Today, people in Canada are expected to exercise greater individual responsibility for their savings and retirement. Factors that contribute to this reality include the decline of company-sponsored “defined benefit” pension plans, increased longevity, low interest rates, and greater ease of access to investment opportunities. Together, these factors compel individuals to place their life savings in the stock market and other investment products, often without an adequate understanding of the risks associated with these products or their rights as investors in relation to those who sold them – or advised them to buy – such products.
Consider this: An 85-year-old man has been defrauded of his life savings of $200,000. Or this: a 40- year-old woman has invested $15,000 into what she thought were safe RESPs for her two children, but her latest statement shows a $1000 balance. Neither can afford to pay a lawyer to help them figure out if they have been wronged and if they can get their money back. Where can they turn?
This is where the Investor Protection Clinic, the first of its kind in Canada, fits in. The Clinic provides pro-bono legal assistance to people in Ontario who have invested their savings and suffered an investment loss but cannot afford to hire a lawyer to help them.
The Clinic will receive referrals from government, regulators and law firms; harmed investors will also be able to contact the Clinic directly.
This full year, nine-credit Clinic is open to second and third-year Osgoode Hall Law School students who work under the supervision of lawyers to provide legal advice and assistance, including drafting complaint letters and facta, and negotiating settlements.
The program allows students to acquire the specialized knowledge, skills and perspectives required to represent harmed individual investors and thereby gain a deeper appreciation of what it means to protect individual investors in the Canadian capital markets.
Professor Poonam Puri is the Academic Director of the Investor Protection Clinic. She has founded the Clinic together with the Canadian Foundation for Advancement of Investor Rights (FAIR Canada), with generous funding from the Law Foundation of Ontario.