Council’s legal hit squad

March 03, 2010

http://www.thestar.com/article/774018

In a display of brazen self-interest, certain Toronto city councillors are pushing for creation of a new legal office that would serve their interests – and theirs alone – in dealing with the media, the public, “external organizations,” and even “other orders of government.”

According to Councillor Howard Moscoe, city politicians “are frequently being used for target practice by both the media and disgruntled individuals” and have “nobody to advocate” on their behalf. Moscoe’s solution, endorsed Monday by the city executive committee, is to dip into the city’s reserves and the city solicitor’s budget to fund a team of lawyers exclusively devoted to guarding councillors’ interests, “both collectively and individually.”

It is not clear from Moscoe’s badly worded motion, but it would appear that his proposed “office of independent council (sic)” would be empowered not just to defend councillors against lawsuits – protection they already have – but to launch suits against their critics.

Last summer, councillors voted down a proposal to pay the fees for lawsuits they initiate themselves after City Solicitor Anna Kinastowski advised against it. “I think they’re trying to get by the back door what they couldn’t get through the front door,” says Councillor Doug Holyday. “Lawsuits initiated against councillors, through their work as a councillor, fine, they’re entitled to protection. But if they want to launch a lawsuit against someone they feel has wronged them in some way, then they should do that on their own.”

Holyday is right. Politicians have other ways of defending themselves from criticism, including using the platform of city hall and their easy access to the media. They do not need taxpayer-financed libel actions, for which legal fees can run well into six figures.

If Moscoe, or any other councillor backing his motion, truly wants to avoid being used for “target practice” by the media and public, there’s a better way than setting up a new legal bureaucracy: just stop advancing bad ideas like this one.

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