By: Adam Aptowitzer
We usually use this space to advise readers on how best to comply with the law, changes in the law, or propose changes in the law. However, CBC reporting on various connections the accounting firm KPMG has with senior members of the tax community – including judges – compels a response. For those who missed it the CBC has been reporting from various events sponsored by KPMG and noting who, from Canada’s tax and judicial community attends. The implication being that anyone that attends such an event may be compromised from making any independent decision about KPMG clients.
It should go without saying that conferences discussing just about anything are ubiquitous. So it should come as no surprise that those in the tax community get together to discuss issues of common concern and engage in professional development. These conferences often discuss highly technical matters which can only be intelligently canvassed with other experts in the field.
Conferences are never conducted out of the goodness of the hearts of the organizers. There is always the intention to break even or make money. For this reason conference organizers charge an admission fee and, where possible, seek sponsors that will advertise to the attendees. We imagine this is common to all conferences, as is the practice of having a trade show and giveaways. Giveaways are usually smaller items like pens, USB keys, and stress balls that are worth a couple dollars and, only rarely, hit the $10 mark.
That members of the judiciary and the members of the bar attend tax conferences should come as no surprise. Neither should the fact that major accounting (and law) firms spend money to advertise at such conferences. It should again be no surprise that individuals that attend these conferences walk away with knickknacks for use in their office or to give to their children or grandchildren. The real surprise is that CBC would think such a common practice across all industries somehow compromises people who received their appointments because, in part, of their reputations for integrity and professionalism.
The simple fact that a judge or lawyer attends a professional development event at which KPMG (or any other firm) nominally sponsors a reception or gives away pens is not indicative that a judge is biased to clients of that firm. In the absence of any actual evidence of prejudice towards a specific individual or specific type of decision making, CBC’s work is scandalous.
Readers should remember that all actors in society are equally dependent on our faith in the government and the judiciary for peace and order. If our national broadcaster is undermining faith in our democratic institutions with the flimsiest of evidence then we all have a responsibility to loudly reject such sensationalist reporting for the good of all. This applies, perhaps, most of all to publicly minded organizations like charities.
We do not often like to preach but, to maintain impartiality, judges must remain above the fray and are unable to defend themselves. If we do not stand up to defend our democratic institutions against these kinds of insidious and absurd attacks then who will.