By Justin Dharamdial ‘12
On December 8, 2010 while most Osgoode students were in the thick of exam season, five students doing their clinical placement at Parkdale Community Legal Services went on a field trip to Ottawa. Raha Bahreini ‘11, Laura Siperman ‘11, Iliana Petrovic ‘11, Sandra Dzever ‘12 and I from the immigration division at PCLS went to see our supervising lawyer, Geraldine Sadoway, argue for an intervener in the Mavi case at the Supreme Court of Canada. And Raha actually got special permission from the Chief Justice to sit with counsel Sadoway on the other side of the “bar” since she had worked on the intervener factum: the rest of us were green with envy.
Fellow law students will understand our giddiness at the idea of seeing the justices of the Court. Their judgments have dominated our thinking, writing, and sometimes even friendly conversation, so it’s not surprising that they have come to hold a somewhat revered place in our minds. We were understandably thrilled to be able to see the Court in action.
This case concerned the interpretation of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act – specifically whether the government owes a duty of fairness to sponsors in the administration of sponsorship debt and whether, in certain situations, the government has discretion to “forgive” sponsorship debt. Parkdale Community Legal Services was counsel for one of the interveners: the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children, also known as METRAC.
Geri Sadoway argued for PCLS on behalf of METRAC that the enforcement of sponsorship debt against victims of domestic violence leads to harsh consequences for women in those situations. Furthermore, she helped the Court understand that the potential burden of incurring sponsorship debt, with no opportunity for debt forgiveness, could result in women remaining in abusive and dangerous relationships rather than separating from an abusive spouse they had sponsored to immigrate.
As her students, we couldn’t have been more proud of the job she did and the way she handled herself in Court. I encourage those interested to check out the SCC’s archived webcast of the submissions (see 150:56 for Ms Sadoway’s part).
For PCLS, it was a chance to showcase some of the legal talent we have in the clinic’s ranks. PCLSers should be proud of our capacities, and encouraged by the kind of experience that you get working with this calibre of individual. We were also proud to learn that Chantal Tie, Carole Dahan, and Aviva Basman, three lawyers representing another intervener – the Canadian Council for Refugees – are also former PCLSers and are now clinic lawyers with South Ottawa Legal Services and the Refugee Law Office respectively. In fact, Ms Basman sat in the IM2 seat in the immigration division at PCLS in the year 2000.
The justices of the Supreme Court also put on quite a show. I know I don’t speak just for myself in saying that McLachlin C.J. was shocking when, cutting off counsel for the Attorney General of Canada, she said: “Is that your only point? Well, if you have another point…” – the implication being that counsel was repeating herself and had nothing substantive to add to the argument (see 23:39 of the webcast for that footage). We all cringed a little on counsel’s behalf, Ms Sadoway’s cringe being caught on camera if you inspect the footage carefully. The same justice managed to throw in a quip about capital punishment when the height of the podium had to be adjusted for Lucas Lung – another former legal clinic lawyer (representing the Respondent sponsors in Mavi) who happens to be about 6 feet tall: the podium makes a buzzing noise which Justice McLachlin referred to as the electric chair.
In short, the trip did not disappoint. We were already so grateful to have spent a term working with Ms Sadoway, but to have this experience to top it all off was definitely something special. I hope this gives students considering a clinical education yet another reason to keep PCLS in mind this January.
**Note: The court had not yet delivered its judgment at the time of writing this article.