Justice at a price

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You probably think of the courts as a place where people go for a fair verdict, whether it’s a verdict about crime or a civil action. But more and more, courts are a place where those who have the money — usually governments or big labour — go to get a
decision they like. And if they don’t like it, they simply keep going to court.

The little guy, unless he or she is particularly determined, eventually just drops out because it’s either too frustrating or too expensive. Here’s a story about one individual who didn’t give up: it hasn’t had an ounce of media coverage despite being fought in Toronto, but it’s worth considering, because it’s so Kafkaesque you could almost see it happening to anyone.

Jefferey Roby was a police officer who suffered a work-related injury and applied for sick benefits from EI in 2001. He signed up for direct deposit with EI, but EI didn’t get around to approving his benefits until February 2003. By then, Roby had declared bankruptcy — and not only that, but he had told EI about it and asked them to discontinue his direct deposit, because he no longer had control of that account.

Unfortunately, EI went ahead and deposited the whole $5,426 of Roby’s claim into that account anyway, where it was seized by the bank. Roby complained, EI admitted its mistake and issued him a new cheque for $5,426.

After that, EI came back to Roby, argued he had been paid twice and ordered him to repay the money.

Roby had to go through appeals to EI, to a board of referees and an EI umpire. All, inexplicably, sided with the Employment Insurance Commission.

Now, more than 10 years after the fact, Roby has had his day in Federal Court and the three judges who heard the case were hardly pleased about it.

Here’s a snippet of their decision.

“The decision of the umpire cannot stand. It is based on the board’s factual finding, confirmed by the umpire, that the commission had deposited Mr. Roby’s benefits to his CIBC bank account in accordance with Mr. Roby’s instructions. That factual finding was not reasonably open to the board or the umpire in the face of the uncontradicted evidence that:

“• Mr. Roby withdrew his direct deposit application before his entitlement was determined;

“• the commission did not give effect to Mr. Roby’s withdrawal of the direct deposition application;

“• before issuing the replacement cheque to Mr. Roby, the commission acknowledged its error in failing to give effect to the withdrawal and informed Mr. Roby that they would ‘take care of things from their end.’

“In these circumstances, Mr. Roby acted reasonably in accepting the replacement payment offered by the commission, based on the assurance of the commission that they would take responsibility for correcting the erroneous misdirection of the previous payments.”

So, the federal government is now on the hook for the funds they’ve collected and Roby’s legal fees. No word yet on whether they plan to refer the whole thing on to another level of the courts.

The message in all this? Even when solutions look like they should be short and clearcut, a government opponent with lots of cash can drag things on for a decade or more.

Justice delayed is justice denied, right?

Organizations: Employment Insurance Commission.Now, Federal Court, CIBC bank

Geographic location: Toronto

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