The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

Beverley Spencer

Blog

Equality in judicial appointments

By Beverley Spencer August 18, 2013 18 August 2013

A resolution designed to address gender balance and diversity on Canadian courts passed Saturday after a brief tussle over the wisdom of asking the minister of justice, in the words of one Council member to “stick his nose in something that he ought not to be doing.” 

The joint resolution, moved by the Women Lawyers Forum, Equality Committee and CCCA Diversity Committee, urged the Minister of Justice to “encourage” judicial advisory committees to submit qualified candidates that reflect the diverse nature of Canada. But Montreal lawyer Simon Potter objected to the paragraph, arguing that the JAC committees are independent of the minister, therefore the CBA can hardly urge him or her to tell them what to do.

Saskatoon lawyer Michelle Ouellette agreed, saying the motion was stronger without that clause. The resolution was withdrawn and Council went on to pass a new version that encourages the justice minister: 

  • to make appointments to judicial advisory committees that reflect Canada’s diverse population, including gender, aboriginal, ethnic, visible minority and other equality-seeking status; 
  • to direct the Commission for Federal Judicial Affairs to publish annual statistics on the number of women and men as well as the number of candidates identifying with the above groups;
  • to make judicial appointments that reflect the diverse nature of the Canadian population.

Read More
Blog

The work-life conundrum

By Beverley Spencer August 18, 2013 18 August 2013

It’s the problem that never goes away in a high-octane, work-till-you-drop profession: the quest for work-life balance. As work pressures accelerate, law firm culture has been slow to change -- with devastating results for many practitioners. CBA members got a reminder Saturday of the importance of making wellness a priority as Council passed a resolution moved by the Legal Profession Assistance Conference and the CCCA Advocacy Committee that encourages the legal profession to adopt a culture that supports a sensible working environment and promotes good mental health.

As former LPAC chair George Hendy pointed out, the recent LPAC IPSOS Reid survey of lawyers on wellness issues revealed that mental health issues are prevalent in the profession. Nunavut lawyer John Maclean added that the average burnout rate for a lawyer in Canada’s North is two years -- and there are no mental health treatment facilities in Nunavut. Meanwhile, the B.C. branch struck a lawyer wellness task force to raise the visibility of lawyers assistance programs and shift the perceptions of wellness in the profession. A report was delivered this spring and its recommendations will be implemented over the next two years, said B.C. branch vice-president, Dean Crawford.

Read More
Blog

CBA passes resolution on harm reduction policy

By Beverley Spencer August 17, 2013 17 August 2013

The CBA is urging the federal government to take an evidence-based approach to address the effects of drug use by permitting, among other things, the establishment of safe, supervised injection sites and treatment programs.

Current government policy simply isn’t working, said Winnipeg lawyer Josh Weinstein, who moved the resolution on behalf of the National Criminal Justice Section. The message behind the resolution passed by Council on Saturday: as an organization free from political influence, the CBA can rely on law, science, logic and medical information to inform its position. And the end result is saving money on prisons and court time and ultimately saving lives.

“It speaks to what we are as an organization,” Weinstein told the meeting. “We are the voice of the legal profession; we advocate on behalf of lawyers. But we are also the advocate for those who don’t have a voice,” including the mentally ill, indigenous people and those who struggle with addiction. It’s better, he said, to address problems at the outset and save money and lives.

The resolution is not talking about drug traffickers, added Regina Crown Loreley Berra, who seconded the motion. These are the homeless, the mentally ill and drug addicts who are criminalized for non-violent behavior. Research supports it and the U.S. Attorney-General recently announced plans to move away from mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offences. 

 

Read More
Blog

A partner in the pursuit of justice

By Beverley Spencer August 13, 2013 13 August 2013

I had the opportunity recently to attend the Michener Award ceremony at Rideau Hall, a night that celebrates outstanding public service in journalism. The award was established in 1970 under the late Roland Michener, then governor-general, which is how the media rabble (I include myself) came to be sampling wine and canap├ęs in the stately halls of Canada’s national home.

This year, the Michener went to the Ottawa Citizen and Postmedia News for coverage of the “robocall affair,” a series of stories produced by Glen McGregor and Stephen Maher about fraudulent telephone messages that sent voters to the wrong polling stations in the 2011 federal election.

In his remarks, Governor-General David Johnston made the connection between public service journalism, the rule of law and the pursuit of justice. “Law without the pursuit of justice is just so many words,” he said. “It is the pursuit of justice that compels our best journalists to do their important work.”

The pursuit of justice is a tough sell in today’s competitive media market. There were rumblings throughout the evening about shrinking budgets for investigative reporting. McGregor praised his organization for applying all its resources to an important story, a rarity in today’s newsrooms. And fewer media outlets have designated reporters for legal affairs, hampering the ability of journalists to cultivate the sources and knowledge needed to ferret out stories that otherwise get lost in the daily buzz.

This should concern every citizen who cares about transparency and accountability. Sometimes the pursuit of justice means shining a light on corruption or failures of public policy. As the Michener nominees demonstrate, real change can result when the media dedicates itself to this task.

These are challenging times for the media. Let’s hope it doesn’t lose sight of its role in the pursuit of justice. Otherwise our ideals are just so many words.

Read More
Article

The road to justice reform

By Beverley Spencer July 28, 2013 28 July 2013

The road to justice reform

Read More