“I’m outraged and I’m extremely disappointed and the decision is a litany of factual and legal errors as well as distortions of the evidence that was heard,” says Kopyto, 68.
“Am I going to appeal?” he adds. “Does a bear defecate in the woods?”
The comments follow a decision by the tribunal’s hearing division last week denying Kopyto a licence to practise as a paralegal. Following his disbarment in 1989, Kopyto continued to provide paralegal services and, when the Law Society of Upper Canada began regulating paralegals in 2007, Kopyto applied to continue practising under the grandparented provisions included in the new rules. The law society has since brought good-character proceedings to determine whether he can practise as a paralegal.
In coming to its decision to reject his application, the panel seemed at pains to acknowledge Kopyto’s efforts to assist people who can’t afford legal services.
“We have reached this conclusion despite much evidence of the dedication Mr. Kopyto has shown to the causes of his clients,” wrote panel chairwoman Margot Blight.
“Those clients whom he called to testify expressed gratitude to him. We accept that he has sought, throughout his career, to improve the lives of the disenfranchised and the disadvantaged and has represented many clients without seeking any payment. Although this is evidence of good character, it is insufficient to meet the good character requirement of the act, in view of the panel’s many concerns, set out below, and in particular its conclusion that Mr. Kopyto is ungovernable.”
Of particular concern was the panel’s finding that Kopyto had engaged in unauthorized practice.
“Mr. Kopyto acknowledges having provided unauthorized legal services on hundreds of occasions since his disbarment, and on numerous occasions since giving the undertaking,” wrote Blight.
“Typically this consisted of him preparing and filing pleadings in the Superior Court (which is not permitted for paralegals), or engaging in correspondence in respect of Superior Court matters, using his client’s name. . . . For official purposes, Mr. Kopyto’s clients were self-represented, but in fact, he was fulfilling the role of representative using their names. . . . He would propose to conduct discoveries in writing. When this was opposed, he coached the client or arranged for a lawyer to conduct the discoveries. He either coached the client or arranged a lawyer for other court appearances.
“These tactics have sometimes had the desired effect of avoiding Mr. Kopyto’s involvement becoming an issue. However, they have given rise to problems in addition to the obvious breaches of the scope of paralegal practice rules.”
Other concerns noted by the panel included Kopyto’s financial obligations, including his difficulties with the Canada Revenue Agency. According to the panel, Kopyto “does not pay taxes, except through garnishment by CRA of his old age pension.” It also found he had paid nothing towards the costs orders made against him by various courts and tribunals over the years totalling more than $80,000 since 1985.
For his part, Kopyto is unrepentant. The decision, he says, made no reference to the evidence of about 20 witnesses, most of whom were clients, who appeared on his behalf. It also failed to consider what he says is an enviable legal record, including “over 75 cases that have changed the law, including getting the Human Rights Code amended to cover homosexuals and lesbians in the 1980s.”
Kopyto says he’ll be pursuing four grounds of appeal:
1. The institutional bias of a panel selected by a minority of lawyers who determine who can participate in a fundamental public institution such as the justice system.
2. Alleged personal bias by Blight, whom he says acted as counsel against one of his witnesses in an unrelated proceeding.
3. His overall objection to lawyers deciding on who can be part of the legal system, including their paralegal competitors. “They’re protecting their turf,” he says. “There’s a constitutional issue there regarding access to the courts.”
4. The ruling’s “endless litany of factual errors,” including the suggestion the Canada Revenue Agency is garnishing his pension. “The CRA is not garnishing my income,” he says. “I don’t know where she got that from.”
Kopyto says the appeal will be expensive, however, given the need to pay for transcripts from the years of proceedings in his case.
“Where am I going to get the $75,000 to pay for the transcripts, which is a prerequisite for proceeding on the grounds of appeal that related to the evidence that she heard?” he asks, noting the proceedings have been going on since 2009 and have included two previous panels.
As for what happens to his practice now, Kopyto says he’ll continue assisting people but hints the battle over his own status is largely about making a point.
“I would have retired years earlier but for these proceedings,” he says. “There’s no personal consequence for me. I’m appealing in order to change the law.”
He adds: “I’m not closing shop. I’m providing free legal advice and assistance to clients who otherwise would not be represented.”
Kopyto notes, for example, that the immigration rules allow paralegals and agents to appear at immigration hearings as long as they act for free, something he says the law society has taken issue with. “I’m continuing to do that,” he says.
“It’s not just another chapter,” he adds. “I wouldn’t be Harry Kopyto if I ever gave up fighting for justice until my last gasp.”
For its part, the panel acknowledged some of the positive aspects of Kopyto’s crusade in its decision on the good-character issue.
“We have no difficulty concluding that Mr. Kopyto is sincerely devoted to pursuing his clients’ causes, and that he has great empathy for them. He is generous, he is appreciated by his clients, and he is dedicated to them. And although these qualities denote good character, they do not justify permitting an individual to provide legal services who considers himself to be exempt from applicable laws and rules, including those regulating his profession, whenever his conscience finds it to be convenient.”