Yesterday, in the robo-call court battle, the Conservative government's lawyers went after the Council of Canadians for "champerty". Here's a column I wrote seven months ago for the Ottawa Hill Times, explaining why I don't think that's a good idea.
The Conservative Party of Canada recently accused the Council of Canadians, an advocacy group, of “champerty and maintenance”
Now when I first read about this startling accusation, I naturally assumed the council was guilty of illegally maintaining some champerties.
But upon further investigation, I realized my error.
It turns out “champerty and maintenance” is legal jargon to describe a party which improperly involves itself in another party’s lawsuit in order to share in the proceeds.
So what does this have to do with the Council of Canadians?
Well, according to the Conservatives, the Council of Canadians is guilty of improperly involving itself in seven lawsuits which aim to overturn the election of Tory MPs.
It’s a clear case of “champerty and maintenance” the Tories told a court, in hopes of getting the lawsuits dismissed.
Now, I am no legal expert, but in my view this Conservative legal ploy is wrong-headed.
To see why, let’s examine the council’s actions.
It all started earlier this year when the so-called “robocall” scandal was making national news. Recall how allegations were flying all over the place about the Conservatives using telephone calls to illegally “suppress” voter turnout.
At any rate, the Council of Canadians—which by the way is a pretty far out there left-wing group based on previous causes it has supported—decided to jump on the robocall bandwagon.
In March, the council announced it was financially supporting citizens who are going to court to annul the election results of seven ridings that were narrowly won by Conservatives, based on “evidence of irregularities, fraud and other activities which affected the outcome of the elections.”
Naturally, to help defray its legal costs the council is aggressively fundraising.
For their part, the Tories see these court challenges as more about politics than justice.
In their motion to dismiss the challenges, the Conservatives argue the council’s “involvement is for the improper motive of attacking only Conservatives, consistent with their very vocal opposition of and malice towards the Conservative Party of Canada.”
The Tory motion also claims the council is using publicity from the cases to raise money.
Of course, it’s hard to argue that the charges are true.
I don’t know what motivates the Council of Canadians but as an advocacy group opposed to many of the Conservative Party’s policies, it makes sense that its reasons for these court challenges would include: (1) to embarrass the Conservative Party; (2) to raise its profile in the media and; (3) to squeeze dollars out of its donor base.
If it happens to actually win any of these legal challenges, well that’s just a nice bonus.
But just because the council’s motives may be self-serving and political, it doesn’t mean the court challenges it’s backing should be dismissed.
After all, don’t the citizens, who are actually launching these challenges with the help of the council, deserve to have their day in court?
Besides, let’s face it, the Council of Canadians isn’t the first advocacy group in history that’s used court challenges to self-promote or to promote an agenda or to raise money.
That’s just a part of the way the advocacy game is played.
In fact, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s old group, the National Citizens Coalition, often used court challenges both to undermine left-wing politicians and to fundraise.
And there’s nothing sinister about that.
Indeed, advocacy groups are supposed to advocate; and if advocacy means getting involved in a costly court proceeding they need to fundraise to pay for it; and the more publicity they get the easier it is to raise money.
The end result is good for democracy: important legal challenges get a hearing.
That’s why the Tories should leave the champerties alone.