days of having it swept under the carpet or slide down our back
are over and that's the point."
issue of courthouse security in the province is also important, he said. Under
the Police Services Act, courthouse security is the responsibility of the local
municipal police force or the Ontario Provincial Police, which means security
standards and practices vary from location to location.
could walk into the Ottawa
courthouse loaded, fully armed and loaded and walk into any damn courtroom and
nobody's going to stop you. That has to stop. I'm sorry, it's unfortunate that
we're turning our courthouses into the American model but that's the way it
is," he said.
noted that there have been thefts occurring in the unlocked barristers lounge
at the courthouse in Ottawa.
Although it's not a violent threat, he said its important to be observant and
aware at all times.
if I see someone and I don't recognize them, I ask them 'Are you a lawyer? I
don't know you." And if they're not then 'What are you doing here? Get the hell
out.' Just something as simple as that," he said.
said that all things aside, he still feels courthouses in the province are a
safe place to work.
are dozens of armed police officers on any given day, so am I worried? No. Am I
cautious, am I aware? Yes.
courthouses are safe. We want to make them even safer."
appreciates that some of the information in the handbook may seem alarmist to
some, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
just don't want to wait until some lawyer, judge, or courthouse official gets
seriously injured, or worse killed, before we do something about it," he said
of the work of the task force.
personally don't care because how do I look a colleague's spouse in the eye or
child in the eye when something happens? And that's the point. It's not a
question of if it's going to happen, it's a question of when in my opinion. I
don't mean to sound paranoid but we can't ignore the reality that this is a
different world and people have access to weapons."
noted that the OBA has committed funds for the coming year to ensure the task
force can continue to develop safety programming and support tools.
five-hour Webcast of a recent personal security seminar will be the OBA's Web
site (www.oba.org) free of charge for members and for a nominal fee for