On Sunday, at the Green Party of Canada’s National Convention in Ottawa, party membership adopted a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolution into the official Green platform. Now leader Elizabeth May, currently the party’s only elected Member of Parliament, is taking a week off to decide if she still wants to head the federal greens.

Entitled Palestinian Self-Determination and the Movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, the resolution builds on existing Green Party opposition to the expansion of Israeli settlements and demolition of Palestinian homes with “the use of divestment, boycott and sanctions that are targeted to those sectors of Israel’s economy and society which profit from the ongoing occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).” The Greens will continue to support BDS “until such time as Israel implements a permanent ban on further settlement construction in the OPT, and enters into good faith negotiations with representatives of the Palestinian people for the purpose of establishing a viable, contiguous and truly sovereign Palestinian state.”

The resolution also “opposes all efforts to prohibit, punish or otherwise deter expressions of support for BDS.” Efforts like the recent toothless, though inflammatory resolution in the House of Commons condemning BDS proposed by the Conservatives but supported by Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Government.

May opposed the Green BDS resolution, but said she welcomed the discussion and would support the members’ decision. Now, she is singing a somewhat different tune, calling BDS “polarizing” and musing in public if stepping down as leader but remaining the MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands in BC might be the best course of action for her.

Most likely May is really weighing whether or not she can effectively defend her party’s position on the issue in a debate a few years from now with Trudeau and whomever the Conservatives and NDP decide to anoint as leader. You know someone’s going to bring it up. Probably Trudeau.

She’s also probably doing some math. Figuring out just how many lefties this will bring over from the NDP and comparing it to how many Green voters she may lose and factoring in how many Canadian voters actually care about this issue enough to switch their vote over it.

This is, regardless of how it plays out, a change in Canadian politics, and not just because the Green Party has staked ground in stark opposition to our current Government and Official Opposition. The very fact that May is mulling her options right now is incredibly significant.

In theory, if a party’s membership and leader are on different sides of a particular issue, the leader must decide between getting behind what the membership wants or resigning. That’s what’s happening here.

Now compare that with the NDP a little over a year ago. The leader, Thomas Mulcair, was at odds with party membership over his unbalanced support of Israel. In a contrast to what we are seeing now with the Green Party, NDP membership had to decide if they could get behind what the leader wants or leave the party. Many opted to try and push Mulcair’s position a little bit closer to theirs and some even occupied offices to do just that, only to see Mulcair back to his old tricks in the General Election.

With the Green Party, it’s the leader who has to follow what the party wants or leave. And that is a big change in Canadian politics.

* Featured image by Canada 2020 via Flickr Creative Commons

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece about the Noir Canada case, in which a small local publisher (Écosociété) of a controversial book which criticized the mining industry got the legal equivalent of a major smackdown from the courts. This case, and many others involving SLAPPs (Strategic lawsuit against public participation), was denounced by many, including yours truly, as a threat to our right to freely express ourselves and engage in democratic debate.

With your indulgence, I would like to pick up where I left off in that article, and describe another case which arguably involves the same type of legal and ethical issues. Though a simple copyright infringement case might not seem like the stuff of civil rights, a closer examination of the circumstances in Ms Deborah Kudzman’s legal struggle against the Lassonde Corporation (makers of Oasis fruit juice products) illustrates perfectly how access to justice in our system is definitely rigged in favour of the rich.

The facts of this lawsuit may strike you as banal at first blush. Ms. Kudzman was served, back in 2005, with papers by Lassonde for allegedly violating their intellectual property by naming her small company, which sells soap products mostly, Olivia’s Oasis (after her daughter). Judge Dionya Zerbisias ruled against Lassonde on the basis of the Justice Ian Binnie consumer protection doctrine: we must not take the average consumer for “morons in a hurry” or, in other words, how much of a dumbass to you have to be to confuse a soap bottle with a box of juice?!

But she also awarded punitive damages ($25 000) and the defendant’s legal costs ($100 000). This was necessary because, in the judge’s opinion, the case represented an abuse of the justice system and an attempt to legally intimidate the defendant into submission. On appeal, the Québec Court of Appeals actually overruled the lower court judge’s order to compensate Ms Kudzman.

Ms. Kudzman would have been up the proverbial shit’s creek without a paddle, were it not for an uproar online, specifically on Twitter (including leading Québecois twit and TV personality Guy A Lepage), where angry messages called for a boycott of Oasis unless they dropped their case against her. Sure enough, when the flacks at Oasis saw the major PR scandal that was brewing over this situation, they caved in to public pressure and agreed to comply with the original sentence and pay Ms Kudzman for her troubles.

Courts need to wake up, as judge Zerbisias did, to the new reality in the legal business. For corporate clients with deep pockets, justice is a ruthless sport in which money is virtually no object. Whereas their smaller opponents are sometimes bankrupted by the process, regardless of the outcome, as would have happened to Ms. Kudzman had the public not intervened.

Under the current rules, there has to be flagrant case of a SLAPP or frivolous lawsuit for a judge to award costs to the winner. It’s as though lawyers are doing everything out of the kindness of their hearts, instead of the skyrocketing legal fees that most big firms actually charge their clients nowadays.

In this case, not only did the courts get it right but, arguably more importantly, the court of public opinion applied serious pressure on this corporate bully to pay up. Justice needs to be affordable for it to be done. The way things are going, the costs associated with lawsuits need to be taken into account by judges when they hand down their sentence.

* Images: techvibes.com, CTV