The Ethical Lawyer, Part I

Photo by Ian Britton, under a (cc) attribution, non-commercial, no derivs license

Photo by Ian Britton, under a (cc) attribution, non-commercial, no derivs 3.0 license

True story: a family lawyer in town got a call from his client.

The client said: “I shot the bitch. Right there on the street, like the dog that she was. So anyway, I’m just driving over to your place.”

The client was placed under arrest. That lawyer still practices, though I’ve been told that the wife’s lawyer no longer does. 

As those of you who have been reading my blog a while know, in my day job, I’m a freshly-hatched lawyer (called to the bar in June). Since then, I have been practicing in the area of family law, often to the exclusion of anything else, including blogging and writing fiction. It is a wrenching and exhausting area of law. Clients will often start crying during the course of a meeting while I listen, and feel a deep sadness at all that the client is losing, at so many levels. All our meeting rooms and offices have boxes of tissues.

Family law was near the bottom of my list of practice areas to work in, back when I was in law school (all of a year and a half ago). It ranked just above criminal law, which I still have no desire to work in.

But it turns out I absolutely love family law. This surprises many, including many fellow lawyers. Heck, it surprised me.

But yeah–I really love it, because I feel like what I am doing is making a difference. This week, a client who has not been able to see his kids since this past summer, because his ex and her lawyer were being difficult, finally got to see the kids. This result is a direct consequence of my actions and efforts (with oversight and mentorship from a senior lawyer, of course), and when something like this happens, after months of oft-discouraging effort, it can feel good.

But there’s a potential double edge to it all, and that’s something I’ve been struggling with, though for now that struggle is theoretical, thank goodness.

It’s the issue of conflicting ethics. Continue reading


On Tempests, Teapots and David Gilmour

Over the past week or so, there’s been quite the kerfuffle in the Canadian literary scene over some person named David Gilmour, who has apparently written some books and teaches part time at the University of Toronto.

I read his interview, in which he made some absurd comments about not liking any women authors enough to teach them in his class–with the single exception of Virginia Woolf (the exact quote, “when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women. Except for Virginia Woolf,” has even given rise to an amusing tumblr that yielded me a good few chuckles). Gilmour also hasn’t encountered any Canadian writers he loves enough to teach (I fully expect Margaret Atwood has been crying buckets since she heard the devastating news*).

He evidently teaches books by “serious heterosexual guys”. “Real guy-guys” in fact. All of which sounds amusingly pompous and absurd to me. As in: are we still really taking someone who utters these kinds of throwbacks to some early twentieth century version of literary machismo seriously? Continue reading

The Wise Fool: Russell Brand & Humour as Transgression & Truthtelling

A few months ago, a “Morning Joe” video clip featuring Russell Brand went viral. I have to admit, I kind of loved it.

I had been aware of Brand before, and found him amusing in films like Leaving Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek. But between that onscreen persona, and possibly the marriage to Katy Perry, I just assumed he was the usual attention grabbing comedian type who was perhaps slightly more clever than Tom Green et al., and that his schtick was that of a foppish, English fool.

I first had an inkling that there might be more to him when I read an interview excerpt about his role in Julie Taymor’s The Tempest (which features Helen Mirren as a gender-swapped Prospero/a, but which I didn’t love as much as I expected to) and was surprised at the intelligence that peeped through that constructed persona of foolery. But, I didn’t think more of it.

Until the Morning Joe clip, when suddenly the mask came off, and the clueless fool became the wise, truthtelling fool–a truly Shakespearean figure (I’m thinking Lear, here and the interplay between the Fool, and Edgar in the guise of a mad fool). After a few too many digs (the interview, which is worth watching, begins with one of the anchors making the dig “Joining us now, he’s a really big deal…. [glancing at other two anchors] I know, I’m told this. I’m not very pop cultured, I’m sorry.” Though she’s not sounding particularly sorry at all, truth be told). Continue reading

Dreams of a Life: Joyce Carol Vincent

joyce carol vincent

Joyce Carol Vincent

A few months ago, I posted on one of my social media networks about the haunting story I stumbled upon of this beautiful, popular, seemingly-well-loved woman who died alone in her subsidized apartment in London at the age of 38, tv on, surrounded by Christmas gifts she had just wrapped. For the next three years, the cool, blue-tinged light of the television flickered over the slowly decomposing corpse of Joyce Carol Vincent. It was only when the authorities came to enforce her eviction that the remains were discovered.

By then, and in the absence of any evidence of bone-cracking force, the cause of death was no longer determinable. Indeed, they were only able to identify the remains by comparing the teeth with teeth in photographs of her. Continue reading

Five things I love about Broadchurch


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broadchurchWe recently watched Broadchurch, a stark, haunting, subtly resonant drama about the murder of a young boy in a small coastal town in England. Seasoned with references to Thomas Hardy’s work (the series takes place in Wessex; one of the characters who was himself ostracized by society because of a forbidden relationship talks about reading Jude the Obscure; and of course the last name of one of the main characters is Hardy), there is a thread of weight, of tragedy, and of fatalism that runs through the work. And yet, unlike Hardy’s tragic melodrama, there are also luminous threads of hope, of human connection and of redemption.

Here are five things that I loved about the first series: Continue reading

Crossing the Mountains


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There are the Alps. What is there to say about them?
They don't make sense.
You will have to go a long way round
if you want to avoid them.
It takes some getting used to. There are the Alps,
fools! Sit down and wait for them to crumble!

-Excerpts from “On the fly-leaf of Pound’s Cantos”
 By Basil Bunting

I grew up on the West Coast of Canada, in a land of mountains and ocean.

At a seminar I attended years ago, the professor spoke of the idea of an “internal landscape”.  He spoke of how, having grown up in the prairies, his internal landscape was characterized by endless horizons and vast stretches of sky.

For me, it was mountains and ocean that shaped my consciousness.

Growing up out west, the moods of the landscape held me fascinated.  Sunny days were dazzling, the mountains and the ocean sharp-edged, as if formed from cut crystal, the vegetation seething with the dark green of ancient knowing. Equally fascinating were the days when clouds streaked across the folds and crags of the mountains and blurred the line between ocean and sky.

This marked my early, visceral connection with the spiritual. It has stayed with me since.

But there was another side to my spirituality as well.  My Anglo-Indian ancestors had lived in India for generations, and I grew up with colourful family lore.  One of my favourites tells of how my great grandmother encountered Death at the bedside of her ailing daughter, my great aunt.  Nor do I mean the abstracted idea of death, but rather Death, personified as a wizened, brown-skinned woman in a white sari. Continue reading

Havana Night


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On a visit to Havana a few years back, we stayed with Arcelis, a retiree who ran one of the casas particulares in the city. Soft-spoken and solicitous, she was like the Cuban grandmother I never had. She gave us full use of the upper floor of her stately old home. Rooms upon rooms, full of the bric-a-brac of another era: ceramic bathing beauties perched on giant clam shells amid curls of sea foam, and stylized, slightly cartoonish figurines forever posed in the act of shyly kissing or of bashful courtship. Her old office–meticulously dusted–featured an award presented to her by the then-Minister of the Interior, Che Guevara, all but lost amid the Red Cross tea services, and other artefacts of a collector’s life.

The evening after we arrived, I sat out on her shaded terrace and listened to the layered sounds of the Havana night. Dogs barking, plates and cutlery clattering. Animated conversations. Children laughing.

It was as if everyone lived out their days and nights with their doors and windows fully open. Though I could see nothing of the activities taking places, the night was thick with the sounds of lives being lived in a way that simply doesn’t happen in northern countries. We live with our windows sealed, our doors shut tight.

I let myself sink into the anonymous, thriving humanity of those sounds.

And then, a sudden lull. The sound of one television, blaring a broadcast. Then another, tuned to the same broadcast. Then a third. And on it went, until all the conversation, the arguing and the laughter, had been supplanted by the sound of the televisions.

Havana listened, and so did I: after 49 years in power, Fidel was stepping down.

Staying out of the Story


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So a few of my friends who read the post “Written out of the Story” have been asking me how that issue resolved. This is just a follow up post.

The following section is for those coming new to the situation who don’t want to read the extremely LONG previous post. Those just looking for the follow up, feel free to skip to the next section.


A friend and I had our books coming out at the same time and so we co-organized a book launch. We both put in the work, we were both equally featured and friends of both of ours came. BUT, when my friend’s publisher, Iguana Books, posted about the event on their blog, it became a solo event, organized exclusively by my friend, featuring only her book etc. I had been written out of the event completely and without a trace (to be clear, this was the publisher, not my friend, who did this).

I emailed them to let them know it was a co-launch, and that they had some of their FACTS wrong. I thought having wrong facts was a problem, particularly on your own website, where you have full control of the messaging. It affects a company’s credibility to intentionally misrepresent facts.

Their response (claiming it was my friend’s fault for not telling them it was a shared event–I actually saw the email my friend had sent with all the correct details–and further stating that they didn’t care that their facts were wrong) struck me as really problematic. I told them this–i.e. that it really bothered me that their first response was to (wrongly) blame the author–whether it was her fault or not, that just didn’t look good–and also that having incorrect facts on their site seemed problematic. Then I wrote the post and it went live, as I waited to hear back from Emily, the contact at Iguana. Continue reading

The Secret in Their Eyes


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ImageI often see films that I don’t really think about again after I’ve turned off the television or left the theatre.

Not so with “The Secret in Their Eyes” (“El Secreto de sus Ojos”). Just as the film itself was centered around a man haunted by a cold case from so many years ago, so too has this film haunted me in various ways.

The story centers around an investigator within the Argentinean justice system. They have a somewhat different approach to law than we do–there, from what I understand, it is the judges and their offices, which consist of lawyers, police investigators and so on, who look into the facts of the case and make a determination about who committed the crime.

The investigator is returning to his home town after many years stationed in a remote region of the country. He has just retired. He comes to visit the lawyer he used to work with many years earlier–a beautiful, brilliant woman with an ivy-league law degree and a privileged upbringing, and tells her that he has plans to write a novel about the “case that got away” because it has always haunted him. She knows the one he means–the one neither of them have forgotten through the years. The one that changed the course of their lives. Continue reading

Written out of the Story


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I recently co-hosted a book launch with my friend Vanessa Ricci-Thode. Her book, the Dragon Whisperer recently came out, and since the timing was in proximity to the release of the print edition of Konstantin’s Gifts, we figured we’d pool resources and launch together.

It was a really fun event–I had a great time, lots of people came, and it was a fabulous night of celebration, featuring live music, readings and some really really delicious cake! Thanks so much to everyone who attended or was involved, for your help and support and for coming out, buying books and all that good stuff!

It was a fully co-operative event, in which Ness and I both participated fully: she contacted the venue; I contacted the media; she looked into catering; I looked into music; she invited her friends; I invited my friends etc. You get the idea.

So, imagine my surprise when her publisher wrote the following about the event: Continue reading