Tag Archives: Canada

What I learned at law school: The poor need not apply

2 Dec

By Eric C. Girard 

‘I’m sorry, Eric, but there is nothing we can do for you.” Sharp pain and anger grew in my chest as I stared across the large wooden desk. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes.

“Are you going to be okay? Let me know if I can do anything.” The words of the associate dean were meaningless, a performance dictated by institutional etiquette.Eric G. Girard's Experience at a Canadian Law School

“You mean I have to drop out of law school, in my third year?” Absurd, a comedy. I wanted to laugh and cry.

“We can make arrangements so that you can take an academic leave of absence for up to two years.”

It sounded like I would be planning the funeral of my academic career. As I walked away from the student service offices at the University of Ottawa, I felt I had reached the end of a long journey – a journey around an oval track, carrying a boulder on my back. The boulder was poverty, and its grinding physical and psychological strain had finally brought me to my knees.

The university shrugged its shoulders as the “hard work equals success” myth dissolved in front of me. Don’t come to law school if you are poor, was the message. Don’t try to become a lawyer if you are poor.

I was dropping out because I couldn’t afford to continue. Tuition for the year was $15,000 and the government’s cap on student loans for me was $12,000. I was denied a line of credit by five commercial banks because I had a low credit score and no one to co-sign. I had no one to co-sign because my mother made $19,000 last year.

What is it to be “poor”? For me it was being raised by a single mother on disability; public housing; the food bank; parcels from the Salvation Army at Christmas; seeing my brother stabbed nearly to death, police take my mother to a psychiatric hospital and Children’s Aid take my four-year-old niece. And not being able to do anything about any of this.

FoodBankbox

What does poverty look like? There’s the day to day: You open the fridge and there’s a mustard or mayo sandwich for dinner. Then the month to month: You wait for your bus, are buzzed like cattle into an Ontario Works cubicle to get your cheque, hang your head as a smiling volunteer hands you a box of food. You carry your box home on the bus, wearily eyeing the canned string beans and cranberry jelly from someone’s Thanksgiving.

Will your children be able to afford university? Tuition fees are through the roof in Canada with the average University student paying $5138 for a year of school. Ontario student assistance (OSAP)covers a fraction of the costs but the amount of long-term debt is detrimental as the average student owes $27 000 in debt after graduation.

Will your children be able to afford university? Tuition fees are through the roof in Canada with the average University student paying $5138 for a year of school. Ontario student assistance (OSAP)covers a fraction of the costs but the amount of long-term debt is detrimental as the average student owes $27 000 in debt after graduation.

You can use these images to tell a story, but what does poverty feel like? Usually it starts with anger. You are angry at yourself, your family, and the indifferent forces that eventually grind you down. You push against these feelings because you don’t have the luxury – you have to keep on. You feel vulnerable. You teeter between risks not taken because the difference between failure and success is homelessness. Or you take stupid risks because you have nothing to lose.

I learned early on that anger and envy will paralyze you. You need to deal with it somehow. My mother had prayer and Jesus Christ; my brother turned to drugs. I did what I was told and became what is known as a member of the “respectable poor.” To be in this group you study hard, stay out of trouble, respect your scummy restaurant bosses and borrow on your Visa card at 25 per cent interest. Most importantly, you buy into the myth “where there’s a will there’s a way.”

My generation has reluctantly accepted the myth amid “austerity” and a new type of poverty. We’re entering the work force just as employers, governments and unions are hedging themselves against falling pensions, benefits, pay and jobs. Two years ago we said “enough” and occupied parks across the world. Our neighbours eventually got annoyed and gave police and politicians the nod to push us back to our Starbucks jobs, where we exist between the dreams of our parents, our useless degrees and the reality of minimum-wage jobs. We make your lattes to the tune of our own contempt.

Occupy Ottawa

For those who have made it out of this youth unemployment crisis, there is a sense you are either lucky or connected. We also feed the myth. We need it. Why else would we borrow $50,000 for an education?

Meanwhile, school administrators, politicians, employers and bureaucrats prune away to make that education inaccessible. The law school adds an extra box to a scholarship application that puts it out of reach, or raises tuition another $1,000.

I faced a phalanx of administrators at the University of Ottawa, each pushing me along with a version of “No, we can’t help you until you pay your tuition.” When I got to the top of the authority chain I felt like I was meeting the all-powerful Wizard of Oz. But unlike the wizard, the associate deans weren’t incompetent – they just didn’t care. I gave them a short story of my life and current circumstances and they told me my only recourse was to apply for an “emergency bursary.” But since my financial hardship was “foreseen” I didn’t qualify.

A hidden type of homelessness, individuals unable to afford rent “couch surf” by seeking shelter from friends or family members. This situation is often thought of as temporary but with over 10,000 people on the waitlist for social housing, a person could wait four years for assistance. At times they are forced to turn to the streets or unsafe living environments.

A hidden type of homelessness, individuals unable to afford rent “couch surf” by seeking shelter from friends or family members. This situation is often thought of as temporary but with over 10,000 people on the waitlist for social housing, a person could wait four years for assistance. At times they are forced to turn to the streets or unsafe living environments.

I am by far not the only one who’s faced this crisis. Since I opened up to my peers, many have told me they are in the same boat. This is why there are so few working-class lawyers.

Fortunately for me, my own story has a happy ending. This summer, when I’d accepted I would have to drop out, a friend offered to co-sign a loan. Knowing I would graduate on time meant I could apply for articling positions, which led to an offer that I hope will be my one-way ticket out of poverty. I know I got lucky.

Globe and Mail’s article on income gap really propaganda – Nick Filmore

12 Nov

Nick FilmoreNick Filmore is an award-winning investigative reporter and a founder of the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), Nick was a news editor and producer with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for more than 20 years.

Journalist Barrie McKenna, writing in the main hyped-up article inthe Globe’s Focus section on November 9.13, talks about how the gap in income between the rich and the rest of us is a serious problem that will hurt Canada for generations to come. True.

However, McKenna presented the issue as though we had just learned about the income gap. The frustrating truth is that we have known for years that the changes the Conservatives and the Liberals before them were making to the tax system, plus other adjustments, was resulting in much greater income disparity and the hollowing out of the middle class.

Globe and Mail Journalist Barrie MckennaIn fact, even the conservative Conference Board of Canada recognized this as a problem 20 years ago!

The article’s weaknesses are glaring. This is particularly significant because McKenna’s article launched a two-week-long series under the topic, Canada’s Wealth Paradox series.

McKenna makes no effort to explain WHY the wage gap is still increasing. He throws around terms such as globalization as being part of the problem, but he does not explain WHY we have such serious incomes gaps.

Income disparity doesn’t just happen

McKenna leaves readers with the impression that, well, a problem such as income disparity just happens. But serious problems, such as massive income disparities, don’t just happen. These problems occur when governments choose certain economic policies over others.

You would never know from this story that Stephen Harper’s neo-liberal economic policies, which are discredited as a failure in many countries now, are to blame.

reuters-3-20-11-Stephen-Harper

It is puzzling to see the Globe launch such an important – in its own mind – series with such a misleading, dishonest article.

McKenna makes no mention of the fact that Harper, and the Liberals before him, created trickle-down financial policies on purpose to make the already wealthy and giant corporations even more wealthy. This is done based on the false assumption that those rich folks re-invest their wealth in the economy. It’s not happening – it never happens!

McKenna failed to point out that these policies are a total failure. His so-called “journalism” is unbalanced and, considering his own knowledge in this area, dishonest. This article is little more than propaganda for those who espouse right-wing economic policies.

One of the reasons why this article is glaringly flawed is that McKenna’s work normally appears in the Globe’s Report on Business (RoB) where, most of the time, journalists present only the pro-business side of issues. Sometimes an opposing view is dropped in at the bottom of a story.

When an RoB journalist writes for the regular news or features section of the Globe – as in this case – the lack of balance is often obvious.

Economic term ‘neo-liberal’ taboo at the Globe
Interestingly, even though Harper has been governing Canada with extremely damaging neo-liberal policies for seven years, the term is taboo at the Globe. If the mainstream corporate media alerted the public to all of the evil elements in Harper’s neo-liberal package, I can’t imagine the CONS. getting elected again.

globe-and-mail-logo

While McKenna briefly states that the Scandinavian countries are much better compared to Canada in controlling income gaps, he does not explain why this is the case. Simply put, those countries have economic policies that reflect their commitment to the well-being of the general population.

In addition to holding specific media outlets responsible for the integrity of their journalism, perhaps it’s time we held individual journalists responsible for their work. If we started doing this, Barrie McKenna would easily win the award for “Best Propaganda Article of the Week!”

Of course there are lots of journalists putting their bylines on misleading and dishonest stories. In this situation, McKenna is my sacrificial lamb.

Note: I imagine some of you are going to beat me up for singling out an individual journalist – oops, propagandist – for criticism. Well, going after faceless organizations like the Globe doesn’t bring change. So, as an alternative, we need to hold individual journalists responsible for their half-baked, misleading stories.

The little “crimes” that Barrie McKenna committed in the income gap story are, in fact, more serious than we might think. The large volume of such misleading journalism creates a propaganda-riddled “false reality.”

If the so called “reporting” and commentary in mainstream media continues to create the kind of imaginary world our elites want to see, can 1984 be far behind?