Legal battle costs arm, leg, kidney

Here’s an interesting story that’s been raising eyebrows today: Jean Bédard, who runs an offshore financial services company apparently called Offshore Financial Services, is being sued by the National Bank, and because he’s running out of money and the moral and financial stakes are so high, he’s decided he has no choice but to sell a kidney to pay for court costs.

He hasn’t actually sold a kidney yet. He hasn’t even really setup the procedure or figure out where he’s having it done (it’s illegal to sell organs in Canada). But that didn’t stop him from talking to Gazette freelancer Mark Cardwell and CTV’s John Grant, suggesting that only a settlement with the bank would stop him from performing this dangerous operation.

Bédard is clearly trying to use the media (and doing so effectively with a good news hook) to influence the outcome of his case. But unlike those consumer advocate segments where grandma gets reimbursed her $50 fee error, I doubt the National Bank is going to walk away from a six-figure legal case.

The legal precedent of the case is interesting. In essence, Bédard deposited a $1.5 million cashier’s cheque (which is a cheque guaranteed by a bank) into an account at another bank. He then sent some of that money overseas before the bank realized the original cheque was forged. (Sound familiar? Yeah, it’s the old overpayment scam) The bank was out $179,957.67, and sued Bédard.

What sets this case apart from other similar scams is the use of a cashier’s cheque or bank note, which is guaranteed by the issuing bank. As such, it’s usually cleared immediately and is considered as good as cash. That’s what happened in this case: the bank cleared the cheque and Bédard assumed it was genuine. The judge dismissed the case because the bank accepted the cheque (and because Bédard clearly wasn’t trying to defraud them). The bank is appealing:

“It’s not the money, it’s the principle,” said the bank’s lawyer, François Viau, a partner with the Montreal office of Gowlings, Lafleur, Henderson. “If the ruling prevails, banks would have the burden of verifying bank drafts against the issuer.”

That, he added, “defeats the very idea of a bank draft.”

That’s true. But for a bank to suggest that it shouldn’t have to verify bank drafts before releasing funds is just as silly. Either it has to be treated like a regular cheque (frozen, verified and then released) or like cash (checked for obvious signs of forgery and immediately redeemed). They can’t have it both ways.

UPDATE (Sept. 22): Letter-writer Sheryl Keeble points out that those in desperate need of a new kidney aren’t finding this funny, and that perhaps simply declaring bankruptcy would be preferable to getting third-rate doctors to harvest your organs for a few pennies.

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