Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Canadian lawyer in Liberia


The Globe And Mail News

Increase text size In February of 2007, Bay Street lawyer Jim Dube’s plane touched down outside Monrovia, the devastated capital of Liberia. As part of an international pro-bono project, he was determined to help the new government – run by Africa’s first female head of state, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – to rebuild the rule of law.

But the first sight of the scars left by years of civil war made him think twice.

“Initially, when I got off the plane the first time, it was a little bit of a heart-stopping moment … ‘Oh my God, what have I got myself into?’” Mr. Dube recalls thinking as he was driven to his hotel near the U.S. embassy.

“You look at the skyline, buildings have been destroyed that are just shells that are just standing there, to this day,” he said. “You had a cemetery that was used by squatters that was just heaping with garbage. You had them opening up graves to use the coffins as a kind of shelter.”

Mr. Dube, 67, recently returned from his latest five-week stint in the West African country. The retired partner with Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP, who used to represent major banks in insolvency cases, is now pursuing what some might say is an unusual retirement hobby, one that puts his legal skills to good use. “It certainly beats golf. And it certainly beats having too many drinks in the afternoon before dinner,” he said.

He is also trying to persuade other Canadian lawyers nearing retirement to do the same. He works with a U.S.-based group calls the International Senior Lawyers Project (ISLP), which sends volunteer lawyers to Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America on a variety of pro bono missions. Some help governments negotiate contracts with multinational companies; others assist local human-rights activists with legal claims.

Other Canadians are involved in the New York-based initiative – including some in the group’s efforts in Haiti. But Mr. Dube and others feel the baby-boom bulge of retiring lawyers in Canada is an untapped resource of expertise that could be doing global good.

Mr. Dube, who retired from Blakes in 2009, is quick to point out that life as a temporary expat in Liberia isn’t nearly as bad as one might think. The legal system is based on the U.S. model; the language is English. The food at his clean, Lebanese-run hotel is good, and he has a car and driver (and police escort) when he needs to go somewhere.

His work has covered a staggering range of legal issues, working with Minister of Foreign Affairs Olubanke King-Akerele, as well as the Justice Department. For example, he is working on reforms that would outlaw the brutal tribal justice practice of “sassywood,” or trial by ordeal, in which suspected criminals are forced to drink toxic potions or suffer the application of a heated machete to their skin.

He has also filed memoranda on constitutional questions – including a challenge to the President’s right to hold office – and advised on efforts to retrieve embassy property allegedly sold off or plundered by some of Liberia’s former ambassadors abroad.

Last week, he gave a half-hour briefing to Ms. Sirleaf and key ministers on a possible lawsuit the country could face over a new passport-printing contract. “As a retired insolvency lawyer … to be able to be in a cabinet room in a West African state and to have that amount of face time with a President who is listening to you and questioning you – it is a rush.”

He also had a ringside seat to political machinations: Ms. Sirleaf recently put most of her cabinet on “administrative leave” in the runup to next year’s elections. The announcement was yet another reminder of the growing pains Liberia faces as it rebuilds after decades of conflict.

Toronto lawyer Linda Robinson, a retired partner with Osler Harkin & Harcourt LLP who worked on mergers and acquisitions, is also bringing her expertise to Africa through the ISLP. She now spends several weeks a year teaching black lawyers in South Africa and other African countries the intricacies of commercial law. Many come to the course with little exposure to business, she said.

“A lot of these people didn’t have a clue what a share was until we started talking to them,” she said, adding that she hopes next year to teach courses to lawyers in troubled Zimbabwe for the first time.

Ms. Robinson says a Canadian version of the ISLP is needed to tap into the country’s body of retired legal talent and collect charitable donations. She thinks one of Canada’s established pro bono groups should help get it off the ground.

Mr. Dube, whose efforts won him and Blakes a Lexpert pro bono award this year, says any Canadian lawyer – not just those already equipped with experience on human-rights cases and the like – can make a difference halfway around the world.

“I am not a Clarence Darrow, I am not a John J. Robinette. I am a good Blakes partner who laboured in the vineyard for 42 years,” Mr. Dubé said. “You can be a change agent. One person, or even an armada of lawyers, isn’t going to turn a post-conflict state overnight into a success story. It’s taken a generation to destroy Liberia, it’s going to take a generation to rebuild Liberia. But it’s got to start somewhere.”

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Inside Liberia with Bernard Gbayee Goah

Everyone is a genius

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. – A Einstein

Drawing the line in Liberia

Crimes sponsored, committed, or masterminded by handful of individuals cannot be blamed upon an entire nationality. In this case, Liberians! The need for post-war justice is a step toward lasting peace, stability and prosperity for Liberia. Liberia needs a war crimes tribunal or some credible legal forum that is capable of dealing with atrocities perpetrated against defenseless men, women and children during the country's brutal war. Without justice, peace shall remain elusive and investment in Liberia will not produce the intended results. - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Men with unhealthy characters should not champion any noble cause

They pretend to advocate the cause of the people when their deeds in the dark mirror nothing else but EVIL!!
When evil and corrupt men try to champion a cause that is so noble … such cause, how noble it may be, becomes meaningless in the eyes of the people - Bernard Gbayee Goah.

If Liberia must move forward ...

If Liberia must move forward in order to claim its place as a civilized nation amongst world community of nations, come 2017 elections, Liberians must critically review the events of the past with honesty and objectivity. They must make a new commitment to seek lasting solutions. The track records of those who are presenting themselves as candidates for the position of "President of the Republic of Liberia" must be well examined. Liberians must be fair to themselves because results from the 2011 elections will determine the future of Liberia’s unborn generations to come - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's greatest problem!

While it is true that an individual may be held responsible for corruption and mismanagement of funds in government, the lack of proper system to work with may as well impede the process of ethical, managerial, and financial accountability - Bernard Gbayee Goah

What do I think should be done?

The situation in Liberia is Compound Complex and cannot be fixed unless the entire system of government is reinvented.
Liberia needs a workable but uncompromising system that will make the country an asylum free from abuse, and other forms of corruption.
Any attempt to institute the system mentioned above in the absence of rule of law is meaningless, and more detrimental to Liberia as a whole - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's Natural Resources
Besides land water and few other resources, most of Liberia’s dependable natural resources are not infinite, they are finite and therefore can be depleted.
Liberia’s gold, diamond, and other natural resources will not always be an available source of revenue generation for its people and its government. The need to invent a system in government that focuses on an alternative income generation method cannot be over emphasized at this point - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia needs a proper system
If Liberians refuse to erect a proper system in place that promotes the minimization of corruption and mismanagement of public funds by government institutions, and individuals, there will come a time when the value of the entire country will be seen as a large valueless land suited on the west coast of Africa with some polluted bodies of waters and nothing else. To have no system in place in any country is to have no respect for rule of law. To have no respect for rule of law is to believe in lawlessness. And where there is lawlessness, there is always corruption - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Solving problems in the absence of war talks

As political instability continues to increase in Africa, it has become abundantly clear that military intervention as a primary remedy to peace is not a durable solution. Such intervention only increases insecurity and massive economic hardship. An existing example which could be a valuable lesson for Liberia is Great Britain, and the US war on terror for the purpose of global security. The use of arms whether in peace keeping, occupation, or invasion as a primary means of solving problem has yield only little results. Military intervention by any country as the only solution to problem solving will result into massive military spending, economic hardship, more fear, and animosity as well as increase insecurity. The alternative is learning how to solve problems in the absence of war talks. The objective of such alternative must be to provide real sustainable human security which cannot be achieved through military arm intervention, or aggression. In order to achieve results that will make the peaceful coexistence of all mankind possible, there must be a common ground for the stories of all sides to be heard. I believe there are always three sides to every story: Their side of the story, Our side of the story, and The truthBernard Gbayee Goah


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