The University of British Columbia was granted (CanLII) a Mareva injunction (Wikipedia) by the BC Supreme Court two weeks ago against Wanda Barbara Moscipan, the administrator responsible for finances in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, based on allegations from the university that she double-paid herself.

A Mareva injunction is a relatively harsh measure agreed to by the courts.  It is discussed at a hearing without the defendant (e.g. Moscipan) being present and before a judgment – that is, before the court has even concluded that the allegations from the plaintiff (e.g. UBC) are correct.  The plaintiff does have substantial hurdles to clear before a court will grant this type of injunction, namely it has to show:

  1. that it has, at least on the surface, a strong case that the allegations are correct; and
  2. that there is a real risk of assets disappearing before a final judgment is ordered (e.g. stolen money will be laundered), which will make it impossible or nearly impossible for the plaintiff ever getting back what was taken.

The law tries to balance the rights of both the plaintiff and the defendant to ensure that a fair process is followed and reasonable steps are taken to protect all the interests involved.  Educational institutions, like any other sophisticated organizations, need to have a sense of the wrongs that can happen and what tools, like a Mareva injunction, can be used when need be.

Interestingly, a news article describing this decision mischaracterized and overstated the court’s decision by wrongly affirming that Moscipan had been found “guilty”.  It may seem like a silly distinction, but the court never said she was guilty – only that the university had a “strong prima facie case” against her.  Another judgment may follow with a “guilty” verdict, but to my knowledge that hasn’t happened yet, and she could still somehow be cleared of the allegations.  “Guilty” sounds better in the headline, though.

Journalists have incredible time pressures to deal with and, especially younger journalists, are often tossed a complicated court decision and told to report on it without having enough of a legal background and without anyone to turn to with questions.  Also, some of the words in articles and headlines are tweaked by editors later down the line who did not actually read the underlying judgment, so there’s no need to hammer the point home. 

It is a good practice, however, for each journalist who may have to report on a legal event to have a series of lawyers in their rolodex to call before going to print.