The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

Kim Covert

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Obituary: Burnley (Rocky) Jones, social activist

By Kim Covert July 31, 2013 31 July 2013

I don’t think I ever met Rocky Jones, but I remember being at events with him – including in 1990 in Halifax when hundreds of people marched together to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. His name evokes a memory of a big man in a black leather jacket; a man of presence who owned any room he stood in.

He was born Burnley Allan Jones in Truro, N.S., in 1941, but for decades he has been Rocky, personally and professionally. For more than 40 years he was the ne plus ultra in black social activism in Nova Scotia.

Long before he earned his law degree at Dalhousie University in 1992, Jones was getting involved and making a difference. After he was called to the Nova Scotia bar, Jones, who has been called “a fierce champion of racial equality and justice” worked first with legal aid and then formed his own law firm, focusing on human and prisoner rights and labour law.

He brought the Black Panther movement to Nova Scotia – a move which prompted the police to start watching him – and started the province’s Black United Front. He helped get programs for Mi’kmaq and Black students at Dalhousie.

He always, according to one friend, did what he thought was right.

A member of the Order of Nova Scotia, he died on Sunday of a heart attack, leaving big empty shoes and an unfulfilled mission.

Civil rights might not be the call to arms that it was 40 years ago when Jones became an activist with Toronto’s Students Union for Peace, but the question of race relations is far from answered – think of Treyvon Martin, or the youth shot on a Toronto streetcar this week.

Equality and diversity are aspirational ideals, not a reality. Study after study – not to mention anecdotal observance – show women and members of other traditionally marginalized communities do not appear in power positions in proportions anywhere near approaching their presence in the larger population. White men still rule, in business, in law and in politics, particularly in the higher ranks – Barack Obama excepted.

As we take a moment to mourn the passing of a social activist icon, let’s remember the causes for which he fought, and spare a moment to regret that they live on.

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Gladue reports: Who will speak for the offenders?

By Kim Covert July 25, 2013 25 July 2013

The hero of Orson Scott Card’s novel Ender’s Game (soon to be a major motion picture) unwittingly commits genocide in the critically acclaimed book. He atones for his actions in the series’ next book, Speaker for the Dead, by telling the life story of his victims in such a way as to make their deeds understandable to the listener – his words enable the audience to empathize without necessarily making the subject sympathetic. He creates a new, worthy career for himself when he begins to do the same for others.

Gladue report writers do much the same thing, though they are speakers for the living, and their role is to make their subjects’ actions understandable to the courts about to stand in judgment upon them.

Their job title comes from a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision in R. v. Gladue, which stated that courts must take into consideration the particular circumstances of aboriginal offenders when sentencing. Gladue report writers spend about 20 to 30 hours preparing each report ahead of sentencing or bail hearings.

Properly done, a Gladue report would detail the impact factors such as past history of discrimination, institutional or personal abuse, fetal alcohol syndrome, substance abuse and others may have had on the individual, and how they may have contributed to bringing him or her before the court.

But 14 years after that landmark decision, Canadian courts are still playing catch-up with both the spirit and the letter of Gladue. In June the head of Ottawa’s defence lawyers association announced the city – which has Canada’s largest Inuit population outside of Nunavut – would be getting its first aboriginal court sometime in 2014, and that four people would be trained to write the reports. The announcement came after local judges raised concerns about sentencing reports prepared for aboriginal offenders by the probation office. In one case, a sentencing hearing was delayed because the judge said the Gladue report was “really lacking” and “not very helpful.”

Meanwhile, recent article in the Winnipeg Free Press noted that Manitoba still has no aboriginal court even though 70 per cent of the province’s inmates are aboriginal or Metis. It goes on to note that “Manitoba has fallen behind even on the basics – ensuring all aboriginal offenders have access to high-quality Gladue reports, done in a timely fashion that won’t force them to spend longer in remand than necessary. It’s a criticism Manitoba Justice says it takes seriously and is working on.”

The impact of Gladue will be front and centre next month at a professional development session at the CBA Legal Conference in Saskatoon, titled Aboriginal Sentencing: What does it mean for you? The session will also look at issues like FASD and recent amendments to the Criminal Code which restrict conditional sentences.

The First Nations movement Idle No More has been in the headlines a lot this year, with a mandate of raising awareness about aboriginal issues. Maybe some speakers in the justice system could give them a hand.
 

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The client-driven revolution

By Kim Covert July 24, 2013 24 July 2013

The client-driven revolution

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Labour's long road ahead

By Kim Covert July 24, 2013 24 July 2013

Labour's long road ahead

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Lawyers are from Mars

By Kim Covert July 19, 2013 19 July 2013

Lawyers are from Mars, and clients might be from Venus, if you think of that as a place of changing – and perhaps capricious – expectations.

The CBA’s Legal Futures Initiative commissioned a study of what clients want, then took advantage of a captive audience of lawyers at the CBA’s mid-winter meeting last February to ask them what they think those expectations are.

And just as in that age-old clash of meaning and intent between the sexes, the lawyers involved were in some cases taken aback by what the CBA heard from the clients – because those weren’t the signals they’d received at all.

For example, clients in the Legal Futures study suggested they wanted non-legal professionals to work on files where possible in order to keep costs low, whereas lawyers say clients often balk at having junior associates work on their file, seeing that as a waste of time or money. The idea that clients might want more online tools was likewise surprising, as the lawyers felt that human interaction was one of the values they provide to those who seek out their services. And it came as a real shock to many that anyone would think they wouldn’t look out for a client’s best interests, as the CBA study revealed is sometimes the case.

One of the conclusions the lawyers took away from the discussions last February was that they need to become better communicators when dealing with clients, better at understanding – and managing – expectations. The CBA study showed that clients want clear information from their lawyers – and not just about what the bill will look like, though of course money is important. Still the perceived value offered by the lawyer is often given greater weight than the money paid for the service. That might be something to remember the next time lawyers complain that they’re getting tired of hearing about the need for lower fees – their “value” to clients is in part their ability to clearly communicate what clients can expect in terms of service, process and outcomes; to outline to the client’s satisfaction the risks involved.

The group meeting in Mont Tremblant last February suggested that perhaps clients don’t have a full appreciation of what lawyers do – and perhaps don’t feel listened to, which can translate into a perception of inadequate service and over-charging.
 
 

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