Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Podunk Below the Masthead, Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Justice for all, a little progress blows in on the Naikun front and the Mayor says bring your complaints to council, some of the items from the Monday edition of the Daily News.

TURRIFF IN TOWN TO TALK ON INDEPENDENCE OF LAWYERS-- The president of the BC Law Society was on the North coast last week, here to speak on the need for independence for lawyers from the political process and interference of Parliament.

His discussion with local residents examined the need for lawyers to continue to fight against the efforts of government to reduce individual freedoms against the backdrop of the times and the interest of the government for more security.

The Daily News may wish to go back into their notes on the story however and check the math, the article suggest that there are some 61 lawyers in Prince Rupert, a rather high number one would think for a town this size, unless we suppose that crime in the city is getting out of control.
A full review of his thoughts on the law were part of the front page, headline story in Tuesday’s paper (see article below)

Naikun Wind Power has moved on to the next step in the slowly developing wind farm project, having secured an environmental assessment review after what Vice President Matt Burns called a rigorous process. Naikun now will work on that assessment process which will include a public comment period for local First Nations, local communities and the general public who will offer their thoughts on the company and its application to develop wind power on the North coast.

Mayor Jack Mussallem invited the city’s media to City Hall last week, in an effort to answer some of the questions that have been raised about the recent financial plans outlined in the city’s budget for 2009. He outlined that the city needed to transfer utility funds to the operating fund, as part of the process of keeping the municipality running, advising that the city has the legal authority to make such transfers.

The city began its fiscal year with a deficit of 6.4 million dollars, to cover off that shortfall, they have transferred 2.3 million from the water fund, 2.9 million from the sewer fund and 490,000 from the telephone fund. Amounts which still bring the City short of covering off that opening deficit.

On the topic of Watson Island, he said that the city believes it is fiscally prudent to include tax revenue from the pulp mill in its budget deliberations, even if the fate of the mill is still undetermined heading into the budget cycle. Watson Island is currently under a distraint order, as current ownership China Pager Group continues its battle over tax assessments and hopefully considers offers to buy.

Mussallem addressed rumours in the community that the Chinese owners were “smuggling out” vital components of the mill during this period of time, suggesting that isn’t so. He also floated the hopeful balloon that there may be offers in the works to purchase the mill, suggesting there are two or three potential buyers out there interested in operating the mill site for other uses.

He wrapped up his meet and greet with the local media gaggle by urging city residents to come down to City hall and talk to him and his council about any concerns that they may have about the workings of the city.

The Sports section featured coverage of weekend soccer action for the local high school girls soccer teams which saw Terrace and Smithers square off for the Northwest banner, the two Prince Rupert squads came up a little short in their efforts this year, PRSS picking up the only medal for local squads with the bronze.

Total pages in Tuesday’s paper (12)

By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Pages one and five

The President of the Law Society of BC is an anti authoritarian.

That's right, the man who is the lead representative of the organization that protects the public interest in the administration of justice, formed his own ideology in the 70s when it appeared that civil disobedience and the large hand of governments would be entering an eternal clash.

His name is Gordon Turriff, and if you don't know much about him, don't feel ignorant. It's likely many don't. But his role and beliefs that the justice system and parliament system are necessarily separate entities makes him an interesting figure on top of the legal food chain.

Turriff was in town Thursday to discuss the role of lawyers in Canadian society and the rational for keeping lawyers independent of parliament interference.

Lawyers' freedom to represent is currently at stake in Canada. It comes at a time when it appears that governments around the world are demanding more restrictions to a free society in the name of security, but Turriff thinks that it's law and not force that will protect us from injustice.

"People haven't really thought of the need for rule of law although once they start to think about it, it's the same as independence of lawyers," said Turriff.

"But when they have thought about it they go, 'of course!'"

There are many ways in which government wants to intrude on lawyer independence, said Turriff who cites the current example of money-laundering legislation that the current Conservative federal government enacted in 2006.

But hold on a second. History first.

1970, as a mess waiter working the BC Ferries Vancouver-to-Nanaimo route to pay for school, Turriff had a lot of time to read and think. He wondered why the government was able to enact sweeping powers that limited societal freedom in the name of security.

1970 was the Kent State shootings in the U.S. and the War Measures Act in Canada; 1970 made him believe that if given an inch, governments would take a mile.

In a speech he now delivers around the province, "something that just continues to evolve," Turriff told the Daily" News, he recounts how reading about and hearing about the decisions to enforce absolute power instilled in him: the belief that law, not government. was the only way Canadians would enjoy a safe and free society.

"The killings at Kent State were state action. The arrests during the War Measures Act were state action. We will never be completely safe from (terrorists) but we can protect ourselves fro absolute power," Turriff writes in his speech that is meant for the public large, and even more acute l1t for high school students in B.C.

He feels that now, just as then, it’s time for lawyers and the public to educate themselves and demand that rather than legislation, be the determining factor in justice.

Now to the present.

The Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act is meant to require lawyer to reveal financial information they have obtained from the client.

"We challenged them and won an injunction so we have a court order that prevents the government from compelling us to share that information," said Turriff.

The Law Society has been negotiating with the federal government for the past year to try to come up with an arrangement that works for both sides, that allows lawyers to keep information about their clients that they feel should not be revealed, while concurrently helping the government in its goal to fight terrorism.

But how well is this law understood?

A quick Google search provides researchers with plenty of government websites that attempt to explain the law but without the help of legal text or a background in law that be difficult to decipher what’s actually going on.

In basic, the law makes it mandatory for chartered accountants (CAs) and law firms to report on certain financial transactions to an independent anti-money laundering agency called the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC).

And what is FINTRAC? Well, according to its website, FINTRAC is Canada's financial intelligence unit, a specialized agency created to collect, analyze and disclose financial information and intelligence on suspected money laundering and terrorist activities financing.

The federal organization does this by receiving and collecting reports on suspicious and prescribed financial transactions and other information relevant to money laundering and terrorist activities financing; receiving reports on the cross-border movement of large amounts of currency or monetary instruments.

Turriff doesn't believe that providing that information over to the government does much good for lawyer-client trust.

"Lawyers are not against fighting terrorism but we see a higher value here and that is the preservation of the sanctity of the solicitor-client relationship."

In Prince Rupert, getting a lawyer these days can be as challenging as getting a doctor.

There are currently 61 practicing lawyers here, but more are needed even if some people question why their value in society.

It can be hard at times, rectifying the images of lawyers chasing ambulances - side-by-side with reporters - in their vane attempt to help victims sue. Such images are probably not helped by the Lionel Hutchs of TV fame, a gentleman of questionable legal skills who keeps a Mickey of whisky in the top drawer.

These images, however humorous they might be, are not an accurate depiction of the legal profession's top men and women, said Turriff.

"I don't know where this other characterization comes from. Someone asked me about this the other day and I said I don't know. All I can do is to say that each individual lawyer is doing his or her best to serves his or her client's interests."

Lawyers are not pariahs of a runaway litigious society that relies on the courts to settle matters, said Turriff, who is more of tea man anyhow. He believes that lawyers are an integral part of a just society, one based on rule of law rather than rule of government.

"People go to a lawyer and are well served.

They get what they want and they are pleased. There are some exceptions. But overall if people are asked about their lawyer experience they are satisfied."

And so it has become imperative to one of B.C.'s top legal experts to deliver a message of understanding.

Turriff has been giving speeches across the province this year to raise awareness of the issues lawyers are facing in today's legal world. He spent time Thursday at both the Prince Rupert Public Library and Charles Hayes Secondary School, which he freely admitted was a "tough crowd."

But it's teens as much as anyone else that he wants to reach with his independence message, as it was only a few decades ago that he was in their shoes and wondering what the role of law was in 1970s Canada.

As a young political science student in 1970, Turriff said he remembers reading and watching news broadcasts about the Kent State killings where the US National Guard killed four students for protesting the Vietnam War. It affected him greatly to see a heavy-handed approach by a government to what was a legal act of civil disobedience.

To see that kind of action taken by people of authority pushed Turriff to get involved in the legal profession.

And now he is advocating that lawyers never become victims themselves under government control by teaching young people the value of a strong legal arm in society.

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