Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Dugald Christie

I have written that "[t]he rule of law respects us as equals." The notion that we are all equal before the law is an ideal that I think all lawyers share. But, we also know that those who have greater financial resources, have better access to professional legal advice, and representation. For those without money, equality before the law may be a rather remote ideal.

I have never met Dugald Christie in person, but I do know his reputation. For Mr. Christie, helping those who needed it most get access to justice was no ideal: it was the way he practiced law, and lived his life. According to this story on the CBC News website:

Christie was a long-time supporter of equal access to the legal system, regardless of a person's income.

Nineteen years ago, he began offering free legal advice to clients who were least able to pay for it, working out of the Salvation Army.

As head of the Western Canada Society to Access Justice, he helped set up dozens of pro bono clinics in Western Canada.

He successfully sued the Province of British Columbia, challenging the Province's taxation of legal services. The B.C. Court of Appeal declared that the tax on legal services is unconstitutional to the extent that the legislation "purports to tax legal services related to the determination of rights and obligations by courts of law or independent administrative tribunals...." (The Province is applying for leave to appeal the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.)

Tragically, Mr. Christie died yesterday while cycling from Vancouver to Ottawa to bring Prime Minister Harper a petition seeking greater legal assistance for those in need. He was 65.

There will only ever be one Dugald Christie. But, if each of us in the legal profession emulate what he did just a little bit, the world will be a much better place.

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