I took on the role of Ontario Bar Association President this past August. This is both an honour and a responsibility. I will be dedicating my efforts this year to ensuring that our priorities as a profession remain at the forefront of the public agenda.
The OBA is like no other professional legal association. Representing more than 16,000 lawyers, judges, law teachers and law students across Ontario, we can advocate for our members and our profession in ways that smaller or more specialized associations cannot.
Throughout its history, the OBA has been a powerful voice to government and key decision-makers on issues that matter most to our members. Many times we have played the role of quiet influencer behind the scenes with the government, the Law Society or the judiciary. At times, we have had to “make noise” and call out government or the courts for prolonged inaction on justice issues. I am prepared to do both during my tenure as your President. I also want to ensure that our advocacy – both quiet and vocal – are communicated regularly to our members.
I am a firm believer in the importance of advocacy: advocacy for the profession, and advocacy for the justice system as a whole. I want to dedicate this year to raising the issues that affect our ability to practise efficiently and to ensuring the improvement of our justice infrastructure in this era of government cutbacks.
Successive governments have told us that there is no money to modernize our aging courts, or that the challenges of e-filing and court modernization are too big to tackle without more study and more consultations. My response? Justice is too important to give the government a pass. While a slow and strained justice system may not attract the same sensational media coverage as crowded emergency rooms, any litigation or corporate lawyer can tell you of the true effect of court delays and inefficiencies on their clients and on their practices.
Our neglected courts are getting worse. As practising lawyers, we feel the effects of this every day.
It is important that not only the profession but the public understand the need to modernize our courts and thereby improve access to justice.
In every encounter I have with Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, I remind him of the need for improvements to our court infrastructure and modernization of our justice system. I believe he has received the message. I am encouraged by his plan, announced since recently taking office, to improve technology within our courts. I have assured him that the OBA will offer its support to help make this a reality. But keeping in mind the Russian adage “trust but verify,” we will monitor progress to ensure that his encouraging words are matched by timely government deeds and dollars.
I also intend to advocate beyond government. I want to talk about justice issues wherever I can. It is important that not only the profession but the public understand the need to modernize our courts and thereby improve access to justice.
It has been said many times that the strength of the OBA is its membership. OBA members are on the front lines. I intend to draw on this broad talent pool to profile our issues widely. If there is a suitable opportunity to speak in your community – be it to the local bar, the judiciary, or local newspapers – please let me know.
I look forward to working with – and for – you in the year ahead. I also look forward to having a justice system that is relevant and that reflects the world we live in.