After a train exploded in 2013 in the small town of Lac Mégantic, killing 47, many of the mourning families turned to the American justice system in hopes of getting better compensation. Four years later, the three firms representing them have charged them around $40 million in total, despite doing virtually nothing, according to information gathered by Radio-Canada’s Enquête.

40 of the 47 families have contracts with the Garcia Law Group (GLG). According to Radio-Canada, they have paid them between 10 and 15 million so far, with nothing to show for it. The firm is based in Southern Texas and owned by Wilfrido Rogelio Garcia. It was first registered there only a month after the Lac Mégantic accident.

Despite what his clients believe, Garcia is not even a lawyer. In fact the only lawyer on the firm’s payroll seems to be his daughter, Maria Garcia. GLG’s modus operandi is to pressure grieving families to sign contracts, so they can resell their cases to lawyers.

“They said to me that with some plane crashes in Europe, [Garcia] or his people were there in less than 24 hours. They were proud of that,” said Michele Whitmore, who once worked on a contract with GLG, as quoted by Radio-Canada. Garcia found clients in the aftermath of at least four plane crashes, in Peru, Greece, Russia and Indonesia, where the number of casualties ranged from 48 to 129.

GLG was the first law firm to get to Lac Mégantic after the tragedy They approached the families of victims and invited them to meetings to convince them that GLG could seek justice for them through the American system.

Ginette Cameron, who lost her daughter Geneviève in the explosion, remembers Garcia asking her several times if she would like another mother to live through what she lived through. She and her husband signed the same day.

Experts agree that such behaviour is against every deontological code. According to Bill Edwards, a lawyer interviewed by Radio-Canada, it is plainly illegal. Reporters have been unable to speak to anyone from Garcia Law Group.

Enquête’s full report will air tonight at 9pm on Radio-Canada.

* Featured image: Google Street View of the address listed on the Garcia Law Firm PLLC website

Daryush Valizadeh, aka Roosh V, is many things. Misogynist, blogger, advocate of legalizing rape on private property, attention seeker, the list goes on. One tactic he has used constantly through all of his guises has been encouraging his troll followers to find out as much personal info about the women opposed to or even remotely critical of him and share it. Sometimes, he even doxxes them himself.

There was the time he tried to have a woman who started a petition against him entering Canada lose her child for being an “unfit mother” because she spent some of her time criticizing him on Twitter. There were the countless female journalists he urged his followers to doxx for reporting on him in an unfavorable light. More recently, after discovering the identity of the mystery woman who threw a beer in his face when he visited Montreal, he created a thread in his (now non-public) forum asking his minions to help destroy her.

But now, the tables have turned…

The doxxer has himself been doxxed. And he doesn’t like it one bit.

Anonymous Drops Roosh’s Info

Most of this week, social media, and even the mainstream press, had been talking about the so-called “international meetups” planned by Roosh’s site Return of Kings and many had been planning to protest them, including an all-female boxing club in Toronto. That was until Roosh supposedly pulled the plug on Wednesday, causing many to speculate that they weren’t cancelled, just now hidden and others to argue that they were merely nothing more than a publicity stunt all along.

The discourse changed yesterday. First, UK tabloid The Daily Mail revealed that this self-proclaimed alpha-male lived in his mother’s basement, causing many to snicker, then Anonymous (or more specifically the @WeAreAnonymous Facebook page) released Roosh’s home address, telephone number, cellphone number and even date of birth.

They doxxed the doxxer. The original post was reported and taken down, but only after receiving over a million views and over 10,000 shares.

(UPDATE: The second post containing the details by Anonymous has also been removed, but there are still several tweets and FB posts you can find that have them, just search the #rooshv hashtag)

Roosh Not Happy

Not surprisingly, but completely hypocritically, Roosh took to Twitter to voice his displeasure:

While normally I would agree with someone, anyone, decrying being doxxed and fearing for their safety or the safety of loved ones, this one time, it is different. Why? Because of the complete disregard Roosh has had over years of internet stalking and releasing personal information of women who dared to challenge his dangerous, misogynistic views.

I guess it doesn’t feel that good to be on the receiving end of a doxx, does it, Roosh?

Creative Commons - Loavesofbread

The news that came after the ‘grand’ deliberation of the jury last night in response to the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO wasn’t one bit surprising. It did, though, feel like an electroshock of seismic magnitude.

Although it’s obvious that a judicial system that gives the same definition of ”personhood” to multinational corporations as it does to an actual person is rigged and corrupt to the core, it was a shocking verdict given the public outcry revolving around the case, the popular mobilization and the massive sensitization campaign that swept like wildfire throughout communities in the United States.

It seemed more like a sermon on the benefits of the system: St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch’s tone was that of a bureaucrat, dishing-out bunches of reports, pharisaic evidence and physical proof, in his attempt to make us believe that officer Darren Wilson was right to murder in cold blood an 18-year-old Afro-American male for the crime of stealing a box of cigarillos. McCulloch said time after time that the accounts conveyed by the witnesses were contradictory, that it was all speculation and that, all in all, the legitimate fear that Afro-Americans (and others) have of the judicial system (one that not that long ago was the firewall of segregation) were unfounded, in other words, ridiculous.

ferguson verdict

McCulloch, a white, middle-aged man, was standing in front of the cameras last night speaking from the top of his altar down to the amassed crowds of Afro-American residents of Ferguson. It was the perfect metaphor for the hypocrisy of the entire situation. The subaltern can’t not speak. That was the message that rang out, the message that was supposed to quell once and for all the riots that had engulfed the impoverished St. Louis suburb since mid-August.

McCulloch was merely the avatar of a system, the message wasn’t his or that of the members of a jury, it was the message of law. Once McCulloch, from his prestigious position, with all the lights and the cameras driven on him, spoke, that was the word of ”god”: the word that would twist, turn and bend reality to fit its image that we had adjusted for it. In this reality, the people of Ferguson — their anger, their sorrow, their sense of alienation, their profound frustration — don’t fit within the canvas. It’s almost as if this new deity of law could remake events to suit its own pre-established narrative.

It  was a thorough investigation, they say, and out of the 162 000 cases that involved grand juries in 2010 only 11 decided not to return an indictment. But beyond that, there is a profound difference between indictment and conviction. In no measure was it the Grand Jury’s role to convict officer Darren Wilson of murder or manslaughter, voluntary or involuntary but to examine if there were grounds to… Were there grounds? I wonder…

Is the fact that a police officer shot an unarmed teenager several times with forensic evidence that the teenager was shot in the back considerable grounds for indictment? Is the fact that there are several contradictory accounts of the events sufficient grounds for a more in depth investigation through a full trial? The fact that the corner store from which Michael Brown supposedly stole the infamous box of cigarillos that would cost him his life denies that they called in law enforcement, is that grounds for indictment? Maybe the fact that his corpse was left 4 1/2 hours in broad day light, terrorizing the entire community, is reason for indictment on the grounds of negligence?

Forget all of that. There are sufficient grounds in the fact that every 28 hours, an African-American is shot dead by American law enforcement or vigilantes. Let’s shed a bit of light here. Michael Brown’s death is not the first and not the last brutal murder of a young Afro-American at the hands of the police and thus Officer Wilson should have been indicted and convicted within this framework. Unfortunately, the message sent back from the grand jury’s non-indictment was clear: it’s okay for the police to use lethal force against subaltern groups.

It’s okay for Americans to exploit the working force of millions of ”illegal” immigrants and treat them inhumanely. It’s okay for American law enforcement to kill in cold blood young and poor African-Americans, such as 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was shot dead while in a playground, playing. It’s okay to take the poor and toiled to court when they fraud welfare, but when the banks make millions in bonuses and stash them off in the Bahamas to avoid taxation, it’s also okay. It’s illegal in most places to smoke or deal weed to a make a few extra bucks but when too-big-to-fail financial institutions launder blood money from cartels, that’s okay.

This is the state of our judicial systems, that the mainstream media uphold this veil of ideology that casts law as the ultimate truth and the maker and breaker of reality. What is law is truth, what is law is real, all the rest is nonsense…

But ”law” is nothing else than the crystallization of subjective interests. You only have to look at those who benefit from the law, you only have to take a look at the barriers that allow some to have a greater access to justice than others, to see that law is merely the crystallization, in many ways, of ideology.

In this sense, the grand ideal of the American Dream found its wreckage on the rocks of the grand jury. The ideology that uses the symbols of equality, liberty and freedom in practice abides by the notion that some are more equal than others, that everyone has the right to speak but only a few to be heard and if you’re never heard, the question is did you ever speak in the first place?

Law is always the structuring framework of ideology. Example laws vary in countries with different ideologies and forms of law vary in different times, but law is always the subject of the reigning ideology and the economic and social elites. That’s why banks used tight debt laws as leverage on the poorest sections of American society and yet no law could jail the bankers that knowingly, maybe even willingly, instigated the economic downturn.

Law is a silex shaped by ideology, a tool of legitimization of violence, used to keep the subaltern under the grip of the ideological apparatus. Law defines what violence is legitimate in Webberian terms and what violence isn’t, what special interests can use coercive force and what forces have to be denuded of their coercive force.

That’s why the tears, the anguish, the blood, the misery and the voices of the subaltern are rarely taken into account in ”legal” terms. We are tricked into believing that Lady Justice is blind-folded. Justice isn’t blind, it’s blinding.

A luta continua.

Photo used under Creative Commons by Loavesofbread

Back in February, five members of the Russian, anti-Putin art collective known as Pussy Riot performed a “punk prayer” at the altar of Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow. The song they belted out was a plea for the Virgin Mary to remove Vladimir Putin from power just weeks before his re-election.

Days after the demonstration, three of the members were arrested, charged with “hooliganism” and denied bail. After a speedy and one sided trial, Judge Syrova found Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alekhina guilty of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” and sentenced to two years in prison.

The three women had insisted there was no intention of offending Russian Orthodoxy, but wanted to bring attention to the church’s close ties to the state. “Our goal was to bring attention to Father Kirill’s public statements that the Orthodox must vote for Putin,” Alekhina wrote in a lettered statement “I thought the church loved its children. It turns out the church only loves those children who believe in Putin”.

Head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill with Vladimir Putin

The verdict and subsequent sentence prompted protests from people across the globe including from musicians such as Paul McCartney, Anthony Kiedis and Madonna, as well the governments of Britain and the U.S. (Canada has said nothing).

The judgment highlights the Russian president’s increasing crackdown on dissent. Putin has taken to raiding the houses of anti-Putin activists and anti-corruption bloggers. He has also passed several laws including one that raises the fine for taking part in an unauthorized demonstration to about $7000 USD (Bill 78 anyone?)

With the exception of the Russian church, what Pussy Riot did in the eyes of many was a simple act of civil disobedience; an action that was taken in order to educate the Russian public on the church’s close ties to a president who has managed to abuse his power for far too long.

Pussy Riot knew full well what the consequences of their Cathedral protest might be given Putin’s reputation, but they did it anyway. This band of activists has a passion for the welfare of their country, a deep desire to make it better. What they did took guts, something sorely missing in western democracies.

We don’t face the same problems as the people of Russia, Syria or other similar places, but that doesn’t mean we should sit back and enjoy the ride. To quote an American punk/metal band; “the greatest weapon of a fascist is the tolerance of a pacifist”. Those lyrics were written over twenty years ago, but resonate more in North America today than when they were first sang.

Today we live in a country where the people take a backseat to corporate power. A new authority determined to syphon as much profit from the masses as it possibly can at the expense of the environment, our health and our very wellbeing, to make matters worse it is doing so with the help of our governments.

The occupy movement brought this fact to light, but at the same time, local governments were quite effective in dispersing the crowds and the momentum the 99 per cent created. Awareness is only a stepping stone however; sitting in a park will never end decades of growing corporate dominance. What we need to do is follow in Pussy Riot’s example, sometimes a simple act of civil disobedience can galvanize a movement—look at Rosa Parks.

If some punk band burst into the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City to protest Mitt Romney’s 1 per cent presidential candidacy, do you think the band would get arrested? Absolutely, but people would take notice and perhaps start something. Besides, it’s not as if they’d go to prison for two years, thanks to the renegades in America’s past, we don’t live in a place like Russia.

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Back in 1803, the Supreme Court of the United States gave itself the power of judicial review. This ruling gives the Supreme Court the right to review the constitutionality of a law passed by Congress and declare it void if the judges feel the law violates the constitution.

Judicial review is both celebrated and denounced by both Republicans and Democrats depending on which side of the fence the ruling finally lands. The Supreme Court has to interpret a document written over two hundred years ago and is subject to much interpretation.

The nine justices of the court have a tendency to interpret the constitution differently based on party or ideological lines. These days it’s rare not to see a 5-4 decision given that there are 4 conservatives, 4 liberals and a moderate (5 were nominated by Republicans, 4 by Democrats) on the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court holds power over the federal government and therefore holds power over the people that elect it. I find it astonishing the amount of power the Supreme Court actually has as an un-elected body in a democracy. It’s also ironic that the job of the court is to protect the constitution even though judicial review is not in the constitution in the first place.

A couple weeks ago the Supreme Court started its judicial review of the “affordable care act” or “Obamacare.” While the law in its entirety is under review, the individual mandate that requires everyone to purchase health insurance from a private insurance company is what’s really under scrutiny. I don’t agree with the individual mandate, but what is the alternative at this point, tens of millions without healthcare?

In this case, the justices have to decide between freedom of choice and the freedom to have equal access to healthcare. Both sides are equally important. Regardless of the way this case is ruled, my question is; should the fate of fifty million people be left in the hands of just nine?

The American Supreme Court has a shaky history when it comes to protecting the rights of citizens as it is, yet Americans still seem content on letting the court make the big decisions that affect everyone for them. Just as an example; the Supreme Court upheld the legality of slavery in 1857, upheld segregation in 1896 and upheld Japanese internment in 1944.

It can be said that the Court has also overstepped its bounds on multiple occasions in the past. It ruled over a century ago that corporations have the same rights as citizens and recently ruled that corporate money is equal to free speech. It has gotten involved in bankruptcy proceedings, re-districting and in 2000 it even decided a general election (Bush v. Gore).

Last week the justices ruled that it is constitutional to strip-search anyone arrested of any crime, regardless if the person arrested is suspected of hiding anything. Get ready to put on your birthday suit if you’re caught smoking a joint or have an unpaid parking ticket.

Judges or Dictators?

The only way to overturn a decision by the Supreme Court is with a constitutional amendment which requires two thirds of the House and two thirds of the senate to pass. In other words, fat chance; it comes as no surprise then that nothing has improved since 1803.

Canada went over a hundred years without judicial review, Great Britain still does, which begs the question; why is it necessary in the first place? I don’t believe it is. The people should have the first and last say when it comes to the laws of the land. Politicians can be voted out if they implement a law that the masses disagree with, that is what democracy is supposed to be about; the people, not the nine dictators dressed in black.

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When is Canada going to learn what Québec already seems to understand: that Harper and his Tories were never really serious about ensuring that recognition of  Québec as a nation ever become more than a bone one throws at the proverbial dog that you otherwise ignore. After appointing a unilingual Anglo judge and Attorney General (Judge Moldaver & Michael Ferguson, respectively), it’s now blatantly obvious that the PM is thumbing his nose at official bilingualism, an institution that not only directly affects Québec but also the 1 million, francophone’s scattered throughout the country.

Justice Moldaver committed himself to improving his French (while you’re at it, Justice Moldaver, may I suggest brushing up on the definition of the Common Law, as you indicated during the Parliamentary committee hearing that you believe judges did not “create law” in Canada). I’ll believe it when I see it. Besides, Supreme Court Justices are rather busy these days, and don’t generally have enough time to work on their French skills, what with all the legal business they have to address, in the course of their work. Moldaver again tried to mollify public concern by claiming that, in any case, he could always rely on clerks to help with the translation of material into French. I know clerks deserve more credit for all the good work they normally do behind the scenes, but this is ridiculous!

By the by, for those confused by the NDP’s position on bilingualism, championing official bilingualism in their bill on reforming the court, yet at the same time allowing their justice critic to endorse the short list of candidates, being submitted to the PMO for selection. My answer to you is that, under the circumstances, which will always remain a mystery, thanks to the government’s decision to hold secret meetings on the matter, these were the best candidates on offer. In other words, you think Moldaver is bad? If only you could see the right wing hanging-judges that the panel of MP’s representing the whole of the House of Commons, rejected!

But being the resident legal nerd here at FTB, I would like to explain how, I think, such poor policies don’t only affect Harper’s already tarnished image in my home province, but also speak to issues of fundamental justice and constitutional law. Official bilingualism means at least adequate service in both languages in every federal institution, and that’s doubly true of one that is the highest court in the land. Moldaver’s defenders maintain that the translation services at the court are second to none. At the risk of offending our folks in the federal Public service, this appears to be a slight exaggeration. In fact according to francophone lawyers who have been before the court, including Professor Sébastien Grammond of the University of Ottawa, the French version of the facts that justices hear is often full of mistakes, that, though, they may be understandable, may adversely affect the outcome of a litigant’s case. And when the stakes are as high as this, may represent a serious breach of the fair trial provisions in the Charter of Rights & Freedoms (article 11). Not to mention, the equality rights in section 15. After all, if you can get the same quality of justice in French as you do in English, then you’ve got potential for miscarriages of justice.   Now I hear you saying, can’t those two justices who don’t understand French simply be benched (so to speak) in French cases? This would appear to solve the problem, since they are only 2 out of 9, for the time being. However, some cases will inevitably involve all 9 judges.

Finally, federal law is actually written separately in both official languages, and sometimes contain crucial differences in wording and content. In the event, that these two conflict, the judge is supposed to apply the one that best reflects the intention of the legislator. That means that Moldaver will be at a definite disadvantage in cases where this kind of issue arises.