Resolving the issues: Resolutions passed at Midwinter (Update)

  • February 24, 2016

There are some resolutions that are no-brainers, others that are no-debaters, but none of the 10 resolutions that came before Council Saturday morning at the MidWinter meeting in Ottawa were no-gos.

In fact, most passed easily and with little-to-no discussion.

Two housekeeping resolutions, 16-09-M, a small change to the regulations guiding the Young Lawyers Forum, and 16-10-M, a revision to the regulations for the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association to allow for unemployed members, were waved through by members.

Resolution 16-02-M, Accommodating Maternity in Court Gowning Directives, also occasioned little discussion. Court gowning rules evolved at a time when the legal profession was dominated by men, Council was told, and there are no rules in courts across the country to make allowances for pregnant lawyers who can’t fit into their waistcoats. The Women Lawyers Forum started thinking about the resolution after a member in Ontario noted that because there were no rules for appearances for pregnant litigators, she had to approach each of the three judges before whom she had to appear to get their permission to vary her attire. (They were all happy to allow her to wear something dark beneath her gown.)

Sabrina Bandali, who moved the resolution, noted that there are two main reasons for calling for standards in gowning variations for pregnant litigators: first, it’s a waste of time to deal with the issue. “We have far more important things to do than to worry about what to wear in court,” she said. Secondly, it puts pregnant counsel in the position of having to draw attention to their condition, sometimes in open court, when they either ask for permission to alter their dress or explain why they can’t be properly gowned. “It’s nobody’s business,” said Badali.

Lucy McSweeney of Ontario also noted that there’s a wider issue at play beyond pregnancy – there are lawyers who for reasons of physical size or disability simply can’t gown themselves according to the strict rules in place. Creating standards for variations, as called for in this resolution, would have a wider impact. The resolution passed without debate.

Another no-brainer was resolution 16-04-M, Training Lawyers to Resolve Everyday Legal Disputes. This was a call for law schools to recognize dispute resolution skills “as a foundation of being an effective advocate” and include training in the legal curriculum. The resolution notes that 95 per cent of all cases are settled before trial, making ADR a necessary skill. Lawyers of the future will have to have a good knowledge of dispute resolution in order to remain relevant, Council was told. Resolution carried.

Resolution 16-03-M, Model Business Principles on Forced Labour, Labour Trafficking, and Illegal or Harmful Child Labour, asked the CBA to adopt the model principles drafted by the CCCA in accordance with UN principles, and to encourage lawyers and businesses to adopt their own business and supply chain principles. George Vuicic, who seconded the resolution, said “We see this as an issue of human rights and there is no reason why we should not be supporting these principles.” It passed without debate.

Speaking of the UN, resolution 16-06, Equal Access to Justice in Canada: Meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, called on the CBA to urge the federal government, “when addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goal 16-3, to consider the findings of the 2013 Canadian Bar Association report Reaching Equal Justice; and collaborate with the Canadian Bar Association in its efforts to ensure equal justice for all.” It passed without debate.

Resolution 16-08-M, CBA Intervention Policy, was another housekeeping issue, asking Council to approve changes to the CBA Intervention Policy adopted by the Board in September 2015. It passed without debate.

Resolution 16-7-M, Protecting Gender Identity and Gender Expression Rights in Corrections and Detention, builds on four resolutions brought forward by the Aboriginal Law section and passed at the 2015 CLC in Calgary, dealing with the treatment of aboriginal offenders. Issues faced by transgender individuals in the prison system include access to health care, heightened risk of sexual assault, segregation and solitary confinement – done for their protection, but which leaves them without access to programs. The resolution, said seconder Mark Berlin, is about seeking humane and compassionate treatment of transgender individuals. The resolution originally proposed was withdrawn following a point made by the Chair of the Military Law Section, who noted that the language of the resolution should be amended to reflect the fact that the military has its own unique justice system. Language dealing with the military system was added, the resolution was re-presented, and passed without debate.

Resolution 16-01-M, Joint Policy Statement on Audit Inquiries, was probably longer in the making and came with more background materials than any of the other resolutions up for discussion on Saturday. The CBA and the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants (now the Auditing and Assurance Standards Board of Chartered Professional Accountants)agreed to the Joint Policy Statement on Audit Inquiries in 1978. With changes to international financial reporting standards, among other issues, it was time for an update to the agreement, which establishes protocols for communications between law firms, auditors and preparers of financial statements. The new protocol will come into effect after Dec. 1. The resolution, carried by CBA Council, must still be approved by the AASB.

Resolution 16-05-M, Closure of Courts in New Brunswick, sounds like a provincial issue but has the full support of the National Civil Litigation Section, said David Demirkan, who moved that the resolution be passed. The province’s decision to permanently close courts in St. Stephen, Grand Falls, Sussex and Grand Manan create serious access-to-justice issues, Demirkan said. For example, a person in Grand Manan  might have to travel now through the U.S. to make an appearance at the next nearest courthouse – which would be problematic for anyone who couldn’t for whatever reason travel to the U.S. The resolution, passed with some discussion in support of it but no argument presented against, calls for the CBA to urge the New Brunswick government to reverse the decision to close the courts, and to encourage governments at all levels to consult with justice system stakeholders before deciding to close any court.

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