The Right to Know
Publication
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 6 Apr 1972, p. 359-371
Description
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Legge, Brigadier General Bruce J., Speaker
Media Type
Text
Item Type
Speeches
Description
Address follows the beginning of hearings and investigation into allegations against Workmen's Compensation Board members and controversial media coverage. Several topics are covered. They include "Fair Play," to be expected in a democratic government. "Trial By Headlines"—no justice here. "Individual Cases" wherein each person has a basic right to know the facts of his case. "Doctors And Their Patients": do doctors have the right to withhold information from their patient? "Privileged Communication". May a doctor withhold information when it is in the interest of the community not to do so? "Legislation" can make the right to know very difficult. "The Community" may not be adequately covered because of large government bureaucracies. "Workmen's Compensation Board" is an independent decision-making authority and decisions are impartially made on facts. "Independent Civil Service." Civil servants may lack the means to protect his reputation. "Sacrifices of Politicians" in a financial sense. "The Press and Secrecy"—justice must also be seen to be done. "Pity on the Country" and the concept of a fair trial for the country as well as the prisoner. "To Pay Peter or Paul" asks questions about the division of monies. "The Maintenance of Force" addresses the need for military reserves. "American Forces" addresses their situation in Vietnam. "Canadian Reserves" speaks again of the need for the regular forces as well as citizens for the reserves.
Date of Original
6 Apr 1972
Subject(s)
Language of Item
English
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3

Full Text
APRIL 6, 1972
The Right to Know
AN ADDRESS BY Brigadier General Bruce J. Legge, C.ST.J., E.D., C.D., Q.C., CHAIRMAN, WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION BOARD OF ONTARIO AND COMMANDER OF CENTRAL MILITIA AREA
CHAIRMAN
The President, Henry N. R. Jackman

MR. JACKMAN:

In 1915, the then Provincial Government of Ontario headed by Sir William Hearst, established The Workmen's Compensation Board of Ontario, an autonomous organization which was dedicated to the proposition that the working men and women of this Province should not suffer because of injury occasioned by their employment.

One must remember that in 1915, the establishment of such an institution by a Conservative Government in a province with a strong free enterprise tradition, was not then greeted with the same degree of universal acceptance that it enjoys today.

In the intervening years, The Workmen's Compensation Board has indeed fulfilled the promise of its founders to the people of Ontario, and has worked with quiet competence and efficiency and under normal circumstances without the fanfare and glare of publicity that characterizes so many other more costly, but less efficient agencies of government.

When, in 1965, the Board was searching for a new Chairman, the choice fell on Bruce Jarvis Legge, a distinguished barrister and Queen's Counsel who had built for himself an enviable reputation at the Bar and as legal adviser to the Department of Veterans Affairs. He had already exhibited those qualities of social concern which have characterized his leadership at the Board. He had been active in many community endeavours including the assumption of a leadership role in advising the Government on the reorganization of the Canadian Militia, a force which twice during this century has provided the backbone of Canada's preparedness during two world wars.

Bruce Legge had also served as President of The Empire Club of Canada, a task, depending on to whom you speak, perhaps represents more of a chore than an honour, but it is a circumstance which makes members of this Club highly aware and more appreciative of his public contribution.

An executive of proven ability, Bruce Legge took to his duties with The Workmen's Compensation Board with enthusiasm and efficiency. He insisted from the outset that his staff think in terms of human values and social concern. He asked that rehabilitation of injured workmen continue to be a prime consideration and pioneered new concepts of worker re-training and accident prevention so that the working men of our Province would be able to continue, not only to contribute to our Province's growth, but achieve that personal fulfilment that comes from playing a useful role in society.

The work of the Compensation Board, under his leadership, has become a model for similar organizations throughout the world as experts from many nations have come to talk, to study and to learn of the accomplishments of the organization of which our guest today now heads. He has been honoured by his fellow commissioners by being made Chairman of the International Association of all Workmen's Compensation Boards in the United States, Canada and other Commonwealth countries.

It is not often that our society produces an executive such as our guest, where ability and a desire to serve, go hand in hand; and who is prepared to accept all of the personal sacrifices, frustrations and tribulations that government service entails.

Bruce Legge's career represents the finest traditions of our public service; so that it makes me very proud as President of The Empire Club of Canada, to be able to present to you today, Brigadier-General Bruce Jarvis Legge, Q.C., Chairman of The Workmen's Compensation Board of Ontario.

GENERAL BRUCE LEGGE:

Since the Eleventh of March all of us at the Workmen's Compensation Board have been surprised to merit about as much space as Moses got in the Old Testament, with pictures, lurid headlines and some nine hundred and thirty-five column inches in one Toronto newspaper- and all that was before yesterday.

On the Third of April in its now famous editorial the "Suede Sofa" the Toronto Sun wrote "The Press and media have a cripple-kicking tendency. That is, they seem to intuitively and unanimously select a target for attack and pile on, like mongrels baiting a bull.

"It may be unfair, but it's done--usually in complete sincerity, in belief that it's being honest, fearless, independent."

Now some of you may be disappointed today that I will not speak on a variety of matters that are very much in the public eye, but my colleagues and I are confident that the truth will be clearly discerned.

Fair Play

Government in a democracy can only be carried on if the people have an inherent sense of fair play. In our parliamentary tradition the Speaker rules Parliament and sometimes he becomes a very powerful influence like Mr. Speaker Fitzroy at Westminster who would never recognize a certain boring backbencher if he could possibly see anyone else ready to speak. One day the House bore was standing alone demanding to speak and the Speaker had to recognize him. He drew himself up to his full height and began, "Mr. Speaker, Mr. Speaker, I often ask myself this question," and Fitzroy grumbled, "And a damned silly answer you got too."

Trial By Headlines

In Canada we pride ourselves that justice in the courts is a far cry from the trial by headline in the United States. The late Dr. Sam Sheppard was sent to prison for the murder of his wife and then freed because the courts ruled that no one could have a fair trial in Cleveland at that time because of the inflammatory headlines.

And what of recent American justice when Time Magazine reports, "Even in the sombre setting of a courtroom, New Orleans District Attorney James Garrison's special investigation of the assassination of President J. F. Kennedy was barely distinguishable from a circus sideshow."

Can justice ever be done in an atmosphere of Gladiators fighting to the death before thousands of bloodthirsty spectators in a Roman circus? Justice and good government are not present in the company of hatred and violence and insatiable ambitions.

These are turbulent times and great public institutions like the Workmen's Compensation Board should neither be sacrosanct nor pilloried. Take the sneer "bureaucracy" for example. No one ever defines it but still it is used to describe everything from medicare to the white paper on taxation.

The Workmen's Compensation Board is the antithesis of bureaucracy, and like Jean Vanier, I think it is necessary to stand up and say "I believe in the human person". And all our activities are for the injured workmen.

Individual Cases

Unfortunately, because we believe in fair play we are prevented from doing what certain people would like us to do. Although our officials are not civil servants they cannot publicly discuss individual cases because the Board decides cases judicially and could no more enter into a public argument or justification of its decisions than could a judge for the decisions which he has to make.

Perhaps it's just human nature to second guess the umpire. Obviously the Board could not publicly debate its decisions in individual cases without breaking public policy not to reveal information about the injured workmen. The Board's decisions are made expertly, impartially and in good faith on the basis of all the evidence available and where there are psychiatric complications or where there are records of psychopathic activity, as in the case of a workman with a long criminal record, the Board as a public servant could not violate that man's privacy by revealing such information.

In our decision-making we have always insisted that each individual has the right to know the facts of his case and reasons are always given to him in writing.

Doctors And Their Patients

Today the traditional wisdom that permits a special relationship between doctor and patient is under scrutiny. A doctor must act in his patient's best interest and may withhold information for medical reasons such as a malignant disease, because such knowledge may be disastrous to the patient.

Privileged Communication

If we accept that the patient-doctor relationship is secret or confidential, then we must ask when it is in society's interest to have it modified. Clearly a communicable disease must be reported to the authorities regardless of the patient's wishes. In our changing society professional secrecy is not absolute and disclosure is also practised in well defined situations like medical reporting about workmen to the Compensation Board.

Legislation

This makes the right to know very difficult and in a democracy there must be discussion and a pragmatic approach towards the best possible policies and practices. The renowned scholar, Kenneth Clark, in his remarkable opus "Civilization" said, "The question is how far people can live without some kind of framework without lapsing into anarchy. . .".

Our framework of compensation is a no fault system provided without cost to the worker by the employers without any tax assistance. The Board is many things. It is a system of adjudication. It is an insurance company and a trust company providing compensation to an injured workman for lost wages and lifetime pensions. It is a hospital and rehabilitation centre for physical and vocational rehabilitation all of which rests within the framework of enlightened legislation. It is an educational institution responsible for the operation of nine safety associations which teach industry and workmen how to avoid accidents.

Ontario's accident prevention associations are recognized internationally as leaders in their field and it might interest you to know that the Workmen's Compensation Board and our associations invest more money in occupational safety education than any other single organization in the world. The total is more than six million dollars a year. You will have seen some of our awareness education on television. This reaches the two and a half million men and women in Ontario protected by the Workmen's Compensation Act and their one hundred and thirty-two thousand employers who pay the cost of compensation.

The Community

In primitive societies the very old and the very young, the sick and the weak, were the first to be abandoned in times of emergency. In advanced societies, these have first claim on the services of the State and the people must therefore be well served.

From the need for human protection, the community of the twentieth century has developed a plentitude of governments, local, regional and national. All of them have sophisticated procedures and the disabled may see great chasms between themselves and the system.

Workmen's Compensation Board

We believe that laws exist not for the scientific satisfaction of the legal mind, but for the convenience of lay people, and the Board is not a court of law (Sir James Stephen). We have good legislation to administer and we follow our motto "Justitia et Humanitate" (Justice with Humanity). In all this, we make two million decisions a year, each of which may have a vital effect on the welfare of many other people, and therefore we try to decide with a sense of urgency and professional excellence.

The Board is an independent decision-making authority and decisions are impartially made on the facts and not because of whom you know or to please any group. Never have I been asked by any unionist, businessman, or politician of any party in seven years as Chairman to decide a case in a certain way, nor have I ever heard of such an intimation being made to my colleagues or officials. We report to the Minister of Labour, the Honourable Fern Guindon, and he reports to the Legislature for the Board. He does not tell us how to decide cases any more than the Minister of Justice of Canada would tell the Supreme Court of British Columbia how to decide a breathalizer test case.

Independent Civil Service

In matters of public and governmental policy whether we get what we pay for or what we deserve is really a very subjective question.

According to the Honourable Jack Pickersgill, "The criterion of responsible government is not that a government is required to levy taxes to raise all the money it spends, but that the government is answerable to the people through their elected representatives for everything that is done by that government. In order to make that responsibility meaningful in our Canadian Federation, it is essential that the public be informed of the respective responsibilities of federal and provincial governments so that the electors can always tell who is to blame when things go wrong!

This was the same Honourable John Whitney Pickersgill who was such a joyful partisan in the House of Commons that on his retirement the Right Honourable John Diefenbaker told him, "The House of Commons without Pickersgill is like Hell without the Devil".

Although the Workmen's Compensation Board is not the Civil Service the Canadian tradition of government requires a strong and independent civil service to serve the public efficiently and honestly. A parallel tradition protects the civil servant from criticism in Parliament for his actions in the course of his duty and for the advice he gives the Ministers of the Crown who must take all the responsibility.

According to our parliamentary tradition the Minister is the only fair target for attack and the independent and unprejudiced position of the civil servant is protected. Parliamentary immunity protects the attacker and the Minister can answer any assault on his decisions or reputation on the floor of the House, whereas the civil servant would have no such privileged position from which to protect his reputation.

Sacrifices of Politicians

In these days of confrontation I think in this forum The Empire Club of Canada- that we have a right to know our debt to politicians. It is difficult for the public to know how much Members of Parliament, Members of the Legislature, and Ministers of the Crown give up personally by serving in Government.

It would be difficult to number in a country like Canada, with eleven separate governments, how many ministers have found that politics interrupted their normal careers, and when the voters or the Prime Minister had tired of their services, found that they were in a very unenviable financial and professional position.

The Press and Secrecy

Even in the new open diplomacy there is still much secrecy, but the Workmen's Compensation Board does not believe in cloaking its activities in secrecy. We are always willing to provide as much information as we can without violating the rights of the people with whom we deal.

In this regard, Professor Albert Abel, of the University of Toronto Law School, and a distinguished authority on public administration, wrote four years ago that as for individuals, "the harm (of disclosure) may be economic, as where preliminary investigations into the management of a company or the wholesomeness of a product are under way; in such cases, even an ultimate clean bill of health would probably not save the enterprise from grave loss and the authorities quite properly do not want to reveal such matters past or present . . . the individual's interest in being free from shame and vexation is not to be sacrificed to a mere general right to know."

In this sense the right to know is a philosophical concept but the maxim that justice must be seen to be done is easier.

Pity on the Country

Henry Cecil has posed this conundrum "Which is the greater harm? That an acquitted criminal should do it again or that judges should not appear to be fair-minded?"

But the question is not simple. The judge is not only sitting to see that the prisoner has a fair trial. The public is also entitled to a fair trial--and Sir Mathew Hale asserted three hundred years ago "When dealing with grave crimes one must have pity on the country as well as on the prisoner."

This concept of a fair trial is one that society must keep in first place. In this forum it is a pleasure to cite the Queen's views expressed during her last visit to Canada in Victoria. "The creation and maintenance of a civilized community depends upon the will and determination of the people as a whole, working through a system of democratic institutions. In this system there should be no 'them' and 'us'. The basis of our democratic institutions is that it all depends on us. It depends upon everyone doing their job responsibly and intelligently . . . we hear too much about struggles for power these days. I believe we should be more concerned with giving service."

To Pay Peter or Paul

The objective of all social action must be to meet the needs of the public but it is indisputable that workmen's compensation and social services for the public are moulded by the conflict between what society wants and what society will pay for. How much for hospitals? What should be given for foreign aid? Why do the schools need more and more? Why can't we increase pensions to the aged? And what do we get for our defence dollar?

The Maintenance of Force

The government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul, and despite the often strident public debate about the armed forces, I am certain that this audience is in absolute agreement with the statement which was said to have been written by Mr. Pearson himself. "It is essential to maintain a force on our side as a deterrent against attack from potential foes who are themselves heavily armed, as a means of removing the greatest temptation to an aggressor, the assurance of an easy victory."

My argument goes a step further and is based on the old Finnish maxim "A small country will always have an army, its own or someone elses". Canada's defence policy is in support of NATO because the West must have conventional forces if it is to avoid the harsh alternative of surrendering to the threat of the bomb or committing suicide by using it.

Naturally, I believe in having our own but if as a major economy it is government policy to restrict defence spending for financial rather than military reasons, inevitably resulting in a smaller force, then the reserve forces ought to be sustained all the more. There is a real need of reserves for all emergencies and in times of crisis.

It is strange that one of our greatest Prime Ministers, Sir Wilfred Laurier, stated in 1902, "You must not take the Militia seriously, it will not be required for the defence of the country, as the Monroe doctrine protects us against enemy aggression."

Within a dozen years of that embarrassing pronouncement the legendary Sir Sam Hughes accomplished the incredible task of assembling, equipping and sending overseas the Canadian Expeditionary Force of thirty-three thousand men, and that within two months after the outbreak of war in 1914.

American Forces

In the United States these are harsh days for the military because they have had to control explosive situations that local police forces have found to be impossible. The same agony pertains to the British Forces in Ulster today. American involvement in Vietnam is certainly one of the most inflammatory and splits the country into two hostile and highly vocal camps. Every day tens of thousands of words are disseminated about the conduct of the war and the armed forces.

Canadian Reserves

On the other hand, in Canada's tiny reserves there are all sorts and conditions of men from talented students to business and professional men who believe in the citizen soldier's role and who work to keep together a military unit in the face of popular indifference or hostility.

This classic story illustrates the problem. An American general visited Canada and received a bad press from one large newspaper. He protested and this was printed under the caption "Bottle scarred veteran protests". He demanded a retraction which was printed under the caption "Battle scared veteran demands retraction".

Despite the spirit of the times and the distance of the last war, the Canadian Reserves have always had a degree of public support and they provide a place of service for the energies and loyalties of those who wish to be ready for any emergency. They help to bridge the now dangerously wide gap between soldier and civilian. The Canadian who gives his leisure to become a part-time soldier deserves Field Marshal Slim's accolade, "Twice a citizen". That man will be needed as much in the future as he has been through Canada's history, and I hope that this distinguished audience will continue to recognize in this imperfect world the need for the Canadian volunteer--whether they be the fine professional officers and men of the Regular Forces, or the enthusiastic citizens in the Reserves.

There is a fractious Russian saying, "He never chooses an opinion he just wears what ever happens to be in style". Public service whether in politics, the forces, the civil service, important crown corporations or private charities are all under attack.

The chasms in our restless society are deep and the bridges hard to build but Edmund Burke knew that "A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation".

In our Canadian democracy we have the means of this conservation. Good men in the Armed Forces, in the Workmen's Compensation Board, in Churches and Charities, in Politics and in this incomparable Club will always work to make Canada a better place to live.

General Legge was thanked on behalf of The Empire Club of Canada by Major Arthur J. Langley, C.D.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Since 1915, the Workmen's Compensation Board of Ontario had operated with quiet efficiency and, by and large, free from the glare of publicity that normally characterizes many other agencies of government.

However, at the time this Speech was given, a dissatisfied former employee of the Board had received a great deal of publicity in the daily press for making allegations against Board members and his charges were being investigated by the Ontario Legislature's Committee on Resources and Development.

As a consequence, the Provincial Government was being severely criticized for allowing witnesses to appear before Committees of the Legislature, making statements under oath and thus receiving the protection of the Legislature against possible court action for slander. Opposition Leader, Robert Nixon, described the hearings as "a travesty of justice". The Legislative Committee's own legal counsel offered to resign, expressing his concern that while former employees appearing as witnesses had immunity against legal action, the reputations of respected people could be damaged by unsubstantiated and hearsay evidence and that if such evidence was to be heard, it should be heard before a Royal Commission where the witnesses would not have such an immunity.

General Legge, the Board's Chairman, on the other hand, because of his oath of office and the judicial nature of the Workmen's Compensation Board's decisions, had refused to enter into a public argument or justification for the Board's decisions. On this occasion, his first public address since the hearings began, General Legge received an unprecedented standing ovation from an overflow audience at The Empire Club, choosing as the title of his speech "The Right to Know".

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The Right to Know


Address follows the beginning of hearings and investigation into allegations against Workmen's Compensation Board members and controversial media coverage. Several topics are covered. They include "Fair Play," to be expected in a democratic government. "Trial By Headlines"—no justice here. "Individual Cases" wherein each person has a basic right to know the facts of his case. "Doctors And Their Patients": do doctors have the right to withhold information from their patient? "Privileged Communication". May a doctor withhold information when it is in the interest of the community not to do so? "Legislation" can make the right to know very difficult. "The Community" may not be adequately covered because of large government bureaucracies. "Workmen's Compensation Board" is an independent decision-making authority and decisions are impartially made on facts. "Independent Civil Service." Civil servants may lack the means to protect his reputation. "Sacrifices of Politicians" in a financial sense. "The Press and Secrecy"—justice must also be seen to be done. "Pity on the Country" and the concept of a fair trial for the country as well as the prisoner. "To Pay Peter or Paul" asks questions about the division of monies. "The Maintenance of Force" addresses the need for military reserves. "American Forces" addresses their situation in Vietnam. "Canadian Reserves" speaks again of the need for the regular forces as well as citizens for the reserves.