Introduction – Scot Stanfield
By way of introducing myself to the Tantallon region and the people who live in this amazing place, I’d like to tell a story. It’s not long, so I hope you’ll bear with me.
As a younger man in my first year of law school, I volunteered to work the Landlord/Tenant hotline that’s part of the Western University Legal Aid Clinic. One day while I was manning the phones, the receptionist came into the back room in a bit of a panic. A couple had come into the clinic for an intake assessment and there was nobody there except for the two of us – no upper year students, no lawyers, no professors. The couple were visibly upset and were begging to have someone to talk to, so I hesitantly agreed to listen to their problem and present my notes to the head of the clinic.
The gentleman who I sat across the table from with his wife told me his tale: He worked in a factory on the line and in the course of his work, been injured in a way I won’t repeat for the benefit of sensitive readers, but he found himself unable to stand on his line for any length of time until the injury healed. Being unable to offer him accommodated work, his employer had placed him on worker’s compensation. They were a young couple with a brand-new baby and, through no fault of their own, had just seen their income cut by 20% for the foreseeable future. Soon, he told me, Christmas was approaching and, in the way of new fathers, he was despairing at the idea of not being able to give his daughter the first Christmas he felt she deserved. So when a friend offered to give him shifts bouncing at a local nightclub for cash, he accepted, just to earn enough extra money for the holidays. What he didn’t know was that the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) regularly videotaped the front door of the club looking for worker’s comp fraud. His problem then, was that not only had WSIB cut off his injury benefits, but they were looking for double recovery of what he’d been paid and were considering criminal fraud charges against him.
The lawyer in charge of the Legal Aid clinic declined the case. “No prospect for success”, he said. “They have him on video.” I was stunned. As a first-year student, I didn’t know much about the law, but I knew when people were in need of help. Prior to law school I had worked in the hospitality industry and had been injured at a restaurant I worked at and had wound up on WSIB. I knew how hard it was on you emotionally and financially. I knew the temptation of picking up shifts being offered to you to help fill that monetary gap and help make you still feel worthwhile. So I pressed the issue with my boss and professor. I advocated for this young man to get the help I felt he needed and I won and our clinic represented him against the WSIB and we disproved the fraud and we got his benefits running again and we made arrangements for repayment of the money WSIB paid him during the time he was working at the bar.
So what’s the point of this not-as-short-as-I-promised story? In the nearly 20 years since this incident, I have never found a situation where my empathy as a lawyer hasn’t been of vital assistance to the case. With Christmas fast approaching in this most unique and isolating of years with people having to make do in circumstances emotionally and financially that they may never have had to experience before, that young man’s plight is fresh in my mind and I continue to think of him whenever anybody comes looking for my help. Because behind every one of the legal issues that I’ve ever faced are real people with real problems that get hidden behind an indictment or a police officer’s “statement of facts”.
As a defendant, you and your story are important. The whole facts are important. And I promise to help you get your story heard.