Little Fish in a Giant pond

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Black-Focused Schools in Ontario?

Where the Hell did this idea come from? Whenever I hear about an idea that sounds a little bit crazy and off the wall at first glance, I like to make a point of thinking about it for a while and seeing if I might not be giving it a fair chance. However, a recent decision by a Toronto area school board to create an "Afrocentric" school to help combat the dropout rate among black students absolutely makes my skin crawl!
In the interest of being objective, it sounds like officials in Toronto are facing a crisis. If the statistics furnished in the above news article are acurate, they have a 40% dropout rate among black males! That is sickening! But how do we know that black-focused schools are the solution to the problem? Are there any independent studies that suggest this is the way to go?
It would be hypocritical of me not to mention that Ontario has already created entire schoolboards to protect the French speaking and Catholic minorities (I am a graduate of a French Catholic high school - I am neither Catholic, nor of French heritage). However, this is hardly the same thing since both were put in place to prevent the cultural assimilation of our French speaking population (who were almost exclusively Catholic at the time of Confederation).
I see absolutely no problem with offering black history lessons, after all, it's a terrible thing to grow up not knowing anything about your roots. Just the same, until I see some proof that shows otherwise, I have a hard time believing that black-focused schools aren't just a little too drastic. Like John Tory's "faith based schools", they separate people from one another, and since blacks do not face the same dangers of cultural assimilation that Francophones do, I don't see how the benefits could outweigh the disadvantages.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The day lawyers have been waiting for!

Yes folks it's official, you can now sue just about anybody for just about anything, including your own criminal acts! It is a day that we in the legal profession have been waiting on for some time! In a recent decision, a Saskatchewan court decided that a young woman named Sandy Bergen, a self-confessed drug addict, was entitled to damages from her former drug dealer after an overdose of crystal meth put her into a coma and nearly killed her. I think I will follow the advice I received from a more experienced colleague a little while ago, and hold off on commenting on this particular case until I have read the actual decision, so for now I'm content to comment on some of the more general ramifications that this decision can have.

For starters, I think that the issue is far from decided. After all, this is a precedent setting case and it will almost definitely be appealed. As it makes its way up through the Canadian court system, it will doubtlessly create some interesting case law! It is really interesting to see how this will affect Canadian tort law.

We've all heard the urban legend of the burglar breaking into someone's home, slips on a toy, falling down the stairs and then successfully suing the homeowners. According to my first year tort law professor, this is a myth. You cannot sue someone for injuries sustained while trespassing on their property, unless of course the injuries occurred as a result of some kind of booby trap. At first glance, the decision in the Bergen case appears to fly in the face of this principle. After all, someone who buys drugs for the purpose of personal consumption knows or ought to know full well that drugs are bad for them. On the other hand, manufacturers and distributors of legal products are held responsible when their defective products cause physical harm to their consumers, why then should the same not be true for manufacturers and distributors of illegal products?

Obviously the situation is not that simple, after all, we as a society don't want to condone the drug user's illegal conduct. But even though I believe that abusing one's own body with drugs is wrong, I think that profiting off of the suffering of others who are too weak and sick to properly understand what they're doing to themselves is even worse, and drug dealers should not be allowed to get away with the harm that they do to their clients. So as crazy as this must sound, I think I actually agree with this decision! I can't say whether or not it was correctly applied in this case, but the idea of allowing a drug addict who has suffered damages as a result of his or her drug dealer's negligence does not sound so crazy to me. Certainly, the degree to which the addict was dependent on the narcotics in question should be something considered by the trial judge when determining the amount of damages that are owed, but I see no reason why the drug dealer should be completely absolved of all responsibility.

There are a few major problems though. For starters, there are a lot of drug addicts out there, and chances are a lot of them have suffered as a result of their drug dealer's actions. If we open the flood gates, who knows how many new cases will come forward? The courts may not be able to handle the deluge. This is definitely a matter that the courts will be considering as part of the Cooper/Ans criteria, which is used to determine whether a particular kind of act is considered negligence.

There is also the matter of figuring out where to draw the line. Can a drug addict sue only when they suffered because there was something "wrong" with the drugs that they bought? Or can they also sue for damages incurred as a result of having overdosed through their own error or carelessness? What about the other negative affects that are caused by drug abuse such as the breakdown of marriages, difficulties holding down a job, etc?

Another problem of course, is enforceability. When we are talking about hard core drug traffickers, with large bank accounts, it is not so hard to enforce judgments in favour of the plaintiff, since their assets are much easier to trace, but it's not so easy to get money out of someone who keeps all of their money in cash form, rolled up in a big wad under their mattress next to the big handgun.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, January 03, 2008

When is a promise fulfilled?

By now just about everyone is aware that the GST has officially been cut from 6% to 5%, thereby fulfilling Prime Minister Stephen Harper's election promise to cut the GST by 2% (it was at 7% when he was elected). There is considerable debate right now about the move, as many in the opposition have been suggesting that an income tax cut would have been more fair, but for the moment at least I don't really want to get into the soundness of this decision as I'm not exactly an expert on fiscal policy and it is without a doubt a very complicated subject. What really catches my attention is the notion of when a promise is kept. In politics, the failure to keep a promise can be lethal to a candidate or party's electoral success (though this is not always the case).

Whenever former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was confronted about not eliminating the GST, he was always quick to reply that he never promised to eliminate the GST, only that he would replace it, which is what the first Red Book stated he would do. Of course by now, many of us are probably familiar with the famous clip from This Hour Has 22 Minutes, in which appeared various clips of Chrétien promising that the GST would be gone. To be fair, if something is replaced, it is gone, and in some cases, Chrétien actually managed to reduce the overall sales taxes that are paid in certain provinces by merging the GST with the provincial sales tax. Evidently Canadian voters either accepted the explanation or found it in their hearts to forgive Chrétien because they granted him a second majority in 1997 and a third in 2000.

More recently, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty faced heavy criticism during the fall 2007 elections (as well as throughout his mandate, which began in 2003) for having raised provincial income taxes via the reviled "health premium". McGuinty justified this reversal by referring to an independant audit of the province's finances, which revealed that Ontario was actually running a deficit of several billion dollars, even though the previous government under Conservatives Mike Harris and Ernie Eves had reported the budget to be balanced. Evidently, Ontario voters considered this to be an acceptable excuse, since they granted McGuinty another majority in October.

On the other hand, one of the major issues in the last Québec election, was premier Jean Charest's not having reduced income taxes as he had promised to do when elected with a majority government in 2003. As a result, his majority government was reduced to a minority government.

Now the current Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, has made good on one of his election promises by reducing the GST by 2%. Just the same, Harper has already come under heavy fire for having broken his promise not to tax income trusts, as well as for having broken his promise to honour the Atlantic Accord. Harper seems to have taken lessons from Chrétien, by claiming that neither act constitutes a breach of an election promise. He and his finance Minster, Jim Flaherty, are both denying that they are taxing income trusts, and that the funding formula they recently adopted constitues a breach of the Atlantic Accord. He even managed to talk Nova Scotia into a new agreement, but Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams is still slamming the federal government for having broken its promise.

Considering the enormous victory Williams recently won in his own provincial elections, the PM is in for one Hell of a fight if he intends to win any seats in Newfoundland. There is also some doubt that things will go over quite so smoothly in Nova Scotia as well, since despite being booted from the Conservative caucus for having voted against the budget that contained the disputed funding formula, Nova Scotia MP Bill Casey has since been re-nominated by his riding association, which of course was not accepted by the party. Casey will likely run as an independent, and may become the next Chuck Cadman (may he rest in peace). Right now it is hard to tell whether or not the entire province of Nova Scotia will punish Harper's Conservatives. In fact even Casey is not assured victory. With a possible federal elction due this Spring, it will be interesting to see whether or not Harper is able to appear as a man of his word, or if he is blasted for not keeping his promise. As with everything else in politics, perception is everything.

Labels: , , , , , ,