Access to Justice: Action Committee Looks at Problems, Innovative Solutions

Access to justice leaders from coast to coast to coast met for two and one-half days in Ottawa in April at the annual summit of the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters. These people know better than most how big a challenge we face in improving access to justice. But that did not temper the enthusiasm for what has been accomplished or weaken the resolve to keep working for change.

Delegates representing the broad coalition that makes up the action committee — deputy ministers, the judiciary, provincial and territorial access to justice groups, legal aid plans, pro bono groups, public legal education providers, the bar, notaries, ADR professionals, administrative tribunals and the public — heard of the success of the action committee’s public engagement initiative and its innovation tool box project. Thousands of people engaged with the need for an effective civil and family justice system and people across Canada active in justice innovation developed communities of practice and other tools to help them with their important work. Sarah McCoubrey and Meredith Brown, access to justice strategists with Calibrate, designed and executed both projects, which were funded by the Law Foundation of Ontario.

The group also was given an update on progress on the action committee’s Justice Development Goals. Sixty-eight new initiatives to help people address everyday legal problems; 64 new initiatives designed to better meet legal needs, including eight new pro bono services; 50 projects aimed at improving family justice. And the list goes on.

One of the challenges facing reformers is the dearth of empirical evidence about how our civil and family justice system works and how to know if our reforms are having the intended effect. The improvement in justice metrics is a critical element of any long-term plan for systemic change. People at the summit learned of a project spearheaded by Jerry McHale which is bringing together a strong coalition to work on this topic. Bringing to together researchers at the faculties of law at the University of Victoria, University of Saskatchewan, York University and University of Montreal, the initiative’s goal is to develop priorities for justice system metrics and to build capacity for data gathering and analysis. And feeding into that effort was the work at the summit to begin to develop indicators; that is, things we can measure, in relation to each of the Justice Development Goals.

A full day of the summit was devoted to the issue of Indigenous child welfare. Organized by Scott Robertson of the Indigenous Bar Association and Mark Benton of the Legal Services Society of B.C., distinguished speakers from across Canada led us through an intense and impactful overview of the woeful state of services for Indigenous children and families in many parts of our country. While not usually discussed as an access to justice issue, the presentations at the summit showed that it certainly is. The child welfare system almost everywhere in Canada is not meeting the needs of children, families or communities. The speakers at the summit helped participants not only to better understand the problem, but also to hear about promising solutions. Better funding, more community leadership, more culturally appropriate options and a wider focus on the whole family were some of the aspects discussed.

To cap the summit, Beverley McLachlin, recently retired as chief justice of Canada, confirmed that she has agreed to assume the chair of the action committee this autumn. Her successor as chief justice, Richard Wagner, confirmed that he has accepted to take on the role of honourary chair of the action committee, following in his predecessor’s footsteps. Stay tuned!

All of us concerned about access to justice will not be satisfied until there is a great deal more improvement. But this gathering of leaders demonstrated that there is a growing commitment to make the necessary change and an impressive array of innovative projects showing that making that change is possible.
 

This article originally appeared on The Lawyer’s Daily on June 20, 2018. It is the eighth article in The Honourable Thomas Cromwell’s exclusive Lawyer’s Daily column dedicated to access to civil and family justice.

The Honourable Thomas Cromwell served 19 years as an appellate judge and chairs the Chief Justice’s Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters. He retired from the Supreme Court of Canada in September of 2016 and is now senior counsel to the national litigation practice at Borden Ladner Gervais.

Government of Canada Introduces New Family Law Legislation

The Government of Canada has introduced new legislation aimed at modernizing and strengthening family justice—making it the first substantial update of Canada’s federal family laws in 20 years.

On May 22nd, the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, introduced legislation that would amend three federal family laws: the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act (FOAEAA) and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act (GAPDA). The legislation has four key objectives: to promote the best interests children, address family violence, curb child poverty and make Canada’s family justice system more accessible and efficient.

Additional information on these new measures can be accessed here: https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/government-of-canada-announces-new-measures-to-strengthen-and-modernize-family-justice-683335701.html.

Plain Language in Modern Times – Call for Papers for the Clarity 2018 Symposium

The 2018 international Clarity Conference will take place from October 25 to 27 in Montreal. This year’s conference will focus on the usage of plain language in law to improve access to justice. Conference organizers have issued a call for papers and will be accepting paper proposals for this year’s event until March 31, 2018. The announcement about papers accepted for this year’s event will be made on May 1st. During the 3-day event there will be a total of 30 1-hour presentation blocks, consisting of 60 30-minute presentations. Information on the call for papers, recommended presentation formats, registration and more is available on their website here: www.clarity2018.org/call-for-papers.

For more information on the biennial Clarity Conference, visit their website here: clarity2018.org.

Upcoming A2J-Related Events

ACCESS TO JUSTICE WEEK (October 23 – 27) Ontario
The 2nd annual Access to Justice Week is underway with various events taking place across Ontario. Live streaming and webcast links are available here for some remaining events.


IMMIGRATION LAW: LAW AT THE LIBRARY SERIES (October 28) at 2516 Alta Vista, Ottawa
This event is geared towards new immigrants to Canada and individuals with questions about immigration and visiting Canada. The Immigration Law – Law at the Library Series event will cover information on applying for visas, permanent residency, becoming a Canadian citizen, legal rights and more.


EQUALITY, DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION: INFORMATION SESSION (October 30) at 130 Queen Street West, Toronto
This information session will discuss the strategies that the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) will be putting in place to help address discrimination and racism in the legal profession.


CANFest 2017 (November 1) at 130 Queen Street West, Toronto
This event will provide information on the Coach and Advisor Network (CAN) and offer visitors an opportunity to meet participants in the Coach and Advisor Network.


TAKE OUR KIDS TO WORK AT OSGOODE HALL 2017 (November 1) at 130 Queen Street West, Toronto
The goal of this event is to educate students in Grade 9 about the steps to becoming a legal professional.


#140DOWN – NOW WHAT? THE FUTURE OF LAWYERING IS HERE (November 3) at Fort Garry Place Banquet & Conference, Winnipeg
Innovators, analysts and experts in the legal field will be among the presenters and attendees at the 140th Isaac Pitblado Lecture on the theme of Now What? The Future of Lawyering is Here. More information on this event is available online at http://www.pitbladolectures.com. The program agenda is available online here.


THE ONTARIO AI LEGAL CHALLENGE (November 10)
The initiative aims to engage companies in a challenge to create affordable legal services solutions that incorporate artificial intelligence. The deadline for submissions to the challenge is November 10, 2017, with a top prize of $80,000. In addition to the main prize, the 6 companies that make it to the semi-final round will have access to mentors and other services offered through Ryerson University’s Legal Innovation Zone (LIZ).


MAKE A WILL – LAW AT THE LIBRARY SERIES (November 15) at 2516 Alta Vista, Ottawa
This information session will focus on wills and estates law. Attendees will learn about the importance of having a will, what happens in the absence of a will and the importance of powers of attorney.


17TH ANNUAL FRANCHISE LAW CONFERENCE (November 16) at 20 Toronto Street, Toronto
This Ontario Bar Association event  will include two special workshops and several roundtables and will explore trends and developments in franchise law.


LEGAL FUTURES INNOVATION CONFERENCE: CHANGING THE GAME (November 21) at 250 Bishopsgate, London
This conference in London will highlight major changes over the past 10 years that have occurred in law firms, the range of legal and non-legal services offered, technology and the Law and other related topics in the legal field.

Toolkit on Co-Parenting after Divorce or Separation now Available from CBA

The Canadian Bar Association (CBA) Family Law Section in conjunction with the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (CRILF) have announced that the Successfully Parenting Apart: A Toolkit is now available.

About the new Successfully Parenting Apart toolkit, the CBA explains that it:

  • organizes and consolidates online and print resources offering guidance, information, referrals and resources for resolving parenting challenges post-separation in ways most effective for children.
  • is intended to increase family lawyers’ awareness of the best available information to better assist parents in transforming their relationship from being a couple to being successful co-parents.

To learn more about the toolkit or to download a copy of the Successfully Parenting Apart toolkit, visit the CBA website here.

New “Everyday Legal Problems and the Cost of Justice in Canada” Reports

The Canadian Forum on Civil Justice (CFCJ) has published five new reports based on data from their Everyday Legal Problems and the Cost of Justice in Canada study. As part of this national study, over 3,000 people in Canada were surveyed about their attitudes towards and experiences with the justice system in Canada. Specifically, they were asked about their views on the Canadian justice system, the kinds of civil and family justice problems they experience, their methods of dealing with these problems, and the associated costs they incur to resolve them. The five new reports present survey data broken down according to the following respondent characteristics: “Age,” “Gender,” “Canadian Region,” “Education” and “Born in Canada”. The reports are published on the CFCJ’s “Cost of Justice” page and can be accessed by clicking on the hyperlinked titles below:

Age

Gender

Canadian Region

Education

Born in Canada

The Practice of Family Law in Canada: Results from a Survey of Participants at the 2016 National Family Law Program

The Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (CRILF) has published a new research paper based on findings from a survey of more than 200 lawyers and judges who attended the 2016 National Family Law Program. The National Family Law Program is a high-profile, 4-day biennial conference organized by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, that addresses current issues in the practice of family law in Canada. Topics addressed in the study include participants’ views of and experiences with: court-attached family justice programs; hearing the views of children; issues in custody and access disputes; issues in disputes about child support and spousal support; family violence; unified family courts; and, limited scope legal services in family law disputes.

The research paper was written by Lorne Bertrand, Jo Paetsch, John-Paul Boyd and Nick Bala and the study was funded by the Department of Justice and the Alberta Law Foundation.

The English version of the paper is available on the CRILF website here; the French version is available on the CRILF website here.

Polyamorous Relationships and Family Law in Canada

As our collective understanding of what constitutes “family” continues to change and evolve, the legislation governing the formation and dissolution of family relationships may appear to be lingering behind. In a new paper prepared for the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (CRILF), John-Paul E. Boyd explores both the legal components and general public perceptions surrounding polyamorous relationships in Canada. Boyd begins the paper by citing the preliminary findings from the CRILF’s 2016 study on Canadian perceptions of polyamory. After breaking down the data, Boyd moves on to discuss the legal dimensions of polyamorous relationships in the context of the various provincial family law schemes.

Finally, Boyd concludes the paper by posing some questions for members of the family bar to consider when thinking about polyamorous relationships and how they may affect a range of issues, such as:

  • a) Immigration: Can a married spouse sponsor someone coming into Canada to join his or her relationship?
    b) Public employment benefits: Can CPP benefits and employee health benefits be shared with more than 1 other person?
  • c) Wills and estates: To what extent does legislation accommodate concurrent surviving spouses? To what extent can children born from a ménage inherit from non-biological parents who die intestate?
  • d) Adoption and assisted reproduction: How many adults can be legal parents of a child?
  • e) Vital statistics: Can vital statistics agencies be compelled to register more adults as the parents of a child than the biological or adoptive parents of child?; and
  • f) Education and health care: To what extent can education and health care providers be compelled to take instructions from the members of a ménage other than child’s biological parents?

For a more fulsome discussion of the legal dimensions of polyamorous relationships and to see the preliminary results of the 2016 survey, take a look at the report.

Making A2J Matter to the Public

The Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters launched the #justiceforall campaign designed to raise public understanding of accessible justice challenges as a component of a healthy democracy.

A next step in transforming the A2J landscape is to engage the public by raising awareness of the importance of justice issues in Canada.  Building a public understanding of the importance of legal health and the predictability of legal issues throughout one’s life will benefit individuals and will transform the access to justice conversation into an issue relevant to citizens, decision makers, and voters. As long as access to justice challenges are only understood within the justice system, the possible solutions will be limited to the scope of influence, resources and imagination of the justice system.

The Action Committee is asking the A2J leaders in Canada, to help raise the profile of A2J efforts. If you are a leader in A2J, a bencher, a legal academic, a judge or a lawyer with a personal following, we would also welcome your participation in collectively raising this issue. To participate in the social media campaign or add a button on your website, there are links, instructions and graphics available at: www.calibratesolutions.ca/actioncommitteecampaign

Starting a public conversation about access to justice will shift the perception of the issue to a holistic understanding of the law as a part of daily life that can be understood and managed throughout one’s life, often with the help of legal professionals.

This post also appears online here.