The Globe & Mail ran a contest for the best humorous description of a Canadian. One caught my attention. It said a Canadian is a person who obeys a stop sign at three in the morning, even if nobody is watching.
The observation is not even mildly amusing because the implications behind it speak to a fundamental tenet of what makes Canada a great nation. Canadians sleep safely knowing that most other Canadians are obeying the law, even when nobody is looking.
The central point is society is built on trust, once that is gone the society disintegrates. George Macdonald said, “To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved.” Lack of trust is a major reason people hold poor opinions of politicians. People who are close to politicians know. It is why Henry Kissinger said, “90% of the politicians give the other 10% a bad reputation.”
Trust in society is a much wider concept, as the Globe & Mail story infers. It is also a much more profound concept and once weakened deteriorates rapidly because you trust, or you don’t trust. It is an absolute. At best, we treat people with increasing caution once trust is betrayed, no matter how slight.
A former student who became a lawyer told me he took a course in contract law from one of the best contract lawyers in Canada. The opening comment in the first class was: If you sign a contract there is no problem; if you don’t sign a contract, there is no problem. We will now have a course in contract law.
Despite the disdain for contracts expressed by the law professor, lawyers urge everyone to have contracts. What this says is that you do not and cannot trust anyone. When that becomes the mindset, the society is in trouble. It is manifest among younger people in the belief that they only broke the law if they got caught. They also know they can hire a lawyer to prove they didn’t break the law and the more money you have, the better lawyer you can get to break the law and any contract.
Most people view the role of law in society differently than those involved in the law. They think they are defending the people, but most see the law, lawyers, and enforcers of the law as intimidating. I heard of a lawyer in England who had a standard letter that he used to exploit this fear. It said: This issue has come to our attention, and if you do not deal with it immediately, we will do things that will astonish you.
In my view and experience, the law has drifted a long way from justice. The intimidation of a letter from a lawyer is a result of several factors. A majority believes it is a legal document. It isn’t, it's a letter from a lawyer. They know, however, that to deal with the lawyer’s letter they need a lawyer, and that is very expensive.
They also know that their lawyer will contact the other lawyer, and they work out a deal between them that are rarely to the benefit of either client. Only the modern version of the law could allow the evolution of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP). True there is now anti-SLAPP legislation in 8 of 10 Canadian Provinces, but it doesn’t exist in Ontario or British Columbia.
Some lawyers, like Ezra Levant, are aware of the misuse of the law and is very active in fighting its misuse. He works tirelessly to make the law about justice, but in a measure of the use of law for intimidation he is served with legal actions for his troubles. As most understand, the law is supposed to protect people; it is a long way from that objective. It is the weapon of choice for the rich and powerful used to silence anyone who challenges them.
The fact that the law is increasingly incestuous exacerbates the problem. Lawyers are the predominant group among members of parliament. They are making, interpreting and applying the law. They have made the language of the law arcane beyond reason and understanding by anyone other than a lawyer. Law Societies appoint lawyers to sit in judgment of unprofessional behavior by other lawyers.
The number of jokes about a group reflects people's disdain or lack of trust for them. There are probably more jokes about lawyers than any other profession. The cost of lawyers is reflected in the joke about a Winnipegger, who said the winter was so cold he saw a lawyer with his hands in his own pockets. This is summarized by the joke that there are no jokes about lawyers they are all true stories. But there is nothing funny about the cost of the law or the loss of justice.
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