The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

Kim Covert


Measuring the success of Futures

By Kim Covert August 17, 2013 17 August 2013

The ultimate comfort you can offer human beings – unless those human beings are spending a solitary evening in a creepy old house, or have an irrational fear of aliens – is to tell them that they are not alone.

That was a comfort that CBA Vice-President Fred Headon offered to lawyers assembled Saturday afternoon at the CBA Legal Conference Council session – you are not alone. It’s not just you: every profession is struggling to deal with the challenges presented by a changing economic and global environment, and innovative upstarts that are usurping their hold on a profession.
The union movement, for example, has been struggling, particularly in the United States, and is seen to be on the ropes. But legal defence funds, which exist to help workers with legal questions, are flourishing – because they’ve found another way to serve people in a way that resonates with them.
Likewise, the demise of the once-mighty Washington Post can be linked to the rise of, Headon said.
The analogies are striking – there are plenty of other professions struggling in the same way as the legal profession. The question is what the legal profession will do about it. You can’t order people to be innovative, Headon says. That’s not how it works. But what you can do is provide them with the tools and information about the problems that they need in order to find creative solutions.
(More after the jump)

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Get ready for the CBA Legal Conference

By Kim Covert August 16, 2013 16 August 2013

Issues critical to the future of the legal profession will be at the forefront of this year’s CBA Legal Conference in sunny Saskatoon.

Following on the heels of a critically acclaimed summit in Vancouver in April, the Envisioning Equal Justice initiative will present a summary report of its findings to Council on Sunday. Dr. Melina Buckley, Chair of the Access to Justice Committee, will give a TED talk on Tuesday at the closing luncheon, which will be live-streamed for members on

The Future of the Legal Profession Initiative, which, like the Equal Justice initiative, was launched at the 2012 CLC, will present a professional development panel looking at the need to find non-traditional ways of practising law – a recurring theme in the work it has carried out so far.

From Friday, Aug. 16, to Tuesday, Aug. 20, CBA and National magazine staff will be providing updates on what’s happening in Council meetings, and in professional development sessions. We’ll also be your eyes and ears for the Dialogue with the Justice Minister, the speech from Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, the opening address from CBC anchor Peter Mansbridge, and other keynote speakers. Keep an eye on and on, and follow the #CLC2012, #CBAFutures and #A2J hashtags on Twitter for up-to-the minute details.

We’re looking forward to listening to the speakers and hearing the debates over resolutions that range from promoting harm-reduction drug policies to ensuring adequate pension coverage for Canadians; as well as to sitting in on what promise to be some very interesting PD sessions.

Come by the National booth while you’re in Saskatoon, and say hi!

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LGBT community under fire but holding strong

By Kim Covert August 13, 2013 13 August 2013

No need to open the floodgates, lawyer Rob Hughes says about the expected numbers of LGBT refugees from Russia. They won’t come by the boatloads.

But the Vancouver-based lawyer, who specializes in sexual orientation and gender-based claims, does expect them to come.  He told CBC News that clients have said numerous people in Russia have expressed interest.

And when they come knocking, there’s a very good chance Canada will let them in. On Aug. 12, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said any such refugee claims would be “looked at very seriously by our very generous system.”

A resolution passed by CBA Council members at the Canadian Legal Conference in 2012 denounced Russia’s then-proposed anti-homosexuality bill, which was signed into law on July 29 this year. It bans the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations,” including imposing fines on leaders of gay pride rallies, and making it illegal to do anything to make homosexuality “attractive” or “interesting” to minors. Much of the criticism of the law has to do with its overly broad reach – wearing a rainbow pin, or writing a gay-friendly post on Facebook could be said to be propagandizing and subject to penalty. Homosexuality itself is, oddly, not illegal in Russia.

Another resolution being put forward at the CBA Legal Conference in Saskatoon this year denounces anti-homosexuality laws and enforcement in Cameroon.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says the government worked behind the scenes to try to persuade Russia not to pass the “mean-spirited and hateful” law. But he has come under fire himself for denouncing anti-gay laws in Russia and Uganda – R.E.A.L. Women of Canada slammed him for pushing “his own perspective on homosexuality.”

Whatever his own perspective might be, Baird speaks for the government – and this appears to be its perspective as well, albeit one it doesn’t brag about in its TV ads.

It may surprise some Canadians to know that former Immigration Minister Jason Kenney had adopted a policy of resettling gay refugees who fled Iran and Iraq – Kenney reportedly said in January he “cannot think of a more obvious case of persecution.”

Speaking in Miramichi, N.B., last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canadians expect their government to speak in favour of human rights.

“I think it’s important to recognize there are some controversies in this matter, but the reality is that our position is that we don’t imprison or kill people for acts committed freely between adults,” Harper said.

There have been many calls, since the law was passed, for boycotts of the Winter Olympic Games next year in Sochi, Russia – especially since President Vladimir Putin has said the law will be enforced on athletes and attendees – though political leaders have discouraged the idea. British Prime Minister David Cameron echoed President Barack Obama when he said, essentially, that seeing gay and lesbian athletes win medals would be the best way to change attitudes.

A cynic could point out that seeing African-American Jesse Owens win four gold medals in the Summer Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936 did little to stem the tide of Nazism there. A cynic might also suggest that resistance to calls for a boycott have more to do with the fear of losing on an investment than a lack of belief in the power of boycotts.

The U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 games in Moscow, over the then-Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, was followed by a Soviet boycott of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Both boycotts were seen as weakening the Olympics rather than as a strong political action. Do boycotts ever work as political action? Is it time to try it again?

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Rights and wrongs

By Kim Covert August 9, 2013 9 August 2013

Rights and wrongs

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Things to do with data once you're dead

By Kim Covert August 7, 2013 7 August 2013

It’s the oddest thing, when Facebook reminds you of a dead friend’s birthday.

It happened to me last week, jarred me out of my comfortable morning and made me sad for a bit. She had been more of an acquaintance than a friend, but I’d enjoyed her acerbic wit – never more than as I read her Facebook accounts of her tremendous but futile battle against cervical cancer, which took her in her mid-30s.

The first thing I wondered when I saw the birthday notice was why her husband hadn’t shut down her account. I can understand leaving it open for a time, to give people a place to leave condolence messages, but nearly two years later?

The most likely answer is he couldn’t access it.

Managing digital death – your own or someone else’s – is a growing concern in this linked-in world. Once something’s on the Internet it’s hard to pull it back – and harder still when that something is protected by someone else’s password.

In 2011, according to, 1.78 million Facebook users were expected to die worldwide. The same article notes, “generally, it is illegal for anyone but you, the account creator, to access your account – even with your express permission.”

You thought it was complicated deciding how to will the cottage to the kids – that’s nothing to managing your digital legacy, from Facebook to Twitter to Instagram, just to mention a few of the popular social networks. And then there are things like online gaming sites and others where you might actually have monetary assets in play. Each of these sites should have different passwords; each will have different protocols for closing accounts; and with today’s cloud computing, some of your assets might be housed on computers in different countries, with different laws. And that’s just for your personal online footprint – there can also be a wealth of professional and business accounts to contend with.

A July article in The Economist cites a paper by Maria Perrone in the journal CommLaw Conspectus about how Internet companies decide the fate of your digital corpus.

“(E)very company seems to have its own set of rules, procedures and terms of service. Some require a legal executor to make a request, while others honour requests from anyone who can prove a family connection or even a link to an online obituary,” the article states. “Facebook limits valid parties to requesting either that an account be removed or be turned into a memorial site. Twitter says bluntly that it can deactivate an account on presentation of several bits of information, but it is ‘unable to provide account access to anyone regardless of his or her relationship to the deceased.’”

A PD session at this year’s CBA Legal Conference in Saskatoon will look at the question of who has the rights to our data once we’re dead, and where Canadian law stands on the topic. The goal is to produce a white paper, and perhaps even a resolution dealing with the issue.

In the meantime, it might not be a bad idea for lawyers to urge clients to set up a digital executor – complete with passwords and consent forms, and directions on what to do with the deceased’s digital legacy.

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