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Tragedy and the law

Editorial Obiter

Death and suffering is an inescapable element of the human condition. Lately, there have been far too many relentlessly awful events in the headlines. 

After a tragedy occurs, in some cases, the law can be a powerful tool for holding people accountable for unnecessary loss of life and suffering. In other cases, it can protect bodies that are under attack for their role in a devastating matter. In this particular issue, various stories look at different permutations of the legal process following a tragedy. There’s coverage of a recent hearing at the Ontario Court of Appeal. 

In it, lawyers are challenging the findings of a judge who did not certify a proposed $2-billion class action launched after 1,130 workers were killed in a 2013 plaza collapse in Bangladesh. 

Lawyers for the appellants in Das v. George Weston Ltd. argued that Superior Court Justice Paul Perell was wrong to order $2.3 million in costs to the defendants in the matter, which included Canadian companies such as George Weston Limited, Loblaw Companies Limited and Joe Fresh Apparel.

Then there’s our coverage of a $1.8-billion class action application launched earlier this year. It alleges that the federal government segregated thousands of Indigenous people in “Indian hospitals,” where they suffered abuse. Lawyers say the hospitals case could reach resolution in a shorter timeline than previous cases involving Indigenous Canadians, like a settlement with survivors of the Sixties Scoop.

But there are more hopeful notes as well, some on a very individual level. After a recent van attack in Toronto that killed 10 people, a lawyer whose office was near the incident, Young Lee, launched a charity initiative to raise funds for the victims and their families. As another piece explores, there’s been an increase in the number of Indigenous courts that deal with criminal matters in Ontario, with five starting since 2014 in Brantford, Cayuga, St. Catharines, Ottawa and Thunder Bay.

“There’s a large Indigenous population here and I think to have a court that really understands and values the unique cultural differences within the court, I think that’s important,” says Stephanie Bean, a lawyer who’s the senior manager for the Gladue Caseworker program in Ottawa for Aboriginal Legal Services. As the world changes and evolves, the law can adapt and evolve with it.

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