Common Experience

April 3rd, 2017

“These people are scumbags.”  Well, as assessments go, it was blunt.  But it wasn’t without basis.

I was conversing with a business leader about the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), regaling her on the state of CSA’s half-decade long lawsuit against me, my company and my elderly father.  The CSA was suing us for referring to the law without paying CSA for permission.  It’s all quite surreal.  Judging by her comments, this business leader thought so too.

Especially surreal was the fact that my father was included on the claim at all.  He hadn’t owned the company for two years prior to CSA’s litigation, he had no role in the company at all anymore, he was happily retired.

There was no legal basis for CSA to include my father in their litigations, and they knew it.  But they did it anyway.

Early in my experience of CSA’s litigation, I was invited to breakfast by a local businessman.  He was complaining bitterly of CSA’s extortionate conduct in his market.  This man had a large operation, he employed people across several countries, he’s actually a pretty big deal. 

A few years ago the CSA had approached him with a demand for money.  It was CSA’s usual give-us-money-or-we’ll-harm-you pitch.  The harm would be incredible, the CSA had the power to shut him down internationally.  Recall that CSA is still a crown Agency and, as such, it has influence with foreign governments and CSA’s been known to use that influence to it’s own profit. 

With this man, as with us, the CSA’s argument was that nobody can reference the law without paying a “royalty” to CSA.  And it was quite some royalty they wanted.  In our case, the money demanded was mathematically impossible; for my colleague at breakfast however, it was all of his Canadian profits.

To the CSA it made perfect sense; this nasty man (who was nasty because he wasn’t part of CSA) would simply transfer all of his revenues, less expenses (i.e. his profit) to CSA and, in exchange, the CSA would agree not to harm his international operations.

That’s how CSA sees the world.  They are enlightened, entitled; we are plebs and cogs, in servitude to their interests.

My father never understood that worldview.  As a civil servant in British Columbia, my father worked alongside CSA for more than half a century.  He was a major supporter.  Why?  Because back then it was known that CSA was a crown Agency, that CSA was working in the public good, and that all citizens have a responsibility to contribute to the betterment of Canada.  It’s about helping each other, caring for people that maybe you’ve never met, giving electrical advice on the phone, for hours, for free, to be of good service, honestly and honourably.

That seems quaint now.

After all of his work to build up and establish the CSA, to have them betray him in his final years was a bitter blow.  What they once were he had respected; what they’d become he couldn’t understand.

Sometimes electrical apprentices call us to complain about bitter blows, to vent a little.  “I can’t understand it,” said one, “why do I have to buy the same book from CSA over and over, it’s pointless.”  He’s right, but the problem is common.  The CSA bundles their Code books (electrical laws in Canada) into course materials to ensure that every student, in this case every apprentice, gets a copy of the Code for use during the course.  As a Code cycle is thee years long, the CSA knows that apprentices will go through several courses during this time.  They’ll often have to attend seminars taught by CSA instructors.  That is, they don’t need the seminar content but if they don’t show up and fake sufficient enthusiasm then CSA may jeopardize their apprenticeship.  We’ve heard that threat a fair bit.  Depending on their employer, the apprentice may also have the cost of another Code book deducted from pay.  In one three-year Code cycle then, some apprentices end up having to purchase duplicate copies over and over, “a whole bunch of this [stuff] on the shelf, they’re all still in plastic wrap.”

To CSA, this makes sense.  Forcing people to pay multiple times for the same book means more money to spend at the yacht club.

In contrast, my father, and a great many of his generation, never set foot inside a yacht club.  For them, it was better to be honestly poorer than prosperously unethical. 

It was a source of pride for him that our electrical guidebooks were the cheapest electrical books on the shelf.  Low prices made them approachable for almost anyone.  And that was the annoyance for CSA, by the way, in that our prices are holding theirs down. 

There was no ethical divide between my father’s business and his person; he carried the same attitude at home.  My father supported so many causes, donating masses of money such that he’d qualify as a pretty rich man if he had kept it all.  I’m not putting him on a pedestal, my father had faults and failings like any of us.  It’s just that a lack of honour and integrity wasn’t among them.

About two years ago, a longstanding family business contacted us.  Like our business, theirs had been started by their father, a man who had worked closely with CSA for many years.  Toward the end of his life however, the CSA turned on him too.  The CSA ran roughshod over his firm.  Contracts were unilaterally changed, always to CSA’s benefit, commitments were ignored and prices raised, nearly every year, then membership fees were added as a condition of contract, even though they weren’t mentioned within the contract, then the fees were increased, every year, and then CSA would undercut this man’s prices in his own market, usually right after locking him into CSA-friendly rates within that market.

The current owner struggled to maintain composure on one of our phone calls.  The CSA was taking all that they had, and they had no recourse. 

We didn’t have recourse either.  Against a taxpayer funded adversary like CSA, the average cost of a legal Motion in Federal Court is about $40,000.  As there was no basis for CSA to sue my father, we could have filed a Motion to have him removed from the case.  But that takes money, and we didn’t have enough of it. 

I recall visiting my father last March in the hospital.  He had suffered a stroke in February and it had diminished him.  In my youth my father was a towering character, larger than life, but there was less of him in the hospital bed that day.  The time had past to update him on the litigation, to explain to him my efforts to protect him from his former friends. 

The CSA knew of my father’s declining capabilities, and toward the end they knew he was hospitalized.  But still they didn’t release him.

You see, the CSA was using my father as a pawn in their litigation game.  They put him on the CSA claim, and kept him there, as a means of compelling us to give them what they wanted.  It’s just that they weren’t bright enough to figure out that what they wanted wasn’t financially possible.  They were going to keep on hurting him until they got what they wanted from us. 

Sometimes the CSA hurts people to send a message.  In one recent case, a senior engineer was expelled from CSA committee for daring to question CSA’s ethical practices.  He wasn’t rude about it, he just questioned whether it was really true that Canadian’s don’t have the right to know the laws that they have to comply with.  That was enough, the crime was to question, and he was punted from committee.

That may not seem like much, but it’s actually really damaging.  You see, in quite a few niche engineering fields all of the players within that market will be on CSA committees.  The one person excluded from committee is by default excluded from their own market.  This person can’t get contracts, his business is severely damaged.  It’s like an MP being expelled from caucus, in that it severely hampers their effectiveness and reelection prospects within their market / constituency.  Some engineering fields are like that, and CSA exploits it.

They were sending a message to the others on committee; toe the line or we’ll harm you.

My father died on April 4, 2016.  He died under the horrid cloud of abusive litigation.  I didn’t have the financial strength to properly defend him, and that haunts me.

As my father was one of the defendants in CSA’s litigation, the Court needed to be advised, and on the afternoon of his passing I made the call to legal counsel.  In turn, our counsel advised the Court and CSA’s counsel at Gowlings.  The call to Gowlings also included a good faith, humanitarian request, that since there was nothing pending in Court, that CSA would please lay off for a couple of weeks while the family sorted through the funeral process.

Sorting through my father’s records was a big job.  My father was a child of the 1930’s, in that he kept everything.  He carefully filed every paper that he thought could be somehow useful in some way in some distant future.  The result was a massive trove of documentation covering his, and other’s, contributions to electrical laws in Canada, making CSA’s already hilariously weak case that much weaker.

I learned a lot about my father in going through his papers.  I knew him closely when he was with us, but I feel that I understand him more fully, and from a different perspective, after his passing.  “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”  Thus sang Joni Mitchell.  She lives a short distance from my father’s house.

I have learned a lot about CSA in this process too.  Character comes through in times of trial.  What began five years ago as one of CSA’s shakedowns, was responded to in 2013 with this RestoreCSA site, the purpose of which was to recover the character of this crown Agency and to restore its role in the public service.  Now, five years on and with a wealth of experience to draw from, the need to restore CSA, top to bottom, seems more clear than ever.

On the morning of my father’s funeral I stood in the laundry room, dressing into my suit and tie.  My father’s house wasn’t large and, with family in town for the funeral, I slept beside the dryer.  There was an ironing board out, it was serving as my table.  A suit jacket was upon it, along with my tie, and my cel phone atop some notes for the funeral service.  As I reached for my tie the cel phone buzzed.  I had email, it was exactly 11:40AM.

It was a legal email.  The CSA had just filed new demands, an hour before my father’s funeral.

Words fail me.  How do people behave like this?

I’m reminded of that business leader’s assessment of CSA, given later in the year.  It was blunt, impolite, but I think she was right; “these people are scumbags.”