President's Message

  • 01 février 2013
  • Morris Chochla

Morris ChochlaCivil rights, a healthy environment, eliminating poverty, intelligent debate and lawyers working for their communities --Five Good Ideas.

I stole the "Five Good Ideas" title from a book edited by Alan Broadbent and Ratna Omidvar, chair and president respectively, of the Maytree Foundation. Alan and Ratna regularly convene informal get-togethers of community leaders with the goal of coming up with “Five Good Ideas” on how the communities we live in can be improved. Their efforts, and the ideas generated, have spawned a collection of essays published under the same title.

When I became president I committed to introducing to the OBA other organizations that are working to improve the communities in which they work and live. My hope is in doing so, our members will be left with some “good ideas” that we in turn might add to and act upon in our daily lives. With this in mind, in September and December I arranged to have four different organizations attend and address our Council members. They left us with “Five Good Ideas” as to how lawyers can work towards improving our community of lawyers for lawyers and our community of lawyers for our communities.

Nathalie Des Rosiers, general counsel to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), spoke to OBA Council in September about the important role the CCLA plays in promoting respect for, and observance of, fundamental human rights and civil liberties in Canada. As it states in our mission statement, the OBA is committed to advancing the interests of the rule of law. The first “good idea”, from CCLA, is for lawyers to commit to the promotion, protection and advancement of civil liberties and the rule of law in their communities.

Alan and Ratna of Maytree spoke to Council in December. Maytree is dedicated to eliminating poverty and encouraging diversity. Its DiverseCity research shows a lack of diversity in admission of partners to law firms and the appointment of Crown attorneys and judges. Maytree has played an important role in connecting lawyers, through some of our largest firms, in offering legal services with respect to poverty, immigration, refugee and equality issues.

The second "good idea", from Maytree, is to encourage lawyers to work within their communities to eliminate poverty and take active steps to promote equality and diversity.

Ecojustice is an organization dedicated to using the judicial system to ensure we live in a safe and healthy environment. Executive Director Devon Page spoke to Council in December, reminding us of a 1990 CBA commitment to encourage for an amendment of the Charter to include a legal, constitutional right to live in a safe, healthy environment. The third "good idea", from Ecojustice, is for lawyers to engage in the use of existing laws and to advocate for new laws for the protection of a safe and healthy environment.

In September, Council welcomed Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan, co-founders of Samara. Samara is a non-partisan not-for-profit organization committed to the betterment of democracy in Canada. They have recently released the results of extensive surveying, showing that public confidence and engagement in the democratic process is at an all-time low. They stated that our Members of Parliament are discouraged with the partisan grandstanding that takes place during the debates in the House of Commons. I thought of a newspaper article from the aftermath of the articling debate at Convocation in November, with the headline "Top Lawyers Say Profession is Broken." One bencher was quoted as saying that after the debate "there was blood on the floor."

The OBA played a significant role in the articling debate. Our submissions were made after consultation with a broad cross-section of our membership. The members of our articling task force did not always agree and there was lively, thoughtful and principled debate amongst them. In the end, the OBA’s submission presented a position that accounted for, and accommodated, all of the views expressed by those representing the various sectors of the OBA community.

I do not believe the profession is “broken” and I do not believe the benchers of the LSUC truly think our profession is “broken.” During the OBA debate, which preceded our submission, there was no blood-letting. This leads me to the fourth “good idea” from Samara: to encourage healthy respectful debate (the “OBA way”) within our community of lawyers for lawyers and ensure that we do not lapse into the partisan bickering that reportedly discourages both the public and the participants in the democratic political process in Canada.

The fifth “good idea”, from Samara, Maytree, CCLA, and Ecojustice, is for lawyers to commit to building stronger, more democratic, fairer, safer, healthier, and more diverse communities. This is something that many lawyers already do on a daily basis. However, to have the impact that is necessary, virtually all members of our profession need to make this same commitment, whether it means providing pro bono services, becoming more involved in the political process at all levels of government or making the decision to engage and make a difference, has never been more important than it is today.

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