Personal injury law firm Diamond & Diamond has hired a lobbyist to persuade politicians to kill a private member’s bill aimed at fixing a system critics call a “black hole” for accident victims.
The public affairs firm, the CCS Group, registered to lobby for Diamond & Diamond, known for its flashy, U.S.-style advertising, the day after Liberal MPP Mike Colle (Eglinton-Lawrence) introduced the Personal Injury and Accident Victims Protection Act.
“We are asking that members don’t support the private bill,” reads the CCS Group’s filings on behalf of Diamond & Diamond.
The bill calls for major restructuring of Ontario’s contingency fee system — “you don’t pay unless we win” — including a dramatic curb on how much lawyers can charge for their services.
“Why are they so afraid of this bill?” Colle said. “Why not make the bill a vehicle to improve protection for accident victims? … There are people who are victims of serious accidents who are trying to get justice and they are put through hell and we shouldn’t be standing by and allowing it.”
Critics say that hiring a lobbyist in an attempt to quash a private member’s bill is an unusual move considering such proposed acts rarely become law.
Neither Diamond & Diamond nor the CCS Group has responded to the Star’s requests for comment.
The Toronto-based lobby firm, which calls itself “one of Ontario’s leading public affairs firms” on its website, also represents medical marijuana company MedReleaf Corp., an environmental waste company, road-builder the Miller Group, and several First Nations, according to the lobbyist registry.
The CCS Group’s public filings with the provincial lobbyist registry show the firm is targeting numerous MPPs, including those in Barrie, London, Hamilton and Mississauga, where Diamond & Diamond has offices. Also targeted are the offices of Ontario’s attorney general and minister of finance.
Colle’s bill was inspired in part by an ongoing Star investigation into Ontario’s contingency fee system, referral fees and the marketing practices of personal injury lawyers.
The bill’s introduction came a month after Ontario’s legal regulator decided to crack down on referral fees and advertising. On Feb. 23, the Law Society of Upper Canada voted to cap the fees lawyers take when they refer clients to other lawyers and decided the lawyers can no longer advertise for services they don’t intend to provide.
Late last year, the Star looked at Diamond & DiamondDiamond & Diamond and found that for many years it has been attracting thousands of would-be clients and then referring cases out to other lawyers in return for sometimes hefty referral fees. The Star found that the firm’s marketing, which has included women in tight T-shirts and ads above the urinals at the Air Canada Centre, has raised the ire of some lawyers and the law society. Diamond & Diamond has told the Star it has a growing number of lawyers working cases at the firm, but would not say how many cases are referred out.
In another story, the Star found that for years many personal injury lawyers working on contingency for accident victims have been “double dipping” — taking more money from their clients than the law allows. As a result, many Ontario residents have been overcharged thousands of dollars and probably do not know it.
In simple terms, lawyers working on contingency cannot take a sum of money called “costs” in addition to a percentage of the settlement, according to the Solicitors Act, legislation governing how lawyers behave.
Colle’s proposed bill calls for contingency fees to be capped at 15 per cent of the settlements awarded to accident victims. The Star’s investigation showed that lawyers often take 30 per cent or more of a victim’s settlement. The bill also calls for a ban on lawyer referral fees and would require clients to give their express written consent for any referral.
As well, it would require all contingency fee agreements to state clearly how lawyers will get paid, make any advertising for legal services subject to approval by the law society, and grant clients who have signed up with a personal injury lawyer a 10-day cooling-off period in which to cancel their agreement.
Since Colle tabled Bill 103 on March 8, he told the Star he has heard from Diamond & Diamond and is willing to meet with them. He has also been contacted by Adam Wagman, president of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association, which represents about 1,600 personal injury lawyers, clerks and staff, and plans to meet with him.
In a written statement to the Star, Wagman said the trial lawyers association was looking forward to meeting with Colle. Calling a cap on contingency fees an “attack on access to justice and accident victims,” Wagman said the bill as proposed “gives insurance companies and other huge corporations carte blanche to run roughshod over injured accident victims.”
In a separate written statement to the Star, Paul Harte, a past president of the trial lawyers association, said it is “disappointing” that Diamond & Diamond would so quickly hire a lobbyist to quash an attempt to protect the public from misleading advertising and referral fees.
“Lawyers have a professional obligation to improve our legal system,” he said. “They should avoid such obviously transparent attempts to protect their business interests at the expense of vulnerable consumers.”
Colle told the Star that to counter the lobbying activities, he will do his best to give his side of the story, a story that “cries out for something to be done.”
He said a range of players, including the legal community, the law society, the government and insurance industry, are to blame for the “totally inoperable” system that accident victims must go through — a system Colle calls a “black hole,” that is “confusing, so expensive, so long. What’s good about it?”
Building a one-stop subway extension in Scarborough will leave most residents facing longer bus rides compared with the light-rail alternative, according to data analyzed by Ryerson University researchers.
Despite subway advocates’ claims of substantial time savings — claims that have not, to date, been backed by evidence — the Ryerson analysis shows most transit users travelling to the proposed Scarborough Town Centre subway station would on average spend longer on the bus than they do today with the existing Scarborough RT and longer than if a seven-stop LRT were built instead.
A transit user travelling from the area near the previously proposed LRT stop at Sheppard Ave. East and Markham Rd. would have to travel an additional 19 minutes by bus with the subway plan compared with the LRT option.
Ryerson University associate professor Murtaza Haider, who specializes in transportation planning and statistical models, and research assistant Liam Donaldson used a standard transit planning method to calculate how long it would take a transit user to get between 123 different census tracts in Scarborough and the closest rapid transit station.
The researchers performed this analysis using federal census data and publicly available data from Google for three scenarios: with the existing SRT; with a previously planned seven-stop LRT that was to be fully funded by the province; and with the planned $3.35-billion one-stop subway extension.
They determined the average travel time by bus to the closest transit stop would be 20.5 minutes with the seven-stop LRT, 23.7 minutes with the existing SRT, and 27.3 minutes with the one-stop subway — meaning the average time spent on the bus with the subway option would be 6.8 minutes longer than with the LRT.
Individual commutes could be longer or shorter than the average times.
On average, a commuter would have to travel an additional 1.4 kilometres on the bus to get to the subway compared with the bus trip to the nearest LRT station.
“It is so obvious, but still one has to quantify it, so we quantified it even though we knew the answer,” Haider said. “When we quantified it we see that most Scarborough residents would experience an increase in their access commutes to the nearest rail transit station.”
City staff estimate that those using the six-kilometre subway extension to get between Scarborough Town Centre and west of Kennedy Station could save eight minutes compared with the existing SRT. That time saving, staff say, is a result of the quicker “express” subway ride and eliminating the transfer currently required at Kennedy station.
But those travel time savings are partly cancelled out by the additional time the average transit user will have to spend on the bus to get to the subway.
The Star spoke with two veteran transportation planners who vouched for Haider’s expertise.
For Scarborough’s more than 622,000 residents, there is little to gain with a subway, said transportation consultant and former senior TTC planner David Crowley.
“It doesn’t really address any real problem except the re-election of the mayor,” said Crowley, who helped create the Transportation Tomorrow survey that serves as a guide for the city’s transit plans.
Any claims of significant travel time savings with the subway are false, transportation consultant and transit historian Ed Levy told the Star.
“It’s ludicrous,” Levy said of the claim. “The way the Scarborough subway is being proposed now, it will serve very few of the people it needs to serve and result in an overall increase in travel time rather than any savings.”
Levy noted the subway would do little to help residents travel within the region.
Data cited by the city shows that 23 per cent of all transit trips that begin in Scarborough are destined for downtown and 48 per cent of trips started in Scarborough end in Scarborough.
Although Mayor John Tory and city staff have proposed a 17-stop LRT along Eglinton Ave. E. in addition to the subway extension, that plan currently lacks adequate funding.
Those advocating for an LRT network say it could be built with the $3.56 billion in available funding.
“Such a simple logic says that the one-stop location is not going to serve a hell of a lot of people,” Levy said.
“From all indications, the idea is a poor one and an expensive one and unwarranted and all political.”
A child or youth is shot in Ontario every day and three out of four of the incidents are accidental, according to a groundbreaking study that attempted to identify at-risk groups for firearm injuries.
Based on government health and immigration databases, a team of Toronto researchers found Canadian-born youth, particularly males, have the higher rates of unintentional firearm injuries compared to immigrant youth.
Canadian-born males suffered 12.4 such injuries per 100,000 people, 72 per cent higher than the 7.2 among immigrant males between 2008 and 2012, during which almost 1,800 firearm injuries were reported among children and youth in the province.
However, the risk of being a victim of intentional firearm assault is 43 per cent higher for refugees, at 4.7 per 100,000 people, than for non-refugees (2.4 per 100,000 people), said the study published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
Also, immigrant children and youth from Africa are almost three times as likely, and those from Central America are more than four times as likely to be a victim of such targeted firearm assault than their Canadian-born counterparts, said the study by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) and Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.
“A child or youth injured by a gun each day in this province is staggering,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Natasha Saunders, a pediatrician and associate scientist at Sick Kids.
“Our findings indicate that this is a conversation we should be having with our patients and their families, particularly with these newly-identified high-risk populations.”
While the Canadian-born males under age 24 suffered 1,032 accidental and 304 assault-related firearm injuries over five years, the comparable numbers for their immigrant counterparts were 148 and 113 respectively. Female non-immigrants had 137 unintentional and 31 assault-related firearm injuries; female immigrants had 12 and less than six in the respective categories.
Although immigrants had a lower rate of unintentional firearm injury, overall they were as likely to suffer such injuries in targeted assaults as Canadian children and youth. While children and youth in rural areas were more prone to unintentional firearm injuries, urban residence was positively associated with the risk of assault from a firearm.
The data did not allow the researchers to dig deeper into why some subgroups face a higher risk of firearm assault.
“It’s hard to extrapolate but vulnerable youth are more likely to be victimized,” said Dr. Astrid Guttmann, chief science officer at ICES and a pediatrician at Sick Kids.
Possible contributing factors, the study suggests, may relate to higher rates of poverty, lack of access to resources, and more bullying and peer aggression among first-generation immigrant adolescents.
“The observed variation in firearm injury by region of origin may have been related to higher participation in Canadian gangs by Indo-Asian, Caribbean and African immigrants than by those from other regions, and it highlights the need to ensure a healthy transition to Canada by these particular at-risk groups,” the study said.
The release of the report coincided with the release of the Canadian Pediatric Society’s updated position statement on firearm safety, which includes several recommendations for clinicians, including asking families if they have firearms at home, particularly for kids struggling with mental health issues.
Given three-quarters of the firearm injuries among children and youth are accidental, Guttmann said the report speaks to the importance of gun safety and storage for gun manufacturers and gun owners, as well as the enforcement of gun control legislation as part of the prevention strategy.
“The majority of these injuries are unintentional and are entirely preventable, making this an important public health problem that needs to be addressed with targeted prevention programs,” Guttmann said.
Impaired driving charges were stayed against an accused man because Toronto police officers who were asked to testify booked their vacation at the same time as the man’s trial, the Crown recently informed a judge in a College Park courtroom.
Crown attorney Lindsay Kromm told Ontario court Justice William Horkins on March 10 that the April trial for Saman Azimi would not be able to go ahead as planned because she was informed that the officers she had asked to testify would not be making themselves available.
The case had already dragged on for more than two years, for a variety of reasons, and any further adjournment would have meant the case would have breached the time limit for matters in provincial court set by the Supreme Court of Canada in a landmark ruling last year.
Kromm said she had asked for several officers to testify to respond to a Charter of Rights and Freedoms application brought by the defence, alleging constitutional violations following Azimi’s arrest in October 2014.
She explained in court that a trial notification for next month’s trial had been sent to Toronto police on June 23, 2016, but it was only in January that the officer in charge of the case emailed Kromm to say he didn’t believe many of the officers requested to testify were necessary.
“I told him there was a charter application before the court and it was my opinion that those officers were necessary and I required them to be here for trial,” Kromm told Horkins, according to a court recording obtained by the Star.
She said she then received a further email informing her that two of the officers were “unavailable for trial because they were going on vacation to Florida.”
That email came after the defence had already argued before Horkins that the delay in the case had been unreasonable and the charges should be stayed, in what is known as an 11(b) application.
“So I responded, I told them that I didn’t want Your Honour to waste time writing an 11(b) decision if the officers were going to be unavailable and we would have to adjourn the second trial date, the consequences of which would be obvious to anyone,” she said in court.
“I spoke to my deputies and we responded to the officers that this was the problem of the Toronto Police Service, they were going to have to find a way to get these officers back, even if it was for one day to attend the trial.”
After Horkins released his 11(b) decision in February dismissing the defence’s application for a stay of proceedings, Kromm said she received another email from two Toronto police officers.
“Who, to the best of my knowledge, have not attended law school, but saw fit to inform me that in their opinion, the officers I requested were unnecessary, the Toronto Police Service was not going to make them available, and that I should learn my case, and these officers were not required,” Kromm told Horkins.
“The officers are clearly required. I came to that conclusion on the basis of legal knowledge and experience. I obviously would not have asked for their attendance were they not required to respond to the charter application.”
A spokesperson for the Toronto police, Meaghan Gray, told the Star the Crown’s comments are “concerning” and the force is looking into the matter.
Kromm did not return a request for comment from the Star for this article.
“The court acknowledged the Crown’s appropriate exercise of discretion in staying the prosecution, which ultimately allowed the court to use the vacated dates in April for other trial matters,” said Emilie Smith, speaking for the Ministry of the Attorney General.
Azimi’s lawyer, Daniel Lerner, said the case highlights the need for all players in the justice system to work on reducing court delays, particularly in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in R v. Jordan last year, which set strict timelines to bring an accused to trial.
“(This case) is an example of where the Crown and the courts and the defence are addressing delay issues, but were dependent on other parties like the police, and it's not clear to me, generally speaking but also based on this case, what steps the police have taken to address delays in the criminal justice system,” Lerner told the Star.
“I think what this case brings out is: How aware are the police forces of their role in dealing with delays?”
With the proviso that any head injury can be unpredictable, the early indications are that Frederik Andersen’s season does not appear to be in jeopardy.
The Maple Leafs No. 1 goaltender took a blow to his jaw from a player in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Sabres, a source told the Star. The source added that Andersen has since expressed optimism he’ll be available to play as early as Tuesday’s home game against the Panthers.
Andersen, who was removed from Saturday’s game after the first period at the behest of the Sabres’ team doctor in a precautionary move that called to mind concussion protocol, has not complained of concussion symptoms since the injury, the source said. Which is not to say caution isn’t in order.
Andersen will undoubtedly be examined by a Maple Leafs team doctor today, when the team is scheduled to resume practice after taking Sunday off, and both sides will surely hope this isn’t an uncanny echo from last season, when Andersen suffered a March jaw injury that threatened to ruin his chances at the NHL playoffs.
A year ago this week Andersen, then a member of the Anaheim Ducks, took a speeding puck to the jaw in a practice — a shot that eventually triggered bouts of dizziness and affected his ability to track shots. That injury was announced by the Ducks as a concussion, although Andersen later told reporters that he didn’t believe he’d suffered one.
In any event, while Andersen initially attempted to play through the effects of that 2016 jaw injury, he was ultimately left unavailable for most of two weeks down the regular-season stretch. And while he returned to start Game 82, the Ducks began the playoffs with Andersen’s season-long platoon mate, John Gibson, as their starter.
The Leafs, of course, don’t have a goaltending alternative as accomplished as Gibson, although Toronto’s journeyman backup Curtis McElhinney has put up respectable numbers, including a .919 save percentage, in 10 appearances for the club this season.
With the Leafs clinging to a playoff berth, Andersen had been getting better at the right time. Heading into Saturday, when he stopped 14 of 16 shots before being pulled, Andersen had complied a 6-1-1 record while posting a .940 save percentage for the month of March. Playing at that level, he amounts to the most important single piece in Toronto’s stretch run and beyond.
A year ago around this time, Andersen eventually bounced back from his jaw-related setback with an impressive performance. After Anaheim lost its opening pair of playoff games with Gibson in the crease, Andersen got the nod in Game 3 and produced a 3-0 shutout win that suggested he’d overcome his injury while vaulting the Ducks back into the series. In all, Andersen started the final five games of the series, allowing a combined seven goals against as the Ducks were ultimately eliminated in a 2-1 Game 7 loss.
Andersen’s reputation for managing his position’s inevitable doses of hurt while weathering the post-season heat was surely among the factors that led the Maple Leafs to make the June trade that brought him to Toronto, where he promptly signed a five-year contract worth $25 million.
“There’s always pressure no matter what time of year,” Andersen was quoted as saying before his first playoff start of 2016. “This is the most fun kind of pressure. So I’m excited to play.”
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