Complaints have come from as high as the Supreme Court regarding the high cost of legal representation and the fact that many who can not afford legal representation or legal aid has been denied access to justice. Big box law is expanding in Canada, setting up shop at Walmart stores, offering low-cost legal services.
Behind the plastic jugs of liquid Tide stacked near the entrance of a new Walmart in Markham is an innovation in discount retailing: Axess Law.
Founded by Toronto lawyers Lena Koke and Mark Morris, Axess Law provides fast and affordable legal services to time-pressed shoppers.
Simple wills are $99. Notarized documents are $25, plus $19 for each additional document.
The Axess office in the Walmart on Copper Creek Dr. in Markham is a slim 600 square feet, branded in orange (think ING, Joe Fresh) and is open seven days a week until 8 p.m. It opened in January.
An Axess law office opened at the Walmart in the Scarborough Town Centre last June, and another this month at the Walmart at Eglinton Ave. E. and Warden Ave.
Another is scheduled to open at a Cedarbrae Walmart on Lawence Ave. E. in May.
The partners, lawyers who met at the University of Toronto Rotman School of Management while completing their MBAs, are hoping to open locations in Walmarts across Ontario within the next two years and Canada within the next four.
There is no mahogany or marble and no appointment necessary.
“A lot of people are intimidated by lawyers. This is a non-intimidating setting,” said Koke, over the sound of grocery carts slamming together and the beeping of the store exit alarm.
Evenings between 5-8 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays are their busiest times, says Morris.
“That’s when most lawyers have shut down their operations – that’s when we fly.”
Volume allows them to charge lower prices.
“We don’t fault other lawyers. If we were doing two notarizations a week, we’d have to charge $99 for those notarizations,” says Koke.
Chiropractor Karen Lumsden, 33, was able to get a document notarized in less than five minutes at the Markham Axess, with her two-year-old son in tow.
“It’s convenient, it’s fast, it’s reasonably priced. When you just need something done quickly you wouldn’t want to have to worry about booking something with a lawyer – it’s just easy,” said Lumdsen.
Traffic tickets and family law, personal injury and litigation files are referred to other firms. Axess will add uncontested divorces to the menu in the fall.
Notary services, real estate law, will and powers of attorney are performed on-site, allowing home buyers and sellers to drop off and pick up keys after hours instead of between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Simple personal wills are done with a lawyer using propriety software, which incorporates detailed solicitor notes, so that if the will is contested, the lawyer who drew it up can testify as to what the client wanted.
“We are careful about what kinds of wills we do. If someone came in here with their 95-year-old father and said: ‘My 95-year-old father who can’t walk by himself and can barely speak English, he wants to change his will and leave everything to me,’ we’re not touching that,” said Koke.
“You’re in a retail space, it’s a numbers game, eventually you’re going to get someone trying to take advantage of someone else. And part of our job is to watch out for that as well.”
“Legal service has to be held up to a gold standard, whether you are in retail or whether you are on Bay Street,” said Morris.
Real estate law is already highly commoditized, with Internet sites competing on lowest price, said Morris.
Alternate models for legal services exist in other jurisdictions, according to Mitch Kowalski, author of Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century.
He points to Legal Force, a company offering legal services online that opened a bricks-and-mortar location in Palo Alto and Legal Cuts, a barbershop and law office founded by a Connecticut lawyer in the belief that someone with legal questions would be more willing to share them during a hair cut or a shave.
Legal Cuts also offers a white shirt, tie and haircut for those with a court date, according to Kowalski.
“I think it’s a good idea because it makes law more accessible …law is too expensive for the average Canadian and average Canadians don’t know when they need a lawyer sometimes,” says Kowalski.
“Maybe at the Walmart you can pop in and ask a general question and create a rapport because you’re at the Walmart buying other stuff. It’s not set off as a special event. It’s just part of your daily life.”
There are advantages to dealing with lawyers locally instead of through a web-based service, says Kowalski. Using Skype and online tools is convenient, but if you’re in Ontario and you want a will, you don’t want to be using a lawyer in Hong Kong or Florida – there are obvious jurisdictional issues.
The Law Society of Upper Canada has in recent years given lawyers more flexibility in marketing and advertising legal services, according to director of communications Roy Thomas.
While offering law to Canadians where they shop is a good idea, it does leave the issue of affordable courtroom representation unresolved.
“Maybe as these guys grow, they’ll be able to deal with that as part of their menu of services, but at least they’re hitting the day-to-day stuff,” said Kowalski.
Morris said access to justice is one of the drivers behind Axess – besides the business imperative of being profitable.
“Our intention is to move into that space the moment we can find a convenient, affordable and practical way of doing so.”
Criminal lawyer Frank Addario believes the new policy he helped draft will do much to curb the harmful effects on community relations under the carding program, without getting rid of the practice altogether.
A revision of the controversial policy forbids singling out people by age or race when deciding whom to stop and document. A class-action lawsuit contends the current policy contravenes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The often tense dynamic between Toronto police and young black men will ease, the police board hopes, under a tough new “carding” policy that restricts officers’ authority to stop and document people on the street.
“One of the key objectives we put in, with the chief’s approval, is that service members do not consider race or age when deciding to initiate a contact,” said lawyer Frank Addario, who was hired by the board in November to create the new policy.
A series of Star investigations has shown that Toronto police card individuals with black and brown skin at disproportionately high rates in what are typically non-criminal encounters. Their personal details, such as name, height, weight, address and more are added to an investigative database.
“We do expect the number of instances of so-called carding, or contacts, with minority youth to drop significantly,” Addario said.
The policy, which goes before the board at a special meeting Thursday, says police must have a public safety purpose to card people on the street — a restrictive regulation that sets out the basis for a contact.
And the policy will entrench an individual’s rights by requiring police to tell people that the interaction, including the disclosure of those personal details, is voluntary.
Addario made the comments during a media event Monday with Toronto Police Services Board chair Alok Mukherjee to introduce the latest draft of the policy, which has gone through several revisions.
The board has plowed ahead despite relentless criticism from lawyers and activists, who say the policy will entrench carding rather than limit it and that the practice contravenes the Charter and the Human Rights Code.
Howard Morton, of the Law Union of Ontario, said he is impressed by much of the rewritten policy but plans to give a deputation to the board Thursday questioning some of language in it, including a section that describes “valid public safety” purposes that would justify the initiating or recording of a contact with a citizen.
Among them: “Collecting intelligence relating directly to an identifiable, systemic criminal problem” that would be the subject of a police directive. Morton compared that to what has happened in neighbourhoods that experience a lot of gang and gun activity and/or violence, and the collateral damage caused when police are assigned to flood such an area and then stop, question and document citizens there.
“That permits the same sort of stuff,” said Morton. “The board has come a long way in terms of recognizing the detrimental effect that carding has had in communities. Many of the proposals are improvements. However there are serious flaws in it which will have the effect of continuing the present lack of trust and fear in communities.”
Mukherjee has been determined to get the policy in place before officers with the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy hit neighbourhoods in May with their summer initiative.
A Star investigation revealed TAVIS officers card at the highest rates.
The policy, expected to pass Thursday, proposes a two-pronged analysis of carding. That would involve a community study this summer into the impact of policing methods that are viewed by many as overly aggressive and racially skewed, and an annual analysis, using anonymous data, of whom police choose to stop and document.
The policy will keep officers from carding unless they are investigating or trying to prevent a specific offence, or collecting intelligence for a larger probe that has been approved by their superiors.
They are also no longer able to document someone’s personal information for a future unspecified investigation, or because of an “unsupported suspicion.”
And they can’t card to prolong an interaction in the “hope of acquiring the reasonable suspicion necessary to detain,” or to raise awareness that police are in an area.
“If it’s not an arrest and it’s not an investigative detention, the expectation is the police would tell the person they are free to go — that they are not required to provide the information,” Addario said.
The new policy should affect the massive investigative database that has been built by the Toronto force via the cards, which police now call community safety notes.
Any records prior to July 2013 that don’t serve public safety will be purged. That’s a requirement that could see hundreds of thousands of names and personal details — most of them taken from people who have never been charged or convicted — deleted.
The police practice is already the subject of a class-action lawsuit, and the Law Union of Ontario is gearing up to challenge carding at the Human Rights Tribunal.
Both the chair and Addario emphasized that the policy can be changed.
“One of the things that is progressive about the policy is that it’s a work in progress,” said Addario, who said the board will approve an amendment Thursday that requires a review of the policy and its implementation at the end of a six-month period.
The board will earmark $75,000 for the one-time summer study, and $250,000 annually for data analysis and evaluating the policy.
The board has looked to New York City and the controversy there over its police stop-and-frisk policy for cues on how to measure potential damage done by carding. Mukherjee and Addario pointed to what is known the Morris Justice Project — a collaborative research effort that teamed social scientists with community residents to gauge the effects of stop-and-frisk policing — as an example of what Toronto might copy this summer.
Mukherjee has long contended that if the board doesn’t define a framework for carding, it could be driven underground and there would be no public accounting of the practice.
The chair has also argued that carding can be a valuable investigative tool, but acknowledged that the relationship between police and the public has been severely damaged by a lack of trust — a factor he thinks can be corrected with this policy.
On Monday, Addario said people are telling the board they don’t want police to be sitting in their cars and essentially waiting for radio calls.
“That is not what the vast majority of the community has told the board they want. What they do want is respectful interactions between citizens and the police, unrelated to their investigation of specific offences.”
Paid duty rates increased on January 1, 2014. Motorized Boat $350.47 per boat (for first three hours) The hourly rate for police equipment is Motor Vehicle/Motorcycle $37.38 per hour (minimum three hours) Motorized Boat $350.47 per boat (for first three hours) $105.61 per boat (for each subsequent hour) Rowboat $53.27 per assignment Trailer or Bicycle $21.50 per assignment Horse or Dog $53.27 per assignment (Please Note: Due to time required to prepare horses, an additional hour will be required for the Police Constable)
Open Streets TO organizers shocked to discover their biggest cost is police, and it’s time to fix that.
There are those who are paid to only stand and wait. In this city, that means the police, lots and lots of them. They can be seen hanging around just about every festival, construction site, concert, marathon, parade . . . And although they do little, they get paid a lot, between $66.50 and $83.50 an hour.
Trailer or Bicycle $21.50 per assignment Horse or Dog $53.27 per assignment (Please Note: Due to time required to prepare horses, an additional hour will be required for the Police Constable)
As organizers of the proposed street closure discovered, it adds up. The cost of closing Yonge and Church between Bloor and Queen and Bloor from Parliament to High Park four Sunday mornings, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., comes in at $840,000.
Paid Duty rates increased on January 1, 2014: The hourly rate of pay as of January 1st, 2014 Police Constables (all classifications) $66.50 (minimum $199.50) Sergeants (when in charge of 4 or more police officers) $75.00 (minimum $225.00) Staff Sergeant (when in charge of 10 or more police officers) $83.50 (minimum $250.50) (Please note that any partial hour worked will be charged the full hourly rate for both Police Constables and police equipment)
That’s how much it will cost to have a cop at every corner; $210,000 a morning, four mornings.
The intention, of course, was to borrow an idea that has helped other cities reclaim their downtown core. The closures are temporary, and designed to bring out pedestrians, cyclists and intoxicate them with freedom of the street, if only briefly.
“What I don’t understand,” says councillor Krystin Wong-Tam, speaking on behalf of all Torontonians, “is why this isn’t part of normal police activity.”
The law requires police be on hand, but police only show up if they’re paid, and not always even then.
As Wong-Tam points out, it’s one thing to ask sponsors to help promote the event, quite another to impose on their generosity to pay for the Boys in Blue.
And apparently no one but badge-wearing cops will do. “We asked the police to give us names of private security firms we could use, but they couldn’t,” she says. “That would cost more like $20 an hour not $85. The police weren’t able to say why it cost that amount. But in a police report to the city, they said they would need 260 officers to man every single intersection and end street along the route.”
“It’s a staggering amount,” Wong-Tam laments. “Police costs are our biggest obstacle.”
Paid Duty Increases and Method of Payment Changes: In September, 2010 the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) decided to review the Toronto Police force’s “paid duty” policy and the 180 officer’s a day that work it and the parking that officers use to park their private vehicle’s when they park at work. At that time, all officers performing paid duty were paid in cash (minimum of three (3) hours at the beginning of the assignment). After the CRA reviewed the paid duty, which is jealously guarded by police and the Toronto Police Services, the practice of paying cash to officers changed and now customers must pay, at least ten (10) days prior to the paid duty assignment, by certified cheque, money order or visa and mastercard to Toronto Police Services. Officers performing paid duty are no longer allowed to accept cash from customers. The Paid Duty hourly rate of pay for police, equipment and animals (dogs/horses) increased on January 1, 2014 (it can be raised at any time by the Toronto Police Union): Constables Was $65.00 (minimum $195.00), Now $66.50 (minimum $199.50) (All classifications). Sergeants Was $73.50 (minimum $220.50), Now $75.00 (minimum $225.00) (When in charge of 4 of more police officers) Staff Sergeant Was $82.00 (minimum $246.00), Now $83.50 (minimum $250.50) (When in charge of 10 or more officers) (When in charge of 10 or more police officers; a Police Sergeant and a Staff Sergeant will also be required.) (Please note that any partial hour worked will be charged the full hourly rate for both Police Constables and police equipment)
Though paid duty has its reasons, in Toronto it’s gone too far. In 2006, when Waterfront Toronto closed a section of Queens Quay for 10 days, the police bill was more than $200,000, at least a quarter of the total cost of the event.
Naturally, the police love it. They make a lot of money, almost $30 million annually, much of it from public agencies and departments. This is in addition to the $928 million the city gave the force last year.
Wong-Tam calls paid duty “exorbitant” and who could disagree? If Mayor Rob Ford had meant what he said about ending the gravy train, police headquarters would have been his first stop.
Trailer or Bicycle $21.50 per assignment Horse or Dog $53.27 per assignment (Please Note: Due to time required to prepare horses, an additional hour will be required for the Police Constable)
Speaking of Ford, he has made no secret of his opposition to the proposal. He fears it will create “traffic chaos” that will lead to confusion and inconvenience for people like him. Yet Open Streets has occurred in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and many other cities, all of which survived — even enjoyed — the experience. Not only that, local merchants enjoyed increased sales and went home happy for a change.
Wong-Tam and her colleagues aren’t sure what will happen to Open Streets; the original plan was to close the roads on July 24 and August 3, 17 and 31. Given police costs and official hostility, it’s too early to tell.
Yet this sort of program would enhance any city; Toronto is no exception. It is a way for people to explore the city safely and maybe inspire them to go beyond their own neighbourhood into the wider community.
The “traffic chaos” argument is not only tired, it comes from an earlier time, one that time, if not Torontonians, has forgotten.
Paid Duty Increases and Method of Payment Changes:
In September, 2010 the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) decided to review the Toronto Police force’s “paid duty” policy and the 180 officer’s a day that work it and the parking that officers use to park their private vehicle’s when they park at work. At that time, all officers performing paid duty were paid in cash (minimum of three (3) hours at the beginning of the assignment). After the CRA reviewed the paid duty, which is jealously guarded by police and the Toronto Police Services, the practice of paying cash to officers changed and now customers must pay, at least ten (10) days prior to the paid duty assignment, by certified cheque, money order or visa and mastercard to Toronto Police Services. Officers performing paid duty are no longer allowed to accept cash from customers.
The hourly rate of pay for police, equipment and animals (dogs/horses) increased on January 1, 2014 (it can be raised at any time by the Toronto Police Union):
Was $65.00 (minimum $195.00), Now $66.50 (minimum $199.50) (All classifications).
Was $73.50 (minimum $220.50), Now $75.00 (minimum $225.00) (When in charge of 4 of more police officers)
Was $82.00 (minimum $246.00), Now $83.50 (minimum $250.50) (When in charge of 10 or more officers)
(When in charge of 10 or more police officers; a Police Sergeant and a Staff Sergeant will also be required.) (Please note that any partial hour worked will be charged the full hourly rate for both Police Constables and police equipment)
Distracted drivers, beware . . . We’ve all heard of RoboCop, but until this week I had never heard of a hobo cop. Then a pal called to report he heard plainclothes Winnipeg police officers had been spotted posing as panhandlers and patrolling the median in search of drivers picking up their cellphones while stopped at red lights.
At first, the report sounded plausible. The so-called hobo-cop sting has been going on for at least two years in some Canadian cities.
But Staff Sgt. Rob Riffel, the Winnipeg Police Service’s commander of the Central Traffic Division, says it’s not happening here. Riffel says it’s too dangerous, and plainclothes officers don’t have to be on the median to spot people on their cellphones.
In case you weren’t aware, April is distracted-driving awareness month, and Manitoba Public Insurance is paying overtime for four officers to nab drivers who haven’t figured out how dangerous it is to text or talk on a cell while behind the wheel. Undoubtedly, it was one of those officers in plainclothes who was spotted this week standing at a bus stop on McPhillips Street. NOT on the median.
Reportedly, he was dressed in jeans and a jacket and wearing a backpack, and the guy who offered me that description only noticed him because the bus-stop cop approached the passenger-side window of the car in front of him at a red light. Then, as my witness watched, the guy with the backpack flashed his badge and motioned for the driver to a place up ahead where uniformed officers were waiting to write up a distracted-driving ticket.
Sounds like basic procedure in these kinds of operations, the kind of tactic that helped tag some of the 1,800 Manitoba drivers caught last November using electronic devices while driving.
Then on Thursday, my informant posted news on his Facebook wall of another distracted-driving ticket being handed out, although this time he didn’t see it happen.
He just wrote what he was told:
“Friend of mine just got a $203 ticket in the hobo-cop cellphone sting at a red light on Route 90. She just looked down at her phone and got a ticket. Time to put away the phone while driving… ”
What he didn’t mention was the two demerit points that goes with it.
His Facebook posting prompted two responses, both from female “friends.”
“What’s the difference between checking a printed map at a red light and looking at your phone at a red light?” wrote one. “Sorry, if your car isn’t moving, I don’t see the issue.”
“Trust me,” responded the second. “Nothing will work. You are not supposed to have it in your hand at all.”
The first comment seems to suggest this kind of police operation is just another cash grab. I don’t buy that.
Police estimate distracted driving kills 25 people a year in Manitoba.
I don’t know what else there is to say, except, “Distracted drivers, beware.”
As part of the province of Quebec’s transportation electrification program, would-be buyers are being offered substantial rebates for buying or leasing electric cars — up to $8,000 for a car and up to $1,000 for a charging station.
The province has allocated $516 million toward its 2013-2017 electrification strategy. Some of that money will go to installing more than 3,000 charging stations.
That’s good news for SylvainCastonguay, the general manager of the National Advanced Transportation Centre (CNTA) and the organizer of Get Connected Day.
“Quebec is among the best places to drive electric because we have zero emissions in terms of electricity and the price for driving electric is very low here,” Castonguay said.
Éric Carrière said his buying an electric car was “the best decision I’ve made so far.” (CBC)
Electric cars on the low end of the cost spectrum come in around $40,000 with taxes, with high-end models like the Tesla Roadster costing around double that.
Castonguay said electric cars already work well, even during winter, so there’s no time like the present to start shopping for one.
Switching to electric could be a hard sell
ÉricCarrière said his buying an electric car was “the best decision I’ve made so far.”
Climbing gas prices are proving that Carrière made a good decision. Easter weekend prices at the pump hovered near $1.50 per litre. For people who commute daily between home and work, the up-front cost of an electric car could mean deep discounts later.
“Every week I’m not spending $75 on my credit card for gas. I don’t have handcuffs anymore from petrol companies,” Carrière said.
Chris DiRaddo, the founder of gas-tracking website Essence Montreal, said even with the promise of discounts, Quebecers may need some help getting unstuck from their ways.
“We’ve seen gas prices flirting with $1.50, so there’s definitely a psychological barrier there. Whether or not it’s enough to get people to change their habits, it’s difficult to tell,” DiRaddo said.
“The price of electric vehicles and hybrids is still a little high,” DiRaddo continued. “Until it becomes a really big money-saver, I don’t think many people will jump right away.”
Oh, and in case you’re curious: The previously held title was held by Zurich, in Switzerland, with 305 cars.