Your Question Period


Sam Michaels

Can a recycled US initiative, repackaged for a Canadian audience, be the hail mary the Senate needs to redeem themselves in the public’s mind?

This year, following a tumultuous period in which Justin Trudeau cast off his thirty-two Liberal senators in favour of younger, more PR-friendly caucus members, the newly self-styled Liberal caucus has launched a public campaign hoping to reinvigorate both the Senate and themselves. Led by caucus leader James Cowan, the Liberal senators have introduced a series of initiatives in order to open the Senate to the public and prove the upper house’s worth as a source of open discourse, informative research, and progressive policy suggestions.

Spearheading this effort is the “Your Question Period” program, a website deriving its concept from the hugely successful “We the People” platform in the United States. For those unfamiliar with either site, both offer an online form that individuals can fill out with a question which government officials can subsequently bring to the floor. “Your Question Period” offers Canadians the chance to submit their questions to the Liberal caucus, whose office reads the questions and selects some to be read aloud to the Senate during the question period. I had the opportunity to interview Senator James Cowan about the initiative, and he offered some interesting insight on its value and potential.

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Wild Gesticulation and Whispers of Rhubarb

What I Learnt About Being a Lawyer From the Set of Suits

My partner and I are in the middle of a high profile divorce settlement. We are having a heated whisper-discussion on the best legal approach to the dissolution of this crumbling but lucrative matrimony.

“We need to respect the boundaries of their terms,” I whisper to him. “But frankly I don’t think our client is going to get the yacht.”

He looks me in the eye and nods slowly, ponderously. “Indeed,” he whispers back. “Quite the dilemma. I’ve often found with law that the best approach is rhubarb. Rhuuuuuubarb. Rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb?”

I narrow my eyes. “Is the law a joke to you? That yacht is pure gold!” I try to play it straight but my upper lip twitches in a half-grin.

My partner’s eyes widen and his lips squeeze shut in an attempt to prevent imminent giggles. He exhales sharply out his nose. “You cheeky arse,” he whispers out of the side of his mouth and looks down at his yellow legal pad to regain his composure. He’s British so I take his wimpy insult in stride, but, I admit, we are playing a dangerous game with our nonsensical legalese. Once the giggles start, they are infectious and hard to control.

Lawyers lawyering.

Lawyers lawyering.

We’ve both been hired as extras on the set of Suits. I’ve been given the role of Upscale Lawyer #2. Part of the reason I took this job, and probably a large part of why I was hired, was the fact that I would be attending law school in a couple months.  I figured it might be a good taste of what being a lawyer would be like. Before we are called on, I attempt a little foray into method acting, clicking around the wood-paneled floor in heels and pearls, rustling the papers in my arms every now and then, looking at my watch with my brow slightly furrowed and mouth a grim line, imitating what I imagine someone important would do if they had somewhere important to be.

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Sports and Real Life

What the Experience of One Sports Journalist Can Tell Us About Media in Canada

On February 15th 2014, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punched his fiancée in the head in the elevator of an Atlantic City casino, knocking her unconscious. The casino’s cameras captured the incident, the details of which became known to the Ravens mere hours later. Sometime thereafter, the National Football League also became aware of Rice’s actions and the existence of the videos.

Precisely when the league came to know about the incident has engendered considerable controversy. In short, the league gave Rice a laughably tepid two-game suspension, after which video of the incident surfaced publicly. The league then went into damage-control mode, blaming Rice for not being forthcoming with them about the contents of the videos, absolving themselves of responsibility. Subsequent reporting, however, cast these claims into serious doubt. It has become clear that both the team and the league knew the true nature of the incident before Rice’s disciplinary hearing and before the videos became public. Despite this, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, in a post hoc attempt to justify the league’s insipid response and perfidious obfuscation, continued to maintain that the league was unaware of the true nature of the incident.

This situation evidently became too much for Bill Simmons, one of ESPN’s most popular personalities. On his podcast, which last year was downloaded over 32 million times, Simmons said:

“Goodell, if he didn’t know what was on that tape, he’s a liar, I’m just saying it.  He is lying.  I think that dude is lying. If you put him up on a lie detector test that guy would fail. For all these people to pretend they didn’t know is such f–king bullsh-t. It really is.  It’s such f–king bullsh-t.  And for him to go in that press conference and pretend otherwise, I was so insulted.  I really was.”

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Sports, Business, and the Cable Bundle Bubble

Are sports leagues going to continue the current pattern of ever-increasing revenues, or will the current sports economic system come crashing down under its own weight?

There is no denying that sports is big business. The NBA just signed a new television deal for 24 billion dollars over nine years. The NHL Canadian television deal was for 5.2 billion dollars, and is now suggested to have been less than the rights were actually worth. The television rights deals seem to be continuously increasing in value.   However, this system may be unsustainable.

Gone is the era of sports as a small family business, or a hobby for millionaires and billionaires. Run sensibly, sports franchises can bring in gigantic revenues, largely based on income from television. The Los Angeles Clippers, following the Donald Sterling scandal, were recently sold for over 2 billion dollars. Other franchises may sell for even greater amounts.

One would be hard-pressed to find sympathy for the players who routinely earn multimillion dollar contracts for playing a game at a high level. However, the current collective bargaining agreements in many sports are structured to give players only a limited percentage of the league revenues. These collective bargaining agreements were premised on the fact that the owners required a large portion of total league income in order to avoid losing money. This understanding failed to account for the massively growing revenues. If all that the owners required was a share of revenue capable of covering team expenses, as they suggested was the case, the owners would require a much smaller percentage of total league revenues. The players are well aware of the changing league finances, and will fight in the next set of collective bargaining agreements for a much larger share of league profits.

Simply put, the current system cannot last forever. The ballooning revenues are based on television networks craving live programing. They believe that in an era of PVRs and streaming services the only way to ensure viewership is to offer live programing that people will not be willing to watch later. The networks have entered into an arms race, seeking to outbid each other for precious live programming.

“Subscription packages are the norm in television.”

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Why the Toronto Maple Leafs have not been able to win the Stanley Cup for nearly half-a-century

Part two of three

Prior to the cancelled 2004 to 2005 season, the Leafs had an ill-advised pattern of trading away 1st-round selections for unproven and/or unspectacular (and sometimes rental) players in order to make a run (albeit a short one at

Fans still waiting for their cup. Source: jpg?size=620x400

Fans still waiting for their cup. Source:

best) in the playoffs. They would also opt for band-aid solutions in the form of signing relatively-big names but past-their-prime unrestricted/Group III free agents (at least 31 years old) to long-term expensive contracts in order to fill roster voids on a short-term basis.  For instance, Leafs Nation should remember how former General Manager John Ferguson, Jr. infamously traded away the rights to future Star Goaltender Tuukka Rask to the Boston Bruins for inconsistent counterpart Andrew Raycroft (who won the 2004 Calder Memorial Trophy before regressing significantly the year after) on June 24, 2006 and then made a nearly-identical mistake less than a year later by trading yet another 1st-round pick and a 4th-round pick to San Jose Sharks for unproven Starting Goaltender Vesa Toskala and uninspired forward Mark Bell on June 22, 2007.

Unfortunately, with the introduction of the salary cap, the Leafs are now forced to think long and hard about how they ought to spend because they now have to fit the contracts of their 23 NHL roster players within a spending ceiling, just like the other 29 NHL teams. The fact that the historical franchise has unlimited financial resources is no longer as beneficial because  it cannot utilize the funds as a competitve advantage against small markets, given that spending over the salary cap ceiling will result in cap circumvention that would lead to severe penalties imposed by the NHL. Any attempt to manipulate NHL salary cap rules would be voided by the NHL as the New Jersey Devils did when long-time General Manager Lou Lamoriello tried to sign explosive Winger Ilya Kovalchuk to a 17-year contract worth $102 million on July 20, 2010. A similar move would lead to heavy sanctions, just like the one that the Devils received (originally, the team had one of its future 1st round selection taken away by the NHL after which it was restored but the franchise had to pick 30th/last in the 1st round).

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An idiots guide to salary caps

How much are sports figures being paid, and who controls their salaries?

Having recently participated in the Hockey Arbitration Competition of Canada, I realized I knew almost nothing about the NHL salary caps. Below is my “idiots guide to salary caps,” for anyone else who might have been living under a rock.

salary cap

Big Bucks, Big Players!

A salary cap is an agreement or rule that puts a limit on the amount of money a team can spend on player salaries. The cap can be in the form of a per-player limit, a total limit for the team’s roster, or a combination thereof. Several sports leagues, especially in North America, have implemented salary caps to keep overhead low and to ensure parity between teams, to encourage competition and to allow less-wealthy teams to sign top players. Salary caps can be a major issue in negotiations between league management and players’ unions through arbitration, notably leading to strikes by players and lockouts by owners. Examples of salary cap systems include the NHL, NBA, MLS, CFL and others.

The benefits of salary caps are the promotion of parity between teams and controlling costs. The salary caps prevent wealthy teams from signing too many star players that end up sitting on the bench simply so that opponents don’t get them. With the salary cap, each club has roughly the same economic power to attract players. This plays into the mission of the various leagues and sports in general – to ensure a quality spectacle that is not a foregone conclusion. If only certain teams were to win year after year, the magic of sports will be lost and the competition will lose its luster; fans will come to less games and might tend to gravitate towards the teams that can consistently buy expensive players to ensure wins. Ad revenue would also theoretically drop due to fans’ disinterest in the outcomes of such games. Teams with less financial means would likely not remain viable for long, and may eventually cease to play. A prime example are the Cleveland Browns in 1946-49 in the All-America Football Conference, losing only three times in four years, and winning every championship, causing the league to fold.

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Jane and Finch: Dispelling Postal Code Preconceptions

Questioning the correlation between crime and geography: sensationalized?

Questioning the correlation between crime and geography: sensationalized?

Osgoode Hall Law School is coincidentally located in very close proximity to one of Canada’s most “notorious” and “crime-ridden” locales. For many, the phrase “Jane and Finch” conjures notions of extreme poverty, drug abuse, gang violence, crime, and racialized identities, if not conceptions of even greater heinousness. It is a dangerous place, to be entered with caution and consideration, and only if complete avoidance is not viable. More problematic than the stigmatization of this demography as a whole is the unfounded and blanket attribution of related character and personality traits to its citizens. The people who live there are bad; they are criminals, they are dangerous. Without entering into an overly complex account of the causes of these misconceptions, they can be broadly deduced to arise from the following categories which work in tandem to amplify the result: political and economic strategy, criminological reporting and methodology, access to justice, and media propaganda.

Following the line of argumentation that asserts that “bad” people commit crimes (which is not the contention of this author), reality dictates that offences are committed everywhere, and thus, there must necessarily be “bad” people residing in all neighborhoods. As logical as this appears in black and white, it is easily taken for granted, if not completely discarded, when confronted with the powerful and persuasive tools used to convey the opposite. Dismantling the dominant rhetoric and flawed reasoning demonstrated in presentations connecting demography with frequency and type of crime is the focus here. For example, statistics can indicate the frequency of crime reporting per demographic area. When a correlation is found between frequency of reporting and location, presented with an adrenaline-pumping audio track and broadcasted for public consumption as breaking news in the aftermath of a violent crime in a so-called “ghetto,” it is often assumed, in absence of being told a concrete conviction rate, that criminals reside and abound in that neighbourhood. The stereotype is born. Moral panic and local hysteria often follow, perpetuating the vilification and othering of geographies and their inhabitants, all under the guide of an intricate politic of social regulation.

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The Obiter Goes Abroad: David To in Tokyo

Reality outside the bustling big cities, and outside of the exchange student lifestyle.

Reality outside the bustling big cities, and outside of the exchange student lifestyle.

By now, we all can relate to the fact that that one semester flies by in no time. Maybe the first weeks feel slower, but as routine kicks in, it’s already time to hustle for finals. But that perceived passage of time can change so very drastically when one is taken out of that habitual comfort zone; three months is a long, long time to pass when alone in a new world. Time alone in a foreign place affords this kind of learning, as it gives one the opportunity to dedicate long hours to the sole purpose of understanding one’s own self, as well as the many unique adventures of being a newcomer to a strange land.

David To, my good friend now articling with the Ontario Ministry of Finance, echoes these thoughts in his reflections about his own time as an exchange student at Waseda University. Along with a highlighting the Japan experience, he shares with us his thoughts about the life lessons that are bound to come along the way.

Since taking some Japanese language courses years ago, David’s curiosity for the country’s culture and language grew, culminating in his choice to apply to go to Tokyo on exchange. “I wanted to go on exchange to get a chance to travel and see the world,” he says. His decision to go was compounded by the fact that it would be difficult in the future to find several consecutive months to travel. Plus, Tokyo was an opportune place to further his interest in learning the language and culture through immersive living in the city. And of course: “I had worked hard through university…I justified it as a well-deserved trip.” Well-deserved, indeed.

“The most anticipated part of my trip was the food,” he says. “In particular, I really wanted to taste the sushi there. The fish tasted much fresher, and the rice was prepared well–even at the most inexpensive restaurants.” A memorable experience was at the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, where the tuna he bought and sampled was extremely fresh, despite being unexpectedly rough in texture.

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Something Olde, Something New…

Has the Copyright Act become outdated in a new digital era?

Photo credit: Ariel Zambelich/Wired.

Photo credit: Ariel Zambelich/Wired.

Once upon a time, it was commonplace for consumers to pop into their local shops and browse through collections of used records, CDs, movies, books, or whatever other media were available for purchase. Students would resell their used textbooks to get back a portion of the initial price paid for them, and Nirvana fans could pick up a used copy of In Utero without feeling like a sellout for paying the full twenty-some-odd dollars for it. All the while, original copyright holders would benefit from the exposure their works gained by increased access to consumers and the public. In this respect, secondary markets provide economic benefits to both owners and users, furthering public policies toward ensuring public access to creative works, as well as respecting the property rights that are associated with these tangible works. In their traditional form, in so far as they facilitate the distribution of tangible goods for resale, secondary markets operate to fulfill the underlying principle of intellectual property law: balancing the competing interests between content creators, users, and the public domain.

It might seem like a foregone conclusion to the younger generation today that this same model ought to be applied within today’s digital environment. History has shown that copyright law has continually adapted, either judicially or through legislation, to changes in technology from the printing press, to radio and broadcast, to photocopiers. Why should the internet and digitization prove to be any different? Rather than lending a friend their dog-eared and highlighted copy of last year’s biology textbook, current users might simply transfer the e-book to a friend’s iPad or Kindle instead. However, given the current state of copyright law, these users might be shocked to find that while lending the physical textbook is permissible, transferring a digital version of that same textbook would leave them liable for copyright infringement.

“Users have developed a set of expectations regarding digital works.”

Traditional understandings of owning a physical copy of a creative work generally include such rights as unlimited use and the ability to transfer or dispose of the copy without the copyright owner’s authorization. These rights are shaped, in part, by the conventional understandings that society holds about the ownership of physical property. It has been said that copyright law does not so much expressly build in such incidents of copy ownership, as it accepts and assumes such incidents as given. In other words, the rights associated with tangible objects have been defined by laws relating to personal property, with copyright law merely imposing a limited set of restrictions. However, the bundle of rights associated with digital copies is currently not synonymous with those attributed to physical copies. Where owners of tangible objects hold rights that stem from a clear separation of the physical property from the intellectual property, owners of digital works appear to have very little rights at all in the absence of such a separation. Justifications for this distinction should be based on policy considerations and not left merely as the result of a changing technology. The fact that a copy takes on a digital form should not, by itself, prevent it from being viewed as personal property in the same way as a tangible object.

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After Intervenus Interruptus in the Chevron Case

The Canadian Bar Association Needs to Make Some Changes

If they wish to regain the members they lost, and their reputation, the Canadian Bar Association must rethink their principles and regulations.

If they wish to regain the members they lost, and their reputation, the Canadian Bar Association must rethink their
principles and regulations.

On October 16,  2014, the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) dropped its application to intervene in Chevron v Yaiguaje, an upcoming Supreme Court case, just before the October 17 filing deadline. Chevron is appealing an Ontario Court of Appeal decision allowing a group of Ecuadorian villagers to seek damages from Chevron’s Canadian assets. In 2011, an Ecuadorian court awarded nineteen billion dollars to the villagers for environmental contamination committed by Texaco which Chevron purchased in 2001. This past November, the ruling was upheld by Ecuador’s highest court, but the amount was reduced to $9.51 billion. The Ontario Superior Court judge denied the villagers’ attempt to seek damages in Canada, saying that the Ecuadorian ruling has no practical effect in Canada; the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned this decision.

After announcing their intention to intervene on September 29, the CBA felt an immediate backlash. An online petition was initiated and a protest organized by University of Toronto, Osgoode, and McGill law students was held on October 9. The national aboriginal law, environmental, energy, and resources law, and civil litigation sections, as well as several other legal organizations, firms, and professionals wrote letters criticizing the CBA’s decision. An open letter signed by 113 lawyers was published in the Globe and Mail on October 10, pressing that the CBA must intervene only when there is wide consensus. Several members resigned from the CBA, while many others terminated their membership. After the legislation and legal reform committee refused to sanction the factum (a necessary step before submission), the CBA decided not to proceed.

Before continuing, it is important to clarify that I do not wish to comment on the merits of the appeal sought by Chevron or whether the villagers ought to be able to seek damages in Canada. For the purposes of this article, I only seek to outline my concerns about the actions of the CBA.

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Food Adventure #4 – SAVING GRACE (907 Dundas St. West)

A thing or person’s “saving grace” is its redeeming quality, that feature which compensates for its flaws and imperfections. As I set off for my brunch adventure this week, I hoped and prayed that Saving Grace would be my saving grace from the lackluster brunch experiences I have relayed to you thus far. In addition to the promise that its name imparted, I had heard rave reviews about this brunch establishment and my expectations were high. Alas, another brunch has resulted in shattered hopes and dreams. There was nothing particularly bad about Saving Grace,but I was left wondering what all the fuss is about. Here’s why.

Saving Grace - 907 Dundas St. West

Saving Grace – 907 Dundas St. West

Brunch Hours

Saving Grace opens at 9:00 on weekdays and 10:00 on weekends; the restaurant claims to close at 2:45 every day, which seems oddly specific.

Wait Time/Service

Saving Grace is a tiny restaurant that only seats thirty people. It does not take reservations, and on weekends it has a reputation for its long wait. Apparently, a line forms outside the door well before it opens, and it is so busy that the food takes upwards of an hour to arrive once you have ordered. Despite the fact that I wanted to give a true picture of the Saving Grace experience, I was not willing to put myself through that particular kind of hell. Instead, my brunch companion (BC) and I went at 10:30 on a Monday morning. At that time, the restaurant was about half-full, though it had filled up by the time we left.

We got a table immediately and the service, on the whole, was decent (though the server did take other tables’ orders before ours, despite the fact that we had arrived first). We only waited about five minutes for coffee and another ten to fifteen minutes for our food to arrive, so my expectations in this department were surpassed.

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