Canada: Anglo-rights group to declare bankruptcy

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun Jan 14 16:56:41 UTC 2007

 Sunday  January 14  2007

Anglo-rights group to declare bankruptcy
Unable to pay city $250,000 after losing language suit

Dave Rogers The Ottawa Citizen

Saturday, January 13, 2007

An English-language rights group that lost its legal challenge to the City
of Ottawa's bilingualism bylaw plans to declare bankruptcy to avoid paying
$250,000 in court costs the city is seeking. Canadians for Language
Fairness said the bylaw, which came into effect in January 2004, violated
the freedom of expression provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms
by excluding English-speaking Canadians from city jobs. After hearing
arguments from lawyers for the group and city in May 2006, Ontario
Superior Court Justice Monique Metivier ruled in October that Ottawa's
language policy doesn't violate the rights of English-speaking people. The
city applied for legal costs in November and December.

Ottawa's language policy requires all municipal services to be provided in
both of Canada's official languages and that senior managers should be
fully bilingual, or should take language training to achieve that goal.
Canadians for Language Fairness argued that because 98 per cent of
francophones in Ottawa are bilingual while only 39 per cent of anglophones
speak French, the policy discriminates against English people. Kim
McConnell, president of the organization, said it raised $100,000 across
Canada to present the case heard in Ontario Superior Court in Ottawa, but
has no assets now and cannot pay the city's legal costs.

"It is totally undemocratic and unfair for the city to come after us for
costs, because we are representing the people," Ms. McConnell said. "We
don't think it is reasonable that they went and got a high-priced lawyer
instead of using a city solicitor. "This case is going to put off people
who want to challenge the city unless they are a special interest group
with access to government money.  Ordinary people or small groups without
money can't do this. We had to go begging to our own people when there was
hope we could challenge this bylaw, but there is no way that we can raise
$250,000 now." Ms. McConnell said Canadians for Language Fairness
incorporated itself to protect its five-member board of directors against
excessive costs if it lost its case.

"This case shows that anyone who wants to challenge city hall or any other
level of government in court has to form a corporation and raise a lot of
money," Ms. McConnell said. "How else can people do this unless they have
the financial resources?" Ms. McConnell added the court decision and the
prospect of bankruptcy hasn't deterred bilingualism opponents. She said
the group is looking for English-speaking people who consider themselves
victims of the bylaw so it can challenge the legality of bilingualism at
city hall again, possibly using a different name. Some observers who have
followed the case said the city's decision to seek legal costs will deter
anyone who wants to challenge the actions of any level of government.

Alan Borovoy, general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties
Association, said "getting whacked with $250,000 in costs" would paralyse
future possible challenges to governmental practices. "This is the kind of
thing that ought not to happen," Mr. Bor-ovoy said.  "I don't necessarily
endorse their position, but these are citizens who mounted a public
interest challenge. "This is an awful development -- in the age of the
Charter of Rights, this is exactly what should not happen. If citizens
cannot more freely mount challenges, we run the risk of having
unconstitutional practices prevail unchallenged. We are in a different era
now and I would urge the city to be less parochial."

Duff Conacher, the co-ordinator of the government accountability lobby
group, Democracy Watch, said taxpayers should absorb the cost of public
interest cases to ensure that governments don't abuse people's rights.
"They shouldn't be going after people for bringing valid cases to court.
If there is a valid issue to be decided, that is an important
accountability tool that citizens need to have open to them without the
threat of being bankrupted." Ottawa's litigation manager, Don Wilson, said
the city usually tries to recover its legal costs from unsuccessful
plaintiffs to protect taxpayers.  Mr. Wilson said successful parties in
civil cases in Canada usually recover about two thirds of their legal

He added he has never heard of a group or individual lose a case against
the city and then try to avoid responsibility for legal costs by declaring
bankruptcy. "Generally, the winner of a lawsuit can recover a reasonable
portion of their legal fees from the loser," Mr. Wilson said. "Usually you
don't see people setting themselves up as a corporation to avoid legal
costs. "It is up to the courts to decide whether awarding costs could
discourage people from challenging the city. We deal in taxpayers dollars
and our object is to protect taxpayers."

 The Ottawa Citizen 2007


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