Sounding in the Court of Public Opinion

Table of Contents:

Drummond v. Rogers: The SpectacleBack to Top

On September 19, 2006, I filed a claim against Rogers Wireless Inc in Toronto Small Claims Court at 47 Sheppard Avenue East. In that claim, I sued Rogers for compensatory damages flowing from fundamental breach of contract. On August 3, 2006, I amended my original claim and added a claim for punitive damages flowing from a breach of an obligation of good faith that Rogers Wireless Inc owes its consumers.  The proper way to cite that Small Claims Court Case is: Susan G. Drummond v. Rogers Wireless Inc. (SC-05-24969-00).

The judges who try that case, its related pre-trial and all related motions are constrained to use the applicable laws of Ontario and Canada to determine whether that very specific claim is well-founded. Given that the trial is taking place within Small Claims Court, where it is understood that the majority of plaintiffs and defendants will be unrepresented by a lawyer trained in the formal law, the culture of the court is not fetishistically legalistic. The law must be upheld, but within the context of a legal culture that is also informal and flexible and where the parties are expected to plead the truth less circuitously than formally trained lawyers are apt to do.

As a legal anthropologist, I am interested in the legal culture that pervades and hovers about Small Claims Court. But I am also interested in the informal legal culture that interacts with all of the formal laws and legal institutions of state. In particular, I am interested in how a major Canadian corporation like Rogers Communications Group Inc and its subsidiary Rogers Wireless Inc functions with and within the law, both formal and informal. I have elsewhere called this particular ethnographic intrigue the Court of Public Opinion.

This web site, and the real time, real life court proceedings that are the pivot about which it turns, have become a locus par excellence for a study about how the formal and informal law interact with each other.

To my delight as a legal ethnographer, Rogers appears willing to participate in my project. I invited them into the Court of Public Opinion, and they have ceded fully to its jurisdiction. Both courts are, as in other aspects of real legal life, functioning in tandem.

Because the citations are apt to get confusing with two courts simultaneously in session, I have opted to call pleadings to the Court of Public Opinion on this cause of action Drummond v. Rogers: The Spectacle. I don’t think there have ever been procedural rules excluding double jeopardy when the Court of Public Opinion is simultaneously in session.

Given Rogers argument in its amended pleadings to the effect that I have set up this web site “apparently for the purposes of attracting attention” does not sound in law, the argument appears to have been raised as a plea to the court of public opinion. It appears to have been raised to cast me, in the case of Drummond v. Rogers: The Spectacle, as a badgering, hectoring villain - a pest!

Ted Rogers, the living breathing human beingBack to Top

The image of Ted Rogers, the living breathing human being, nakedly hounded and exposed in his momentary lapse as little more than a two-dimensional public relations prop is somewhat hard on the sensibilities. Nobody likes it when old folks are ridiculed – even those old folks earning astronomical sums of a day. It may be true that we all know that “money can’t buy happiness but it can buy a better quality of unhappiness”. However there is an intuitive sense that exposing the very voice of Ted Rogers the human being, and his very words (scripted as they may have been) as little more than a cloying public relations ploy might wound even the very wealthiest mortals amongst us.

Add to the offence the fact that, as the pleading articulates, this is not just “Ted Rogers Any-Old-Joe” who is being so brashly dragged into the court of public opinion and made a spectacle of; the plaintiff (me) has broadcast a digital recording of a voicemail message from Ted Rogers, also known as “Edward S. Rogers, OC”.

Edward Rogers, O.C. Back to Top

Those two small letters after the name signal, in no uncertain terms, that the plaintiff in the Small Claims Court action Susan G. Drummond v. Rogers Wireless Inc (SC-05-24969-00) – and, for that matter, the plaintiff in Drummond v. Rogers: The Spectacle – has presumed to take on the name of one of Canada’s most distinguished citizens. Those two letters, “O.C.”, signify that “that” Ted Rogers also just happens to be a member of the Order of Canada.

As the Government of Canada’s web site articulates:

The Order of Canada is the centrepiece of Canada’s Honours System and recognizes a lifetime of outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation. The Order recognizes people in all sectors of Canadian society. Their contributions are varied, yet they have all enriched the lives of others and made a difference to this country. The Order of Canada’s motto is DESIDERANTES MELIOREM PATRIAM (They desire a better country).

Rogers amended pleadings appear to strongly suggest that the plaintiff (a regular old citizen, and therefore one who would feel at home in the plebian culture of Small Claims Court) is trying to drag into the plebian mud the name of one who has incontrovertibly earned recognition for “a lifetime of achievement and merit of a high degree, especially in service to Canada or to humanity at large”.

That Ted Rogers desires not just wealth and fame and his name on the former Toronto SkyDome. That Ted Rogers desires a better country.

What does the plaintiff desire?

Of course this argument, too, does not amount to a strictly legal one. There is nothing in the O.C. honorific that legally inoculates the holder from being ingloriously tossed about, in another of his guises, as a PR prop for Rogers Communications Group Inc.

To the extent that the plea has ANY formal legal dimension, it flows from a strategic assessment that, unlike other Canadian courts, the judge in Small Claims Court action is legitimately tuned in to popular and intuitive justice. Small Claims Court is, afterall, formally a court of equity, guided by the recognition that its predominant clientele is self-represented, and therefore presumptively acting in the murky penumbra of the formal law.

And that’s partly what also makes Rogers’ argument so odd.

First of all, it’s odd enough that Rogers appears to have capitulated to the jurisdiction of the Court of Public Opinion and has resigned itself to making its case in a forum quite evidently of my choosing.

As a public relations move, however, the pleading seems precariously poised somewhere between PR manoeuvre and PR debacle. The argument is a bit of a gamble in both courts (Small Claims Court and the Court of Public Opinion).

Gambling in Small Claims CourtBack to Top

Rogers appears to be gambling on a judge in Small Claims Court being sufficiently daunted by the spectacle of Edward S. Rogers – who has been recognized by no less than the Queen’s own representative for his desire to make Canada a better place – that the notoriously, and in fact formally, more plebeian legal culture of Small Claims Court, as well as the formal requirements of law, will be put aside in his honour.

Presumably I too was to have felt so honoured to have Ted Rogers, O.C., himself call me on both my cell phone and my home phone that, if I was a rational soul, I would have long ago dropped my Small Claims Court action against the corporation and CEO that arbitrarily shut my 11-year-old-son’s cell phone off just days before he was about to take the Toronto Subway for the first time in his life.

Gambling in the Court of Public OpinionBack to Top

Beyond Small Claims Court, Rogers also appears to be gambling that the Court of Public Opinion will be so taken aback by the audacity of a childish and bratty little “Mademoiselle Sauve-qui-peut” that it will side with the poor wee beastie, Ted Rogers, also known around this better country as the spectacularly wealthy and well-resourced Mr. Wolf. 

Now I’m prepared to gamble, in the amended pleadings of Little Miss Run-for-your-lives, that that’s a pretty hefty roll of the PR dice.

Amended Pleadings of Little Miss Run-for-your-livesBack to Top

1. The virtually non-existent budget that drives the Corporate Communications Department of Little Miss Run-for-your-lives, for the reputedly nefarious purpose of attracting attention, causes to be issued at the web site registered under the domain name , the following news release:

The pleadings of Rogers Wireless Inc to the effect that The Plaintiff Susan G. Drummond broadcast Ted Rogers’ apology on this web site conspicuously resemble a whine from Rogers Corporate Communications Department to the following effect:

“The Plaintiff did not broadcast Ted Rogers’ apology when RogersVice President of Corporate Communications was urgently wishing she would – i.e., when it would have contributed to off-setting the public relations disaster that was erupting all around the corporation on December 17, 2006. Instead the Plaintiff broadcast Ted Rogers’ apology in a less auspicious context in which Ted Rogers, CEO and President of Rogers Communications Group Inc, along with Rogers’ subsidiary, Rogers Wireless Inc, don’t come off looking so good.”

2. The Plaintiff in Drummond v. Rogers is not being paid to make Rogers Communications Group Inc look good.  A sizeable number of other people under the very expensive umbrella of Rogers’ Vice President Corporate Communications are being paid to do that job.