She dreamed of becoming a doctor. But when a Winnipeg woman wasn't accepted into the faculty of medicine, she tried to sue the University of Manitoba and the provincial government.
Led by her father, a lawyer, the pair has spent the past few years fighting what they say is an unfair admissions process that breached her charter rights by denying entry into a program she was "entitled" to.
Now a judge has stepped in. In a strongly worded decision, he took aim at what is being described as a "frivolous, vexatious and absolute abuse of process" that has tied up countless resources, has no basis in law and resembles the type of litigation often seen in the United States, but rarely filed in Canada.
"That she did not get into medical school at this university is unfortunate for her and disappointing to her parents. Regrettably, setbacks and denied aspirations are a part of life," said Queen's Bench Justice Chris Martin. "Yet, to confront this through a lawsuit with the attendant substantial expenditure of time, effort and money to the specific defendants, as well as to the plaintiff herself, and to the administration of justice generally, is remarkable."
'Frivolous, vexatious and absolute abuse of process'
Martin was only getting started. He said the original 154-page statement of claim filed by Shawn Olfman on behalf of his daughter, Henya Olfman, is unlike anything he'd ever seen.
"The statement of claim does not read so much as a claim, but rather as a meandering essay or thesis or debate," said Martin. "A substantial portion of the claim is immaterial fact, argument and evidence and I agree it is repetitious and incomprehensible in parts."
The lawsuit began with this introduction: "More than any other case in Canada's history, this case will determine Canada's next few hundred years."
The Olfmans wrote 45 pages listing dozens of forms of financial relief and legal declarations they were seeking. Typically, this sort of summary takes a page or two. They claimed the U of M had a fiduciary duty to allow her into the faculty of medicine, of which it breached. They also cite numerous international conventions surrounding human rights as causes for legal actions.
"I am not confident that anything short of glancing over the document itself could truly convey how bad a piece of drafting it is," said Martin. "I note this type of grandiose claim also contributes to a clogging of the system, which in turn delays or denies access to justice for other proper claims."
Henya Olfman first enrolled in the U of M in 2005, taking pre-med classes. She wrote the entrance exam for the faculty of medicine in 2009, hoping to be accepted for the start of the 2010 academic year.
But the woman was not offered admission following a process that included an interview. The lawsuit alludes to the fact she didn't perform well in the interview. They also take aim at what they say was greater weight given to rural applicants.
"She appealed according to university protocol and channels but her appeal was denied. Not satisfied, she and her lawyer father... chose litigation as the forum for her complaints," said Martin.
The original statement of claim was quickly struck down by a magistrate after being filed in 2012 on the grounds it wasn't a proper legal document, involved an academic matter and shouldn't tie up court resources given the U of M had its own appeal systems in place and ultimate authority over admissions decisions. The Olfmans appealed that decision to the Court of Queen's Bench and lost.
So they started over, filing a new statement of claim last summer. It was slightly pared down but involved all the same complaints and issues.
It was struck down by a magistrate for the same reasons and they once again appealed.
Martin said in his decision it would be unfair to force school officials to have to respond to the lawsuit.
"Any attempt to defend this claim by the university would, by necessity, just add to the muck," he said.
The judge ordered the Olfmans to pay legal costs of $3,000 each to the university and the province. And he warned them about the dangers of trying to file the same lawsuit a third time.
Have we become Americanized and are too willing to sue?
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