Wednesday, August 09, 2006

And You Thought SCOTUS Was Out of Control

Our Supreme Court has got nothing on the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), who yesterday issued a ruling based entirely on the location of one comma in a 14 page telecommunications wiring contract.

The sentence at issue is as follows: “[The Agreement] shall continue in force for a period of five years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five year terms, unless and until termination by one year prior notice in writing by either party.”

Seems pretty simple and straightforward, right? By its plain meaning, the contract is valid for the initial 5 years and afterwards can be continued for additional 5 year blocks unless either party gives one year written notice of termination. Not so fast said the CRTC. According to them, the second comma after the clause “and thereafter for successive five year terms,” means that the one year written termination provision applies to the initial 5 year contract term.


Yeah, you read correctly. The CRTC basically ignored all logic and common sense, not to mention the intent of the parties, in making this absurd ruling. Is the sentence the most articulate, best drafted one in the history of the English language? No, it’s a bit awkward, but the second comma notwithstanding, its meaning is perfectly clear, and no amount of bad grammar changes that fact. There is no other way to read this language than the one I suggested. The second comma is a pause, and a perfectly reasonable one at that. It cannot be read to create a separate clause in the sentence, nor can it be read to make the one year termination provision apply to the initial 5 year period of the contract. In law, grammer should never, I mean never, trump intent, especially obvious intent such as expressed by this provision. Absurd, absolutely absurd I say, not to mention inexcusable. This, I submit, is why people by and large hate lawyers. And well, to be honest, when we do things like this I tend not to blame them.

Like I said, and you thought our courts were awful. Oh Canada!!


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