Calgary Sun

January 11, 2001

Court's double standard alive and well

By LICIA CORBELLA -- Calgary Sun

The argument is a common one: That getting a fair shake before the courts is simply not possible unless you have vaults full of money.

Many of us scribes who cover courts on a regular basis have seen first-hand how those with the money to hire the best lawyers get much lighter sentences -- or often none at all -- while some poor sod who committed a lesser crime but has a less competent lawyer gets the "go directly to jail" ruling.

On several occasions, I have seen how people who try to represent themselves before the courts, without a lawyer in tow, are treated and it's not a pretty sight.

In every such case I have witnessed, the judges in question have treated the lawyerless applicant or respondent with either blatant or barely concealed contempt.

It's as if the judge -- who, let's not forget, was once a lawyer him or herself -- is offended that one of their own isn't being kept in their Gucci loafers and Porsche sports cars by this penniless boor.

"How dare you waste my time by not knowing all of the niceties and procedures of court," you can almost hear them say. Some people argue that our right to a fair trial and access to the courts is severely hampered by the sheer cost of hiring decent legal help.

But I never believed -- and never would have believed -- that law-abiding people would be barred from even making an application to the court.

That's the kind of thing you would expect from the courts in a Banana Republic. Surely, it couldn't happen here.

But yesterday, as I read the court documents revolving around the access and custody orders of 14-year-old Clayton Giles -- the Calgary boy who is currently on day 11 of a hunger strike for justice -- my eyes just about popped out of my head.

In one court document in particular, Giles' father, Eric, was offered a rock-and-a-hard-place deal. Essentially, the ruling said if he makes any more applications to the court he would lose access to his children.

In other words, you must either give up your right to access the courts, or give up access to your kids. You can't have both.

Don't believe me? Check for yourselves. Head down to the Court of Queen's Bench and ask for the Giles' files or log on to Clayton's website at www.legalkids.homestead.com, click on court orders and go to the first one. Then scroll down to page three. The Corollary Relief Order given by Court of Queen's Bench Justice E.A. Hutchinson, dated Feb. 18, 1993, will surely make your jaw drop.

This is what it says in part: "Should the Respondent (that's Eric Giles, Clayton's dad) apply to vary this Order pursuant to Section 17 of the Divorce Act ... then and in such event all access by the Respondent to the children of the marriage shall be suspended pending the hearing of the said application on its merits."

It's the kind of thing you might see in a Hollywood movie about a kidnapped kid. ("Psst. Comply and agree with everything I tell you or you'll not see little Johnny for a very long time.")

I have been of the belief that our family and divorce courts have been horribly biased against men for a very long time. But I never dreamed it was this bad.

The court order goes on. It says, "the Petitioner (the mother) may make such application as she may require to seek a variation of this Order ... without leave of the Court or suspension of any of the rights or privileges conveyed by this Court."

What's good for the goose isn't good for the gander. Clayton says he is starving himself because he wants to make people, and especially children, aware of how he was "victimized" by the Court of Queen's Bench. But most of all, he would like the Court "to make decisions that are 'in the best interests of the child,' and not in the best interest of the parent who can pay the most money to a lawyer."

For three years, the courts denied Clayton access to his dad. Clayton says he will die before that happens again.

I believe him.So why haven't we heard anything from these justices?


Licia Corbella, editor of the Calgary Sun, can be reached at 403-250-4129 or by e-mail at licia.corbella@cal.sunpub.com. Her columns appear Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.
Letters to the editor should be sent to callet@sunpub.com.

Copyright © 2001, Canoe Limited Partnership.