Canadian Association of Provincial Court Judges

  • November 16, 2018

Good afternoon, and thank you for inviting me to be with you here today. It is probably very appropriate that one of the CBA President’s first official functions each year is to address the court, as it were – both your organization and the Canadian Council of Chief Judges.

The CAPCJ and the CBA have a longstanding history of cooperation, to the benefit of both organizations, and to the Canadian justice system as a whole. At the CBA we continue to defend the interests of our judicial members and colleagues.

I want to talk to you today about upcoming CBA priorities and projects where our interests intersect.

Judicial independence

As you know, the CBA is a strong advocate for judicial independence. Nationally, and through our provincial and territorial branches, the CBA acts as a trusted third party in the process of determining judicial compensation and benefits. We have a firm belief in the link between compensation and judicial independence.

Several years ago, our Judges Section created a video and curriculum for use in schools to teach students about the need for judicial independence. This year, as some of you may be aware, the Judges Section and our national office staff have been working to develop a new way of getting that message out to the greater public. We’re nearing the final stages of creating a fun, and educational, animated video that will be available on the internet. It will explain what judicial independence means and why the public needs to care about it. We’re hoping to have it ready to launch in December.

We’d like to see this as Phase 1 of a greater educational campaign that could be targeted to specific audiences – for example, to new Canadians, to give them an overview of our justice system. Whether it happens is subject to funding and resources, of course, so that’s still a bit of blue-sky thinking. We’ll get back to you when it comes closer to grounded reality.

CBA advocacy priorities

The CBA has started doing quarterly surveys to determine our members’ needs and interests in order to better serve them.

One poll asked members to name the advocacy issues that are important to them. Based on their responses, we’ve identified two over-arching advocacy priorities for the year – the first time the Board has ever done so.

While our Sections will continue to drive CBA advocacy in their areas of expertise, we are now also developing CBA-wide strategies to further the causes our members named: solicitor-client privilege and access to justice.

Access to justice is a big umbrella that covers a lot of territory, of course. One of the areas where the interests of the CBA and CAPCJ intersect under that umbrella is mandatory minimum sentences. The CBA has been a long-time opponent of these penalties. While some progress has been made, they are still being included in legislation. For example, this year’s Bill C-46, which addressed drug- and alcohol-impaired driving, contained mandatory minimum sentencing. In its submission to government, the CBA recommended those penalties be removed and that judges have more discretion in sentencing.

As we said in another submission nearly 10 years ago:  “As lawyers for both the prosecution and the defence, we are in Canadian courts every day. We know that judges do well at – and are best placed to arrive at – a just and appropriate sentence once an offender is found guilty, taking into account all the factors in each case.”

Another area where the CBA and CAPCJ have congruent interests is on the subject of unified family courts. We believe that bringing all family court matters into one courtroom makes a great deal of sense, and are pleased to see the federal government making a commitment to putting some resources toward it for certain provinces. This is another cause for which we will continue to advocate.

Diversity on the bench

Diversity continues to be a priority for both our groups. There’s a growing awareness that we need a legal profession – and a bench – that looks like the Canadians they serve. Along with its advocacy calling for increased diversity in judicial appointments, the CBA is doing several things to encourage applications from a diverse group.

For example, earlier this year the CBA’s B.C. branch held a panel event featuring judges from different communities discussing the appointments process as well as reflecting on why a diverse judiciary is important.

We’re using CBA publications – CBA Influence, and CBA News, which are delivered to all members most months of the year – to highlight vacancies not only on provincial and federal court benches, but also on boards and tribunals. We’re aware that some people may not want to jump right onto the bench from their law practice. Serving on boards and tribunals helps people develop the necessary skills and the confidence to apply, which is why we highlight those vacancies.

But getting the judges to the bench is just part of the problem. A report prepared in 2016 by Nova Scotia Appeal Court Justice Linda Lee Oland for the Chief Justices and Chief Judges of the Courts of Nova Scotia looked at diversity on the bench in that province. Among other things, Oland reported that few efforts were made to reach out to minority judges, to make them feel welcome, which gave rise to feelings of not belonging and fear of being ostracized. She recommended that the judges add a cultural competency component to their conferences.

It happens that the issues that I’ve chosen to focus on for my presidential year are diversity and inclusivity in the legal profession. We’re launching a podcast this month titled Conversations with the President, in which I speak with various members of equity-seeking groups about their experiences with exclusion. I asked one of my indigenous guests how things could change and his answer was simple: education. That was also one of the key calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Education can mean both pedagogy, the things we learn from formal education, as well as the knowledge we gain from experience. The more we accept and try to overcome our biases, the more we listen to and become aware of the experiences of the “other” in our society, the more we will become accepting of and – better still – welcoming to them. The business case has been made – companies with diverse corporate boards are more successful than those with a more homogenous executive. If we extrapolate those results, imagine what “success” could look like for the people who work within a more diverse legal profession and justice system, and those served by it.

Join the Judges Section

I won’t keep you any longer but before I go I’d like to encourage all of you to become involved in the CBA Judges Section, which includes about 600 judges from across Canada and provides a meeting place within the CBA for judges of all courts. As I’ve mentioned, the Section takes on projects of interest to all members of the judiciary. I would also invite you to become involved with the work the Association does on the issues that affect the judiciary. Your perspectives on the work which lies ahead on access to justice will be valuable.

I look forward to working with you on these and other issues of common concern in the coming months. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to meet with you today.