My experience at the Quebec Court of Appeal

This morning I witnessed everything that is wrong with our justice system.

An error in law, during a judicial recount of an election, was made by a judge of the Court of Quebec. A judge. The guy in the process who is supposed to understand the law better than anyone. He pooched a black and white law because, well, we have no idea why. It could be because he had a bad day. It could be because the day started off with proof that the process was compromised in other ways before it even got to him. It could be because one set of lawyers were more aggressive than the other. It could be because the judge didn’t take time to fully understand the law, and the context in which it is applied.

A judge is supposed to be able to flush out the distractions and stay focused on the case; on the law. A judge is supposed to be above all of this.

This judge, Judge Antonio De Michele, was not above any of this. He was tasked by law to settle a dispute about the validity of ballots. Instead, he caused more, and greater, problems than there were when the parties first entered his courtroom.

Fast forward about six months (it is unclear who is ultimately responsible for this delay) and today, finally, the Quebec Court of Appeal was convened to hear a challenge to Judge De Michele’s decision. That never happened.

It never happened because the judges, yesterday, sent a memo to the plaintiff’s lawyers questioning whether they had the jurisdiction to even hear this appeal. Their assertion was that the proper court for this process should have been the Superior Court, the court designated to hear “Contestation of Election” challenges, even though this was not a contestation of the election, but rather a review of Judge De Michele’s inconsistent-with-the-law rulings. An appeal, if you will, at the Quebec Court of, you guess it, “Appeals”.

I know that appealing a judge’s decision at a lower court to the aptly-named Court of Appeals sounds reasonable to most of us, but in their decision, the Court of Appeal judges claimed that Judge De Michele was not, in fact, acting in the position of “Judge” when he presided over the judicial recount. The Court of Appeal’s (QCOA) position is that *Judge* De Michele was merely a “persona designata” which, according to Black’s Law Dictionary, means “A person considered as an individual rather than as a member of a class”. So, in essence, the QCOA position was that this person who was treated like a judge all day when performing their functions, was not actually acting in the capacity of a judge. And therefore, any appeal of their decisions must go to the court of first instance, which is the Quebec Superior Court. Ironically, the building that this Judge-not-acting-as-a-Judge was operating in at the time of the errors in law he committed.


The fact that the law requires the person who presides over the recount to be a judge didn’t matter to the 3 QCOA judges who heard the argument this morning.

The fact that the process of recounting votes is called a “judicial” recount didn’t matter to them.

The fact that the process took place in a courtroom didn’t matter to them.

The fact that the process took place in front of opposing sets of lawyers, pleading their cases to a person whose main profession is a judge didn’t matter to them.

The fact that the person required to make rulings was supposed to rule based on the law, the main responsibility of a judge, didn’t matter to them.

The Chief Judge of the QCOA said, repeatedly, that Judge De Michele (should we be calling him “Mister” instead, given the court’s positon?) was merely conducting a recount, not rendering any legal decisions. I cannot disagree more. In fact, Judge De Michele rendered dozens of decisions which should have been based on the elections law, but weren’t.

And because the deadline to file a “challenge to a recount” (rather than an “Appeal”) is 30 days, that means that the plaintiff now has no further recourse. Game over. Case closed.

So Judge De Michele’s arbitrary decisions as to the validity of ballots in an election go completely unchecked.

So why do I care about this?

I don’t have any horse in this race. I don’t care who ultimately wins the commissioner’s seat. I was fighting, from day one, for the rights of electors to have their legally valid votes counted. I was fighting for the principle that voters are supposed to decide elections, not courts. Judge De Michele let electors down and today, the Quebec Court of Appeal, the highest provincial court, gave this travesty their stamp of approval. On a technicality that might not even be one.

This is not my fight, but I have made it my fight because the people who should have led the charge all ran and hid, each with their own pass-the-buck excuse.

First, I brought this issue to the attention of the Directeur General des Elections du Quebec (DGEQ). Their response was that even though they are responsible for provincial elections, that school board elections are not their responsibility. Rather, they said, school board elections fall under the Ministry of Education.

So I called the Ministry of Education and shared the issue with them. They told me that it’s not their responsibility. Yup, you guessed it. They told me to call the DGEQ. I explained that I had and shared what I was told. They checked and said that they couldn’t get involved because it would be perceived that they were taking sides (one candidate over the other). I responded that they needed to get involved to take the elector’s side. They said they’d get back to me. I told them that time was short, given that the 30-day delay would expire a few days later. I never got another call.

And today, the Quebec Court of Appeal said that they are not responsible for settling this issue. The highest court in Quebec – “not responsible.”


Once the last ballot was in the ballot box, this process completely forgot about the most important participant in the process: the elector. Lawyers fought for their clients to be elected, Judge De Michele ignored the law, and the judges on the Court of Appeal never even allowed a conversation about their best interests.

The 3 judges today argued with jurisprudence presented to them by the plaintiff’s lawyer, who argued beautifully. Their argument was that the cases he was citing were all in Federal courts. Fine. It’s an important distinction, but no jurisprudence exists in provincial court on this issue, in this context. Instead of taking hold of an opportunity to create new jurisprudence in the interest of building confidence in the electoral system, these judges – who admitted openly in court that they agreed there was no direct example for them to follow – took the easy road and walked away.

Our justice system is supposed to be about following the rules. Today, it was not. Today, it was about convenience. These judges came into the courtroom today looking for arguments on jurisdiction and the burden of proof was on the attorney to convince them. Sitting in that courtroom today, it was clear they were not going to be convinced. At one point, the attorney made a very strong point about their choice of venue at the QCOA being deliberate and not an error on their part. Instead of acknowledging the argument being made, Judge Marie St-Pierre chose to focus on how that fact was not mentioned in the plaintiff’s brief. Why should it have been? They chose a court based on their research and filed there. Isn’t intention obvious?

Our justice system is supposed to be accessible. Today, it was not. Today, in essence, the judges told the plaintiff that because his lawyers made what in the court’s mind was a bad decision, that he loses the right to have his say. Now I know that when we hire lawyers that they become our representatives, and that we are responsible for our representative’s actions. But consider that if a lawyer got this “wrong” (arguably, in the eyes of these judges) that the plaintiff would have had no chance in getting it right on his own. The issue wasn’t clear. The judges said that themselves.

I have been working in elections for over half of my life, managing them for the last 9 years at all levels of government. I have extensive training, both theoretical and practical. I have travelled internationally to observe elections in the interest of fairness. I’ve seen lots of unbelievable things. But this has me profoundly upset because I expected better at home. Today, neither the letter nor the spirit of the law was held up by those whose sole job it is to ensure the primacy of law.

Today, a school board commissioner candidate (who was the winner on election day, by the way, only to lose during the contested recount) lost his chance to have even a hearing to have even the chance to have a wrong righted. And for no good reason.

More importantly though, the public lost today. Countless people every election ask Deputy Returning Officers and Poll Clerks how to mark their ballots to ensure that their votes are counted. As a Returning Officer, I have led countless training sessions to make sure that I train these people to provide answers that will stand up to questioning and scrutiny based on the legal definitions and examples provided. I used to rely on the clear, black and white text of the law. Now I don’t know how to answer their question. Today, I lost confidence that I am in control of my vote. Today, I learned that a judge can decide that my mark is not valid because my pencil slightly left the circle, even though the law specifically and expressly declares that mark valid.

Many lawyers over the years have told me that when you bring a court case, there is always luck involved. If you have the facts on your side, you should win. There are cases where the facts are disputed, but this wasn’t one of them. This was an easy opportunity for the Quebec Court of Appeal to make this wrong right. And they chose not to.

Today, the people who were responsible for ensuring that justice is ultimately done when justice was not done let down the people of Quebec.


It’s not me, it’s you.

The “share” button on facebook is used to make your favourite links, comments, and other media appear to your “friends”. Usually, it is used for the funny, the witty, politically hot topics, inspirational quotes, and the like. (no pun intended)

Today, a contact of mine “shared” an image with the following quote: “I am responsible for what I say. I am not responsible for what you understand.”

I am compelled to respond with a blog quickie.

Consider that maintaining this type of attitude is one of the most effective ways to kill conversation and ruin relationships. Contrary to very popular belief, effective communication occurs when we focus more on the message that is received rather than what is sent. What’s written above is the epitome of “easy way out” and the definition of irresponsible communication.

Effective communicators ensure that the message is received the way they intended it to be, and will stop at nothing to avoid or clean up any misunderstanding. Their positive results speak for themselves.

When Science Lies

Life is simple. We make it difficult.

We take simple circumstances and attach meaning to them. We look to define things instead of letting them simply be. One of the ways that we attach meaning, believing that this meaning is credible, is by quoting “science”. Trouble is, science is not perfect, not foolproof, and definitely not absolute. Relying on “science” can be incredibly misleading and have a devastating impact especially when we incorrectly believe that all results that scientific processes produce are credible. They’re not.

It is foolish to put absolute trust in a system where absolute proof is known to be nearly impossible. Even when their findings gain acceptance from their peers, scientists know that their results are considered valid only until such time as they are disproven in a future study or experiment. Every published experiment carries a footnote explaining its “statistical significance”; a disclaimer, so to speak, acknowledging that the results obtained are valid only for the sample studied. (If only the media would ensure this was understood instead of reporting each finding as factual.) 

As if science wasn’t imperfect enough already, add to the equation the human element, with its ego and ulterior motives, and the cloudy water gets even more muddied. In fairness, there are many, many scientists out there doing incredible work and I salute them and their dedication. With or without breakthrough results, I believe that the vast majority of scientists are largely selfless and pursuing their work for most, if not all, of the right reasons. However, as the famous quote explains, one bad apple spoils the bunch. Unfortunately, one is a severe understatement.

When I was in elementary school, I obsessed over hockey boxscores. Every morning after a hockey game, I would take a piece of loose-leaf, lined paper, a black Pilot Fineliner pen and a copy of the sports section. I recopied the boxscore over and over until I got it absolutely right. One spelling mistake or poorly written letter and that piece of paper found itself crumpled on the floor beneath wherever I was sitting. I would take a new paper and start from the beginning. There’s no question that my behaviour was obsessive and likely related to a perception that errors and failing were unacceptable. Was this behaviour indicative of a disorder or simply of an idiosyncratic 9-year-old boy? 

I focused completely on this activity but rarely succeeded in giving the same attention to most of my teachers. Back then, no one thought twice about it. Today, many kids (and even adults) who exhibit the same behaviours are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Based on what? The majority of the “symptoms” tend to have a completely rational explanation. When does simple disinterest or lack of a challenge in class turn into a disorder that “requires” medication to treat it?

Comedian Carlos Mencia has a reputation for calling things as he sees them and never beats around the bush. While ranting about the lowering of educational standards in schools, he remarks:

“And then people started coming up with diseases… “my son can’t pay attention because he has attention deficit disorder” – which is a bullshit disease that they made up in the 1980’s for your f**ked up kids that are eeeehh (groan-like unintelligent sound referring to a stupid person) and you don’t want to admit it.”

He sums up his views with a pointed conclusion:

“A.D.D. my ass, that’s a bullshit disease! If it didn’t exist when I was a kid then (expletive) it’s not real!”

I think he’s right on.

ADD or ADHD, they’re just fancy scientific-sounding terms to say that the person doesn’t pay attention. Instead of seeing this as a made-up condition, people are buying into it for self-serving reasons. Parents want a diagnosis that explains their child’s behaviour, excuses the kid’s problems and shortcomings and ignores any possibility that the parents’ child-rearing decisions had anything to do with it. People want a diagnosis that makes everyone “feel” good (read: tell them that it’s not their fault) but truth isn’t invited to the party.

It’s nothing more than a crutch. This diagnosis, for too many, is akin to patronizing them and treating them like incapable babies. Essentially, the patient and, in the case of a child, their parents hear “you have a legitimate medical problem and there’s nothing you can do about it.” From that point on, any issue with attention is met with the excuse “I have ADD”. (read: it’s not my fault, I can’t do better, or don’t expect much of me.)

We might even be teaching our children to be unfocused. These days, many North American children grow up with more toys than they have time to play with. We’re teaching them to not spend more than a few minutes at a time (if that long) on one task/activity before moving on to the next one.

Doctors dole out Ritalin like candy and society is left to deal with kids who are medicated to the point of artificial attention. Patients rely on the meds and “deal with it” rather than doing something about it. Worse, if patients see “positive” results with the medication, they will actually begin to believe that medication is the only viable solution, causing them to be addicted to the drug. Consider please that treating the symptoms while ignoring the root cause of the problem is never an effective long-term solution.

Perhaps, using the basis of neuroplasticity (as previously described), a more appropriate, more effective treatment would be to work with patients, invite them to take responsibility for their levels of attention and train them, using exercises and practice, to “heal” themselves over time. 

This approach would actually respect people’s abilities and empower them to deal with issues that hold them back in their lives. However, the preferred approach to attention issues continues to focus on medication. The reason might lie (pun intended) in the ulterior motives I mentioned earlier. To respect people, to empower them, to teach them, would all lead to less profit for pharmaceutical companies who count on drug sales to boost their bottom lines, even if the drugs are treating phony “disorders” that we are naturally equipped to deal with. Unfortunately, it will likely take a protest on a global scale to effect these kinds of changes. Overeager and simple-minded doctors all over the world have discovered that an ADD/ADHD diagnosis is a quick and painless way to make their patient feel better (by absolving them of all responsibility) and then moving on to the next billable patient.

ADD and ADHD aren’t the only examples of made-up disorders. “Antisocial personality disorder” is the scientific term that could be more honestly expressed as “he/she is awkward around other people”, but we’re too polite for that. We convince ourselves that seeing people as “sick” and pitying them is more honourable than risking ill feelings, challenging their beliefs and teaching them to help themselves.

We cannot give scientists free rein to make stuff up, because the most vulnerable among us will unquestioningly consume it as fact. In 1998, a British study linked the vaccine for Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) to childhood autism. As a result, millions of parents in Britain, Canada, the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand decided against vaccinating their child, leading to millions of unprotected children. The British Medical Journal recently disclosed new details into this how this “study” was fraudulent and, not surprisingly, once again ulterior motives are at the forefront. The journal notes that, beyond the laughably small number of subjects (8) that the findings were based on, the whole study had been skewed in advance, as the patients in the study had been recruited via campaigners already opposed to the MMR vaccine.

I believe that the more we repeat a lie, the more likely we are to eventually believe it to be the truth. This week, AFTER it was revealed that this 1998 British study was branded “a crafted attempt to deceive” and “an elaborate fraud” among the gravest of charges in medical research, polls conducted in various North American cities suggest that news that the study was completely unscientific and that there is no link between the MMR vaccine and autism will encourage very few parents who previously opposed the vaccine to change their minds.

It appears that the damage is already done. The lie got to the people and they ate it up. Those with ulterior motives are the epitome of selfishness. They don’t think twice about the consequences of their actions and could care less about who they hurt on the road to getting what they want.

When will we learn? When we’re fed information, feel free to take a bite. But, before you swallow, make sure to chew it well and, if it tastes funny, spit it out!

Lies and pants

“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”
 – Winston Churchill
Why is this so true? Consider that a lie requires only imagination and isn’t held back by that pesky thing called honesty. No need to let facts ruin a good story, eh?
Telling an intentional lie is the lowest of societal lows, and I would venture to say that there is always an ulterior motive behind such a lie. If one’s eyes and mind are open, the reason behind the deception is usually very easy to identify.
Accidental lies, though less egregious, are still offensive.  Whether due to misseducation, misunderstanding, misconception, or miscommunication, a lie-teller always misses the point. Let no one deny that anyone who communicates anything bears the ultimate responsibility for either ensuring the veracity of the information before passing it on or, if it’s not true, for at least making sure that they do not share it with anyone else. (Bonus points to anyone who, after hearing a lie, follows up and confronts the person or source they heard it from.)

Of course, the media has a significant share of responsibility for the ease that lies have in getting around the world. The media promotes lies because it loves controversy, and nothing creates tension and conflict and sells newspapers or commercials like a sensationalized story that plays on emotions. If I had a dime for every time a reporter told me that their facts were wrong because they “didn’t have the time” to check them, I would be living comfortably on a private island instead of writing this blog during a snowfall. It’s truly unfortunate that priorities are this skewed.

Lastly, and even more prevalent now with the increased role of social media and the ease of sharing information, the public has a responsibility for the lies it consumes. We eat this stuff up and, given the sick joy we seem to get from the lies told about others, we are always hungry for the next meal.

Why are so few people taking concrete action to stop lies dead in their tracks? Worse, why are so many groups so eager to help lies get farther, faster?

The inspiration for this blog post came from recent news stories. While in Toronto for a race, monitors in the Toronto subway system shared a “news” report entitled: “Israeli spy device found: Hezbollah.” Really? Reading up on the story online later in the day, Yahoo! News reports that “the device exploded, apparently detonated remotely by the Israelis, Hezbollah said in a statement.”

Simple, basic critical thinking should raise some puzzling questions about this statement. To recap, the device “exploded”, so they never got a chance to study it, so how do they know that it was a spy device and not, say, a bomb? How do they know this “spy device” was Israeli? On what basis can they claim that it was “detonated remotely by the Israelis?”

In reality, there is no such proof, but hey, who needs proof when your aim is to villify your neighbour? Who needs proof when the media just reprints what you tell them to without questioning anything? Who needs proof when the readers believe a sensational headline? When they don’t probe?

Demand proof! If there is no proof, the accusation should never be printed. And if it is printed without proof, don’t believe it! They are counting on people to be stupid pawns in their public relations war. They are counting on their lies creating hatred and animosity towards the only state in the middle east that actually believes in democracy and abides by the rule of law. Don’t let lies create enemies. Stand up for peace!

Even if one stipulates that it *was* a spy device (since no one can prove it with certainty), anyone who has followed middle Eastern news knows that there are other groups who might reasonably be interested in learning more about the goings on (read: spying) in Lebanon. Hezbollah and the Lebanese government don’t always see eye-to-eye, Lebanon and Syria don’t exactly have a relationship based on trust, and the assassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005 exposed major conflicts in the country. Currently, the United Nations is in the middle of a special investigation into Hariri’s assassination and the theories of the killing (and who is responsible) center around telecommunications equipment, just like the system that the device was allegedly “spying” on.

What happened to real investigative journalism? It seems that like many people in many professions, it’s easier to just “mail it in”, that is, satisfy the bare minimum requirements without doing what we know needs to be done in order to submit quality work.

In response to a Montreal Gazette article entitled “Want fast care? Slip an MD some cash”, Dr. Markus Martin, MD at the Jewish General Hospital, asks “why doesn’t The Gazette try something more challenging, something that involves real reporting and real research and not just innuendo?” The Gazette will undoubtedly respond that they seeked out a “high-ranking physician” as a source. I argue that a single source making an anonymous accusation is not nearly enough to justify the magnitude of the negative impacts on thousands of doctors and on the confidence of millions of patients.

Dr. Martin ends his letter by inviting the Gazette to interview every obstetrics patient of his for the last 10 years in order to “ask if [he] ever accepted cash” in exchange for preferential medical treatment. Dr. Martin suggests that, upon completion of these interviews, the Gazette “will quickly ascertain how scurrilous and hurtful [their] inaccurate insinuations are.” Unfortunately for those who value truth, scurrilous, hurtful, and inaccurate insinuations sell papers much more effectively than the truth.

Some journalists, and the media outlets that support them, are complicit with those whose goal it is to promote their  selfish (and possibly destructive) goals at the expense of truth. They know that the truth will earn them condemnation, not support, and they can’t let that happen. These lies, unchecked, will stand in the way of the realization of society’s best interests.

Worse, lies are standing in the way of peace in many regions of the world. We have a choice. We can either let lies stand in the way, or we can stand up to them in order to stand up for what we all know is right. Instead of turning a blind eye, when confronted with a lie, challenge yourself to help the truth get its pants on quickly.

Unfashionably late

In July of 2008, I was at the St. Denis Theatre for another Just for Laughs Gala, particularly excited because the host was Jimmy Fallon. From his opening monologue filled with absolutely brilliant celebrity impersonations alone the audience got more than their money’s worth for the night. As he finished his set to wild applause and appreciation, the ushers allowed the latecomers to make their way down the aisles toward their seats. Still on a high from that incredible opening, I was starting to get annoyed at these people whose lateness meant a break in the hilarity. I was also annoyed that Just for Laughs was accommodating those who didn’t care enough to be on time.

Once again, Jimmy Fallon came to the rescue. As one woman whose seat was in the middle of one of the first few rows was about to start the lateral slide by those already in their seats, Fallon spoke directly to her in a very affectionate voice: “Oh gosh, you’re late, I’m glad you’re here now, I hope you’re alright… .” And then he asked the question of the night: “Can I get you anything… like a f—ing watch?”


This modern response is perfect for this blog, committed to saying things that many people are thinking but dare not say. Thank you to Jimmy Fallon for having the courage to say it. 

When a secretary of George Washington, excusing himself for being late, said that his watch was too slow, Washington is quoted as saying, frankly, “You must get a new watch, or I must get a new secretary.”

The “Urban Dictionary” defines “fashionably late” as “the refined art of being just late enough (5 minutes or so) to give the impression that you are a busy, popular person that was held up with other business.”
Sorry. There is nothing fashionable about being late. Nothing but a selfishness of having everybody see you (and perhaps your “fashions”) as you walk in and interrupt what they’re busy doing.
Perhaps the urban dictionary needs to be updated, because it seems that “5 minutes” has turned into “over an hour” in many cases.
Being late is a sign of disrespect, plain and simple. Disrespect for your schedule, for the invitation you received, in some cases for the people who are performing, and in every case for the promise you made by agreeing to attend whatever you’re attending.
And what about parties among friends or family? There is no honesty. I admit that when I host a party, the invitation time will be for some time before the hour I expect the festivities to start at because I know so few people are on time. If I invite people for the actual time, we would end up starting about an hour late! Consequently, I would get to spend less time with these important people. If I want more time together, I must consider the realities, and unfortunately one of them is that there is a general lack of importance for schedules.
It’s a vicious circle because the other side of the coin is that many people are late because they don’t want to be the first person to arrive anywhere. (Another example of how relying on *unreal* feelings causes personal and societal problems.) The expectation is that everyone else is going to be late and they feel too uncomfortable waiting alone in a restaurant at a table for 20 because even the organizers aren’t on time.
So what do we do about this? Lateness has become the societal “norm” because we have given up on making punctuality a priority. As with many trends, it is easier to slide into an area of less responsibility than it is to raise the bar. It is easier to take the attitude of “I’ll be there when I get there” than it is to arrange one’s schedule so as to be on time (or, dare I say, be early) for every commitment you agree to. It’s easier to hope that things work out than it is to do what needs to be done to make them work out.
I think it goes without saying that things will only get worse if we don’t take action, collectively. When was the last time you were seen on time by your family doctor or health specialist? 
If people are not going to take their promises seriously, it is up to society to step up and hold them to account.
If you have tickets to a show and arrive late, you should not be allowed in.
If you have a doctor’s appointment and arrive late, you should lose your appointment time and be put on a standby list, not seen by the doctor in front of anyone else who is on time for their appointment.
If you have a business meeting and show up late, you should pay the price, be it losing a contract, paying for the time of the people you’re meeting with, or any other appropriate remedy
…and so on.
I give paid training courses to election workers. Those people who are not on time for their training course are not only turned away from the course, but they lose their assigned job for election day. Word is getting around, and during our last election we turned away a considerably lower number of hired staff than in previous elections.
Of course, there is occasionally a very good reason why someone is late or cancels a commitment, but there is never a good reason to be late without having the decency to call the people you’re meeting with to let them know. If you’re going to be late to a meeting, call the person to tell them you’re running late. This way, you give them the opportunity to choose whether to keep the appointment or to reschedule because your delay would cause them problems with their own schedules.
We’ve lowered the excuses bar to ridiculous levels. The standard of what is a “valid” reason is now laughable. For example, when someone tells me that they are late because of traffic, I tell them they should have left earlier. It is unfortunately easier to blame other people and other occurrences for one’s shortcomings than to take responsibility for their irresponsibility.
As in all of my postings, I stand firmly for choice, for personal responsibility, and for the elimination of hypocrisy. So, if you don’t appreciate when your doctor runs late and makes you wait, make sure that you’re doing everything you possibly can to ensure that you are not making others wait on you.
I, too, have work to do ensuring that I am never late. I am not proud of my lapses and make no excuses for them, but I have made great strides ever since I took on the following approach to punctuality: “If I show up exactly on time, then I am late.” 
To quote the great William Shakespeare: “Better be three hours too soon than one minute too late.”