Law Society Underestimates Need

Graeme Bacque (
Mon, 06 Apr 1998 05:18:10 -0400

April 6, 1998

 Lawyers' meal for the poor erupts in melee

By Leslie Papp
Toronto Star Staff Reporter

Lawyers and judges serving dinner to the poor ran out of food with about
200 people still waiting to eat last night, sparking shoving matches as
the homeless mobbed volunteers from the Law Society of Upper Canada.

Enraged people, some travelling from the far edges of the city only to
go hungry, screamed obscenities at organizers.

Others surged forward, trampling the tulip beds outside Osgoode Hall as
they encircled volunteers who handed out a consolation gift to those
barred from the law society's ornate dining hall - $10 vouchers for
meals at Swiss Chalet.

Soon those were gone, too, leaving many people who had waited in line
for more than an hour with nothing.


``You guys are pathetic,'' shouted a homeless man on crutches at the
edge of the crowd, as law society volunteers, all wearing dark-blue poor
boy caps stylishly backward, announced they had no more to give.

``Free food for the select few,'' yelled another man in the crowd.
``Don't offer us stuff you can't deliver.''

Inside, almost 300 people were fed in the society's book-lined hall -
served by about 50 lawyers, judges and other volunteers.

Surrounded by stained glass windows, ornate coats of arms carved in
walnut, and soaring coffered ceiling, the homeless ate soup, roast beef
and chicken, salad, apple pie and ice cream.

But here, too, trouble erupted when an exchange of words between two
diners escalated into a brawl.

One man was left lying on the oak floor in a corner of the hall,
bleeding from his mouth and forehead with a pile of bloody paper napkins
heaped around him. Police and an ambulance crew were summoned and he was
taken to hospital.

Organizers were visibly distressed. But the homeless, who face violence
as a matter of course in their everyday lives, took the incident in

``It was great - free entertainment,'' one man shouted to police
officers while continuing to dine at the table where the fight had

The injured man's assailant ran off before police arrived.

Outside, after being denied access, David Colbeck, 58, summed up the law
society's efforts with a quip.

``Why are lawyers always practising?'' he said. ``Because they just
can't get it right.

``They're screwing us around,'' Colbeck added. ``I spent $2 to get here
on the TTC, and I'll need $2 to get back, and for what?'' Later, one of
the event's organizers and chair of the dinner, lawyer Nancy Backhouse,
tried to put the unexpectedly high turnout in the best possible light.

``We're ecstatic that so many people have honoured us with their
attendance,'' she said.

The fight and the anger outside were unfortunate, she said: ``Maybe,
when we get more experience with this, it will be better.''

The aim of the evening was to give the poor a much-needed meal but also
to put a ``human face'' on the problem of homelessness, letting judges
and lawyers meet a social class they would normally see only during
criminal trials, Backhouse said.

``This humanizes a group of people very much dehumanized by society,''
she said, adding that perhaps the homeless would view judges and lawyers
in a better light, too.

Graeme Bacque
(#2226799 on ICQ)
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