Thursday, 27 March 2014

On Voting



For the first time in the history of the paralegal profession in Ontario, the Law Society of Upper Canada (“LSUC”), the Ontario regulatory body which governs the legal profession, is permitting paralegals to stand for election as directors (known at the LSUC as Benchers). This LSUC board of governors is made up of 53 members- 8 non-legal or lay members appointed by the provincial government, 40 lawyers elected by all lawyers in Ontario, and now soon to be 5 paralegals elected by their membership. This is an illustrious event in the annals of the paralegal profession. Were I a licensed paralegal, I would at the very least be concerned with which 5 members were going to assist in governing my profession on everything from scope of practice to discipline. The particular 5 to be elected are all the more important on a board with significantly more lawyer members, many of whom, from the get-go, dislike, fear, and disrespect paralegals. 

The voting for this election could not be any easier. All of the more than 6000 licenced paralegals in the province need simply log on to the website to cast their votes (each voter can select 5 of the two dozen or so candidates in the mix). I am one of those lawyers who has always benefited from a symbiotic business relationship between lawyers and paralegals. I regularly teach paralegal courses, write for their publications, and speak at their conferences. I was honoured to be selected to moderate one of the two major election debates between the paralegal Bencher candidates last month. So it saddens me, and it should terrify the paralegals themselves, that according the LSUC, with only a few days until the close of voting, that less than 1000 of those eligible to cast their votes actually did so. The actual proportion to have voted as of this writing is 13%.

My lawyer colleagues didn’t fare a whole lot better. In the 2011 Bencher election, there were over 100 candidates for 40 seats. There were over 50,000 lawyers eligible to vote by mail. At the end of the day only 37% cast their ballot. 

This particular apathy towards voting within a fairly insular self-governing profession is not only disturbing; it could have profound results. The more interested and informed voters there are, the most likelihood there will be of actually achieving a governing body that is truly representative of the personal, business and geographic diversity within the profession. The more people involved in the debates and dialogues over issues of the day, the more voices will not only be heard but listened to by those in power. And most importantly, an active electorate is the strongest bulwark against the tyranny of the minority in power.

Regrettably, this voter lethargy is not unique to the legal profession. It is in fact merely a symptom of the endemic atrophy of voter interest in the public at large.

There will be shortly a provincial election. In the last such election, the 2011 vote which sent Dalton McGuinty back to the Premier’s office, only 48% of Ontario voters showed up at the polls. Federally, Stephen Harper secured his last majority government in May of 2011 with a respectable but we-can-still-do-better 6 out of every 10 of registered voters bothering to leave their homes or offices to do their civic duty.

Next to self-governing regulatory bodies for the professions, the single most direct impact any level of governing authority will have on an individual is at the municipal level. And yet, municipal elections have abysmal turnouts. In the last province-wide municipal elections of October 2010, less than half exercised their democratic right to select their local government. While I would not expect anything nearing the 100 percent voter turnout in sham elections run by the likes of Saddam Hussein, a turnout of three-quarters of eligible electorate would be more in line with what one would hope for in a vibrant, active democracy.

Not that any of this is new. I recall with a mix of humour and sadness knocking on doors in the 1984 federal election with the late Solicitor General of Canada Bob Kaplan, and us being greeted again and again at the doors with stunned residents who, upon looking at the pamphlet I handed them, would exclaim “oh, there’s an election on?”

I have heard all the excuses- “I don’t know anything about politics”; “I don’t have time to go vote”; “They’re all the same so why waste my time?”; My vote doesn’t count anyway” And every conceivable variation on these and many other excuses.

We live in what is, despite Americans’ claim that they are it, the most free and democratic nation in the world. We are able to elect governments from our small town local council up to our federal government. There are dozens of professional regulatory bodies in the province representing hundreds of thousands of hard-working, tax-paying professionals. For the most part, those in the professions get to vote for their leadership as well. Even the condo I live in has annual elections to ensure the board of directors is democratically elected. But we should not take this democracy for granted. Democracy ignored can turn into democracy denied. We must take to heart our democratic right to vote and when presented the opportunity, we must educate ourselves, involve ourselves and motivate ourselves to be aware of the issues and to cast an informed vote.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Rethinking Reality TV



Whenever I think of reality television, I can’t help but laugh at the old Robin Williams line about Fox TV’s Celebrity Boxing show back in 2002: “It’s not the end of the world, but you can see it from there”. Oh, how prescient Mork was a mere dozen years ago. Today’s reality tv programming still has not brought us to the end of the world, but that brink is perilously closer than ever. I cannot fathom any redeeming value in Duck Dynasty, a show which glorifies such down-home “values” as literalist Bible thumping, homophobia, and passing off poorly spoken ignorance as “wisdom”.  I have special disdain for Honey Boo Boo, which was a spin-off of a child abusing showcase entitled Toddlers and Tiaras. Survivor is barely a cut above the not long enough ago cancelled Joe Rogan/NBC venture Fear Factor, where contestants would eat live insects for a chance at winning an amount of money insignificant enough to underscore the fact that pride can be bought very cheaply indeed. But I wring my hands in migraine-inducing frustration at any reality show that involves dating, the Beauty Myth, or which plays into the wedding industrial complex. The Bachelor; Bachelorette; Say Yes to the Dress; Real Housewives of (insert city here); The Swan; Dr. 90210; Extreme Makeover; and the rest of their ilk, are not only devoid of any positive values but actually perpetuate dangerous stereotypes about women and relationships. Indoctrination through repetition of these negative representations will make it difficult for children, teens and women (for the ratings show that teens of both genders and women 18 to 49 make up the majority of these shows’ viewership) to be satisfied in real relationships with real people, living real life.

The Hollywood romantic ideal peddled to little girls through Disney fairy tales and as reinforced to those women as they mature through movies such as Bridget Jones, Pretty Woman, Love Actually et al have long fuelled the fantasies of many of their female audience. Fantasies where they will be swept away by the tall, handsome stranger across the room, taken from a working class life into high society, only to be romanced and ravished daily for happily ever after. (I note that the “prince” in these roles is never a short, lean, middle-aged Jewish lawyer. But I digress). The fairy tales and movies are just that. The youngest fans, the least discriminating viewers, and even those of questionable intelligence understand they are watching an artificial creation- that these are stories disseminated in cartoon form or by actors on a screen playing a role. Sadly, the current crop of reality shows- which by all accounts have spectacular ratings- combined with the constant advertising bombardment and in-show product placements, are selling something different. Not fantasy, but a carefully crafted misogynistic and often racist narrative. All women can be happy if only they are young enough, thin enough, pretty enough, white enough, and have a man who will lavish them in designer baubles. Is it really just mere entertainment? The constant message of reality dating and makeover shows is to reinforce the fact that our lives and relationships must always be exciting, perfect, fairytale like. That we must always buy the newest styles in order to be glamorous. Moreover, according to a steady diet of reality dating and marriage shows, why ever settle again? Arguments? Money troubles? Sexual dysfunction? Kids? Parents? In-laws? Mortgages? Careers? Homework? Dance lessons? Hockey practice?  No, no, no and nope. Every woman can and should have her Prince Charming, and he will handsome, rich (maybe famous too). She will have lots of immigrant domestic help. Her friends will be lovely and glamorous. No nights at the local pub or watching movies, but a constant schedule of galas, vacations and fancy restaurants.  Don’t have that perfect man yet?  No problem. The underlying theme is that you shouldn’t settle. Instead, trade in your current shlub for the Prince Charming who is surely is just around the corner.

This is not to mention the subtle and not no subtle forms of racism in these shows. The contestants are almost entirely white. When women (or men) of colour are part of the cast of these shows, they are almost always there as some sort of token. And rest assured their on-camera antics will be manipulated by the producers to slot these token characters into any one of many of (white) society’s most blatantly offensive personifications.

As the father of three children, 2 boys and a girl, I worry about the effects of this media on my kids and their generation. I am concerned with how my daughter will value herself and what she will find important as she grows up. Will she focus only on her natural beauty, which is what everyone compliments her on, and end up basing all her happiness on her partner and her relationships? Or will she use the fact that she does well in school, is smart, curious, much too well traveled for a 9 year old, and has a preternatural ambition, to carve out a life for herself where she finds happiness in her inner self and her achievements, where she will look for a man (or woman) to enhance her already full life?
Even more significantly, I am worried about how these mediated images which portray women as only worthy for their beauty (although even that is held to an unrealistic standard), and who we are constantly told are backstabbing bitches, gossips, and gold-diggers, will impact my sons’ views of the opposite sex. My greatest fear for my boys is that they would grow up to be like the men who appear on the Bachelor or similar shows; men whose ingrained disrespect for women is exceeded only by the shallow veneer of faux chivalry that is trotted out at key turning points in the “plot” of the series.
I worry my children, who are growing up blind to the differences in skin colour and religious belief, will be influenced by the racist archetypes of reality tv producers.

My children see me surrounded by strong women who I respect. They see me surrounded by a group of ethnically and religiously diverse friends and business associates. They see how I treat women and people who may look different than I. I only hope I set the right example by making sure that I behave respectfully toward all of the women I encounter, as well as those whose cultural identity differs from my family’s. I hope they see this not just in terms of my relationships with those who are a regular part of my life, but also in my daily interactions with strangers.  As parents, it is important to instill values by leading as opposed to just paying lip service. This is paramount because we all know the damage that can be done to young minds by media images and the influence on kids by friends whose own views are warped by the misogyny of advertising and reality tv.

Notwithstanding my vigilance in this regard, even I fall prey to the insidiousness of the beauty ideal. It has been pointed out to me twice in the last few months that when I talk about my boys, I mention their scholastic and athletic achievements, their genuine maturity, intellect and kindness. Yet when describing my daughter, it appears I often lapse into describing her first and foremost as “gorgeous” or “stunning” (which she is, but she is also brilliant, a competitive dancer, well mannered, excelling in school, kind, compassionate, and way too ambitious for her age). 

All of this was recently driven home again as I am reading journalist and feminist Jennifer Pozner’s excellent 2010 polemic Reality Bites Back, a detailed analysis of how reality tv reinforces notions of the Beauty Myth, the subjugation of women, and the impact of how these views shape the expectations of women and men in terms of real relationships with real people.

To those parents, who like me, thought these shows were just harmless, mindless entertainment for our teenagers to chill out to at the end of a long day of studying, extracurriculars and part time jobs, I would implore you to read this book and reconsider. I am not suggesting the shows be banned. Television producers have a right to produce whatever they wish. They are neither educators nor governors- they hold no special place in society that should require them to adhere to any particular feminist or other ideology (as we know too well from history that is a slippery slope).  Quite frankly, to expect some sort of communications laws to control the television producers is just an abdication of our parental responsibility. Nor do I suggest we restrict our children from watching a particular show because of our own aversions. But as parents, we owe it to ourselves, our children, and other parents, to be aware of what our kids are watching; to combat the negative effects of those shows with serious discussion; and to live our lives in a way which reinforces the values we want our children to develop. Only by making such a concerted effort will we ensure that these shows are relegated to mere entertainment with no ability to instill a misogynistic, racist, anachronistic value system on the next generation.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Court of Appeal puts 407ETR in its place



Just before the Christmas holiday break, the Court of Appeal for Ontario issued a ruling against the 407 ETR corporation (“407”) on an issue that insolvency lawyers and bankruptcy trustees have suggested for years should have been obvious. The issue related to 407’s ability to have the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (“MTO”) refuse to issue or renew licence plates/stickers if the driver in question had money owing to 407 for unpaid tolls. The case involved a former truck driver and traveling sales agent, Matthew David Moore. Mr. Moore discovered after being discharged from bankruptcy and having all of his pre-bankruptcy debts expunged, that he could not renew his vehicle plate permit unless he paid the 407 at least a portion of the money he technically no longer owed to 407 (as that debt had likewise been wiped clean on the date of his discharge from bankruptcy). This inability to obtain vehicle plates would, of course, not only prevent him from legally driving on the 407, but also anywhere else in Ontario. Given his employment history, this would also appear to interfere with his ability to earn a livelihood. Such an outcome is in direct contravention to the aims of consumer bankruptcy in Canada, which laws are founded on the "fresh start" principle. Despite the federal bankruptcy regime, the 407 Act of Ontario allowed the 407 to require the MTO to suspend or refuse permits and plates to those who owed even modest sums to the toll highway company. As a result of this perverse quandary he faced after his discharge, Moore applied to the Registrar in Bankruptcy- a judicial officer in the Toronto court with oversight for bankruptcy law- for a judgment requiring 407 to notify the MTO that he was no longer indebted to them. The Registrar agreed. The 407 then appealed to a single judge of the Superior Court who overturned the Registrar’s decision, concluding that there was no apparent conflict between the fresh start concept of the federal bankruptcy regime and the ability of 407 to essentially enforce collection of a debt post-bankruptcy. Moore was set to appeal to the province’s highest court when the 407 sought to derail the appeal by offering what he said was a "sweetheart deal" to settle his outstanding debt. Fortunately, the federal Superintendent of Bankruptcy stepped in and was permitted by the Court of Appeal to argue the merits of the case for the benefit of all discharged bankrupts who found themselves in Moore's situation, a number which I understand to be in the thousands.

In Canada, the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (BIA) deals with consumer bankruptcies with the aim of allowing discharged bankrupts a fresh start. The idea is that an "honest debtor" who has gotten in over his or her head (through illness, long term unemployment, marital breakdown, a failed attempt to run a business, among other reasons) would be entitled, after a period of bankruptcy, to a discharge. Once an Assignment in Bankruptcy is made (thus putting the individula into a state of bankruptcy) no unsecured creditor can continue to enforce or collect upon any debt of the bankrupt. Upon discharge, all debts, except those enumerated in section 178(1) of the BIA, would be expunged, thus allowing the now discharged bankrupt to be free of any and all debts incurred prior to the date of bankruptcy. In this manner, Parliament reasoned, the individual could move forward and rebuild their financial life free from the past encumbrances. Debts which would survive bankruptcy would include those debts incurred by fraud (one who incurs a debt by committing a fraud is obviously not an "honest debtor"); those related to child or spousal support; certain types of criminal court ordered restitution or fines. It is long settled law and policy in Canada that regardless of the fact that the fresh start principle results in many creditors ending up unpaid, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year, the consumer bankruptcy regime set out in the BIA is actually in the country's best interests. I would suggest it is also in keeping with our national commitment to social justice and equality of opportunity.

In Ontario, however, an apparent conflict with the aims of the BIA has arisen as a result of the 407 Act. Upon discharge, although the 407 could no longer take any legal action or other collection and enforcement mechanisms to collect its toll debt from the bankrupt, it could still require payment from the discharged bankrupt in exchange for lifting the permit suspension. In essence, if one wanted to continue to legally drive in Ontario after being discharged from bankruptcy, one would be forced to make a financial arrangement to repay some or all of the pre-bankruptcy debt one owed to 407 in order to obtain plates and permits. Thus, 407 was obtaining through the back door what it could not legally do by entering through the front door. 

Further, as the BIA consumer bankruptcy regime also groups together all unsecured creditors of a bankrupt (generally speaking these would include banks for unsecured loans and credit cards; other charge card companies; utility providers; private lenders including family; and often Revenue Canada) to share any assets or surplus income of the bankrupt (or more likely to all lose out in the majority of consumer bankruptcies), the 407’s ability to have the MTO suspend plates also gave the 407 an unfair position as against other creditors, granting it a superior position not intended by the BIA. In fact, this point was not missed by the Court of Appeal in deciding the case. Madam Justice Sarah  Pepall, writing for the  unanimous Court of Appeal panel in Canada (Superintendent of Bankruptcy) v 407 ETR Concession Company Limited, stated quite tongue in cheek, that the “407 Act should not permit (407) to occupy the collector’s lane".

Madam Justice Pepall also conducted a very detailed historical overview of the Supreme Court of Canada's decisions  on the doctrine of paramountcy. Simply stated, this doctrine specifies that when a federal piece of legislation and a provincial Act are in conflict, the federal legislation reigns supreme. She concluded that as the doctrine of paramountcy applied and further, as the section of the 407 Act which granted the suspension powers to 407 conflicted with the fresh start purpose of the BIA, the the relevant section of the 407 Act as to be rendered inoperative. This is no insignificant decision. Given that there are approximately 25,000 bankruptcies a year in Ontario, there are presently thousands of Ontario drivers validly discharged from bankruptcy hindered from a true fresh start because they cannot obtain the necessary permit to legally drive in a province where except for those living in the core of Toronto, private vehicle transportation is necessary just to get to work. This number would have been bound to increase by several thousand a year had it not been for this decision.
 
While 407 is currently determining whether to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, I would advise any discharged bankrupt with a permit denial as a result of pre-bankruptcy debt to immediately contact the collections department of 407. Demand confirmation that 407 will advise MTO to remove any 407 imposed restriction from their database. Given that the decision was just released I have not had any feedback on whether MTO will simply abide by the ruling of its own accord without the need for a 407 clearance notice for each individual affected driver. But the current state of the law is as set out by the Court of Appeal, which means the 407 can no longer require the MTO to withhold plate permits from discharged bankrupts. Given the thorough analysis of and reliance upon Supreme Court bankruptcy decisions and paramountcy cases, I suspect even if the matter is appealed, the reasoning of the Court of Appeal is unassailable and will be upheld by the country’s highest court.


Tuesday, 17 September 2013

On Heroes

Last night I had the good fortune to attend a Law Society seminar sponsored by the Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights (http://claihr.ca/wordpress/). The guest speaker was retired Lt General of the Canadian Forces, Romeo Dallaire. Aside from the fact that Gen. Dallaire was remarkably enlightening speaking about his experiences and insights regarding child soldiers and conflict minerals in Africa, he is also my eldest child's hero.

Jacob is about to turn 16, in Grade 11, currently a Sgt. in his Army Cadet corps with plans to join the Canadian Forces Reserves on his 16th birthday. If he continues to excel academically he will apply to attend Royal Military College or another university on a military ticket as a prelude to a career as an officer in our world respected military. The seminar where my son met his hero came on the heels of two other recent family events with a similar theme.

Just before the kids returned to school, Tanya and I took the three of them (Jacob and his younger twin siblings Bennie and Leora) to the AGO to view the Ai Wei Wei exhibition. Wei, of course, is the Chinese dissident artist who has endured beatings, incarceration, restricted freedom and mobility even upon release from prison, and is openly watched by the government 24 hours a day. All because he has used his art as a means to speak out against the totalitarian government of his country and the treatment of its citizens.

Also immediately before the kids went back to school we received a letter from the twins Hebrew School  recently advising that their Grade 4 project this year will be the research and presentation on a Jewish hero. I have suggested my twins not only find a Jewish hero, but a Canadian Jewish hero. My daughter has settled on Rosalie Abella, the first female Jewish judge of the Supreme Court of Canada, and a woman who during her time as one of the youngest members of the Ontario Court of Appeal, and as a Supreme Court justice, wrote some significant decisions which had the profound effect of shaping our nation's social values, including the landmark ruling that legalized same sex marriage.

Bennie is undecided as to his Jewish hero but we have been talking about the great humanitarian Stephen Lewis, or possibly Pierre Trudeau. Yes, he knows Trudeau was not Jewish, but Trudeau's personal convictions, which motivated his politics and culminated in the Charter in 1982, forever ensured a level playing field not only for Jews, but all religious and racial minorities, gays and lesbians, and marginalized political viewpoints unprecedented in Western society.

On the subject of heroes, we discussed in contrast the achievements of the three "heroes" mentioned above with those of the various movie stars who were recently in town for the Toronto International Film Festival. I was absolutely amazed (albeit not surprised) at the coverage our local media gave to sightings of celebs- where they shopped, where they ate, and sadly, even what they had to say about current events, pseudo-events, and non-events. We live in a society where a recent study of Americans (and I have no reason to think the Canadian numbers would be any different) showed that eight of ten people knew who Miley Cyrus was and that she had recently "twerked" on national television, but only 1 of those 10 knew anything about the conflict in Syria. I suppose by this point it is actually trite to say that millions more vote for contestants on American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance than in actual elections. I point these items out simply to emphasize that our cultural obsession with celebrity has bastardized the meaning of the word "hero" as to almost devalue its meaning. Judging by the column inches and television minutes devoted to reality television "stars" and actors in comparison to stories of people of substance, it appears that true heroism is indeed in decline.

Heroes are those who DO something, who live their convictions, who do what they believe is right in the name of making the world a better place, often at great personal risk or cost. Heroes can indeed and probably should be celebrities. Celebrities, generally, cannot be heroes merely by virtue of their celebrated status.

A society needs heroes. Heroes give us hope. They embody the spirit and characteristics that we should all aspire to. They often motivate the rest of us to action that changes the world around us for the better. Some heroes choose a path of heroism, others are thrust into it.

But let us be careful of who we call a hero, or what we determine is a heroic act. Let us not cheapen the concept for our children. Let us as parents show the way by talking to the children about our heroes and their achievements, as well as how those heroes have affected us personally. Let our children enjoy all the celebrity filled media they like, but let us not forget to teach them to distinguish between entertainment and heroism, between celebrity and hero. Educate them about people who have taken the more difficult choice for purely noble reasons, even at the risk of career, personal and relationship sacrifice. These may be the famous heroes we all know or could be a unsung hero who risked life and limb to save lives in a particular situation. In my university days, I knew an elderly gentleman who had risked his life to shepherd many Jews out of Hungary after the revolution. Unknown for this heroism outside of his family and the small Hungarian Jewish community in Toronto, his actions in the face of imprisonment or even execution if he had been caught were indeed heroic. The many Polish Catholics who risked certain death at the hands of the Nazis but who nonetheless hid Jews and aided them in obtaining safe passage were of a similar kind of heroism. Heroism can also be a one-off, such as rescuing someone from drowning in dangerous waters or a burning vehicle.  Heroes come in all shapes, sizes, ages, genders, races, religions and political creed. Their actions take many different forms and substance. Often, we may not realize them while they are in the midst of their heroism, but only in the fullness of time and retrospect. And we may not always agree with their cause or their actions.

But what they all have in common is a finely tuned moral compass and the placement of others before themselves. Not all of our children will grow up to heroes; in fact, most will not. But if my children develop some of the character traits of real heroes then they will be well equipped to make the world a better place even in their own small way.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

On loyalty

Our beleaguered Mayor of Toronto has been in a heap of trouble lately, much of it his own doing, but an equal amount due to the deliberate attempt by his foes on council and in the media to continually portray him in the worst possible light, thus distracting him from governing effectively. While Ford's troubles at his own hands, be they drink, food, drugs, or a refusal to take advice, his travails at the hands of his adversaries are sadly par for the course in the modern political era. Yet there is an additional source of Ford's troubles that are neither his own doing nor politics as normal. I refer to the appalling lack of loyalty amongst his inner circle. The very people who pledged their loyalty to Ford during the election and the first couple of years of his term have almost all suddenly abandoned ship when it appeared the ship was in the midst of capsizing. Now, one cannot fault many of those people, who have their own families to support and futures to worry about, for leaving his employ to seek greener, and possibly calmer, pastures. Such self-preservation is not itself an act of betrayal. However, the willingness to speak to the media, in particular the Toronto Star, the powerful media outlet that has made the decimation of the Ford administration its raison d'etre, is the ultimate act of disloyalty. These individuals certainly had no interest in publicly badmouthing the mayor when times were good and when they felt their own resumes would be enhanced by their association with Mayor Ford. These individuals are a symptom of the larger problem in business, politics, and even day to day friendships, specifically a lack of loyalty in favour of one's immediate gratification.

One of my favourite questions to ask of individuals when I am getting to know them and one of my favourite dinner party questions is: What is the characteristic you most value in your friends? My answer is always the same and has been since I was a teenager...loyalty.

Loyalty is  the principled notion that you can and will stand by your friend, spouse, business partner, or colleague through thick and thin, through good times and bad. Sadly, in a post-consumerist society marked by the narcissism of Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and reality TV, loyalty now seems as quaint as family picnics on Sunday or virginity until marriage. This is truly a sad fact. Looking out for one's best interests needn't necessarily mean throwing someone else overboard. And when taking care of one's own interests conflicts with loyalty, loyalty ought to win out.

This idea of loyalty as an absolute virtue raises some ethical dilemmas from time to time, but even these quandaries can be disposed of in a manner that rises above the conflict in competing values. For example, take the all too common scenario of your best friend admitting to a crime, stepping out on her spouse or of cheating their boss or on a test. Your friend has run afoul of a value or values that you hold at least a dear as loyalty. How to resolve this seeming value system showdown? Which value triumphs? I have always felt the answer is actually quite simple, and need not involve the sacrifice of either of the conflicting virtues. I would approach that person, explain my concerns with their transgressions, and encourage them to come clean, turn themselves in, get treatment etc. You have thus not only not been disloyal, but doubly demonstrated your loyalty- first by not giving them up, and secondly by encouraging them to do what is right, you may have forced them to confront their demons and start a fresh path.

I am fortunate to have many friends I have accumulated over the years, most of whom have been around for 25 or 30 years, since high school or university. Over the years, the strength of many of these friendships has waned as we become busy with careers, kids, families, mortgages, and the often inevitable distance that now separates us as a result of career or marriage related relocation. In some cases the passage of time and our different directions have left us with nothing in common except the past. Yet the friendships survive because of a sense of loyalty to one another. In simple terms, this means I may not see you for years, speak to you for months, yet when you call me for help, if it is within my power to do so, I will do my utmost even at great sacrifice of time and often money. The only reciprocity is my knowing without a shadow of a doubt that you would do the same for me.

In the course of my career I have represented many criminal law clients, and my dealings with the constabulary have developed in me a tremendous disrespect for the institution of policing. I think the way officers will lie to back one another up is an affront to our justice system and to the very Charter on which it is balanced. Yet I must confess a grudging admiration for the loyalty these officers show to their colleagues.

It is often said that there is no honour among thieves, except as most professionals involved in the criminal justice system will attest, organized crime specifically, and lesser criminals generally, have a heightened sense of loyalty. I have seen many clients plea out and accept the consequences rather than rat out their friends. It is also worthy of note that next to pedophiles, the most hated inmates in jail (and those next in need of solitary confinement for protection) are those perceived to have been disloyal. The snitches.

When the criminal underworld employs a greater familiarity with loyalty than the political and business world upon which we rely to run our country, we ought to all be concerned. And perhaps take stock of our own lives and what, if any, sacrifices we would make for loyalty to those who have earned it from us.



Monday, 3 June 2013

Maybe there is hope after all

I have been accused by those around me of railing against the youth of today as if I were some crotchety old man talking about how my generation was different and of being prone to starting sentences with the words "when I was young...". And indeed I am guilty as charged. I have long held that today's teens are the most coddled, privileged generation and that this does not bode well for the future of our country. I have opined both in previous posts on this blog, and in rants to anyone who will listen, that today's teens lack of respect for authority; my generation's helicopter parenting; our legal tying of the teachers' hands; awards for participation; the educational system's relaxing of basic grammar and spelling rules; and the advent of ubiquitous social media, will all lead to this generation of teens becoming the soft underbelly of an already spineless society. But it appears I may be wrong, and that there is hope for this generation. Real and exciting hope.

My son has been in Army Cadets for two years now, and in four weeks he leaves for his second summer of training at Canadian Forces Base. I just attended the annual review parade for his cadet troop, and came away with a sense of pride, not just in my own son but in the youth of our nation. At the annual review, as well as over the last couple of years that Jacob has been in Cadets, I have been fortunate to see a generation of teenagers at their utmost. These teens, almost equal numbers of each gender, are of course regular teenagers. I am sure when not in front of their commanding officers, teachers  or parents they swear, sneak booze and cigarettes, and are sexually active. But they are also good students destined for higher education and successful careers where they will be able to support themselves and their families as well as make a contribution to the community. They are unfailingly polite, respectful of authority, have a strong work ethic, are physically fit, self-motivated, and many, if not most, possess leadership skills far beyond their years.

While I am on the subject of teens, I have, through my son, met many other of his high school classmates, who, while not in Cadets, are equally impressive. In addition to being academically inclined and demonstrating  hard work and perseverance, they play competitive sports or pursue some other endeavour such as dance or music at a competition level. They hold down part time jobs to earn their own spending money, do far more hours of volunteerism than just the minimum required by their school, and have a clear idea of their future path.

So maybe hope is not lost at all. Maybe my son's generation will be the best yet. They are growing up with the benefits of the most advanced science and technology in the history of the world. At first glance it appears they squander too much of that for superficial and banal purposes but a closer look reveals a generation who will ultimately use their own internal drive, intellect, physical abilities, and technology, to do great things for themselves and for our community. If these teens I see are indicative of what is to come, I have no worries that the future of our country is in good hands.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Time for compulsory national service


A year and a half ago my oldest son and I were in Israel. I noticed something about the teens and 20-somethings there, in contrast to those in their early to mid-20s that I encounter here, I cannot seem to get out of my mind. My son picked up on it too. The young Israelis seemed older, more mature, more sophisticated, more worldly than Canadian kids the same age. Maybe they travelled more. Maybe it was living a country that was constantly under attack. Maybe it was that every one of them knew someone or had themselves been to the front lines of a war zone. Yet while those things may have been part of the reason why Israeli youth grow up quickly comparative to their North American peers, I suspect the real reason lay in the State of Israel’s two to three year mandatory national service requirement which for most commenced upon the completion of high school.  
 
Logically, this would seem to make sense. By the time most Israelis start college or university, or join the workforce if higher education is not in the offing, they already have at least 2 years of real world experience under their belts. While this experience is often gained in a war zone, just as often it is gained in the military environment sans combat, but with military training, structure and command. For many, the national service requirement is not served in the military at all, but in a hospital, a school or government office. In any event, it is a 2 year stint at the age of 18 in which the teenagers can't help but develop life skills, navigate work force politics, and obtain a sense of adult responsibility. They are forced to learn self-discipline, respect for authority, as well as to work under often severe conditions. Contrast that with the average middle class Canadian teen who enters university or college at the age of 18 straight from high school and Mommy and Daddy’s house, with no real world experience. After two years, most of them remain cocooned in the amniotic sac of higher education (or the post-high school work force where they are still buffeted from real world concerns as they still live at home). Thus, at 20, most Canadian kids are still just that, kids. Israelis by contrast are already adults who understand the concepts of self-starting, hard work, goal setting and responsibility. They develop the drive and focus to succeed, or at a minimum to get the job done on time and to exacting standards. Young Israelis have, ironically given the constant state of high alert of their nation, an ability to see the long game.

In his book Start Up Nation, Dan Senor (http://www.startupnationbook.com/) wrote that Israel was at the forefront of technological innovation and entrepreneurship, noting specifically that Israel had the most new businesses per year of any first world nation. This was attributed to in large measure to the military service required of young Israelis. Specifically, he writes:
                
 "No college experience disciplines you to think like [the military does], with high stakes and intense pressure,” one veteran notes, explaining how state service preps Israelis to communicate, to forge teams, and to improvise at work. 

Fortunately in Canada it is unlikely that our children, if they were required to enter the military, would ever see action in conflict. But the mere aspect of being in an environment where your parents’ money or contacts mean nothing, where you are taken out of the creature comforts of home, out of your tightly knit cabal of friends, and put in a position where you must follow strict rules and obey a chain of command will toughen up our children. For economically disadvantaged children who might not otherwise be given the opportunities afforded to those of the middle class, or teenagers who are not academically inclined, military training will provide them a much needed avenue out of poverty as it will ensure the most marginalized of our society will be guaranteed skills training and development that will make them viable members of the workforce. In some of my earlier articles on this blog I have referred to the problems created by the cycle of poverty. Compulsory national service may mitigate some of that by reducing the numbers of uneducated and unemployable.

National service, here as in Israel, does not need to mean the military. I would propose options such as teaching, hospital work, and not for profit outreach programs, where we could harness the energy and idealism of our youth in the farthest reaches of our country. In other words, if you chose to teach for your national service, it wouldn’t be at the Montessori in an upper middle class suburb, but rather perhaps an underfunded school in an under-served northern community or disadvantaged inner city neighbourhood. We could use national service programs to assist with the very social safety net of which we are so proud but which the government can ill afford to continue funding at the same levels as we have historically. This would be a much needed supplement to the social safety net while at the same time preparing our teenagers for the challenges of adulthood.

I strongly believe Canada is the greatest nation in the world. I also believe that no matter how much every generation of parents worries about the younger generation, those kids usually turn out okay, just as we did. But comfort should not mean apathy. There is much to be done and Canada can be even better. Let us not rest on our laurels. Let us strive to make every future generation the absolute best it can be, and in the process improve the social services of our country via national service, and ultimately the economy and politics by sending forth from their national service the best prepared, most informed, most mature, compassionate and responsible generation than we have ever sent before.