How can we as lawyers contribute to our communities? How can the OBA encourage our members to work towards improving the communities we live in?
In October’s issue of JUST. I wrote about the importance of the OBA as a “community of lawyers for lawyers.” In this, my second “President’s Message”, I comment on the OBA as a “community of lawyers for our communities.”
It seems that every week I hear a new story about the contributions lawyers make to justice initiatives for the betterment of the communities we live in. At the same time, I hear a similar number of calls for more help.
In September, I attended an event celebrating the 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence. I listened to Jamaican Chief Justice Zalla McCalla and others discuss the challenges facing the justice system in Jamaica. One initiative that was mentioned, which is designed to ease the trauma for children involved as witnesses in courts as victims of violence or sexual abuse, involves a number of Canadians (through Canadian University Service Overseas and the Project for Advancement of Childhood Education). This initiative is part of Jamaica’s Access to Justice program, which is committed to making the justice system “more accessible and responsive to women and children in confronting problems of violence and other abuses of their fundamental human rights.”
Closer to home, women’s shelters are in need of assistance within the immigration and criminal justice systems.
In September I attended the OBA Feminist Legal Analysis Section award dinner, where Mary Lou Fassel was honoured for her work with the Barbara Schlifer Clinic in protecting women from physical abuse. I heard about the work that has been done but, more importantly, that which remains to be done.
At another event I was introduced to a university student who was interested in applying to law school. I agreed to meet him at a later date in early October. When I asked him why he wanted to go to law school, he told me that he was in Canada as a refugee from an African country, having being sent alone to Canada at age 14. He recalled the injustices, abuses and violence of his youth and said he wanted to become a lawyer to do what he can to prevent injustice and promote the rule of law. As a fourth year university student, he currently volunteers as a counsellor to youth from disadvantaged communities.
I attended the Opening of the Courts on September 12th. Chief Justice Bonkalo reported that “youth (victims or perpetrators) that reach our courts often require the support of a wide range of resources…young people often need help from therapists, teachers, community workers, child welfare agencies, doctors, lawyers, mentors and/or employers.”
Chief Justice Winkler stated that “access to justice is a subject that has rightfully received increased attention in recent years… if this call for increased access to justice is going to stay meaningful, and be more than just a cliché raised by people like me at occasions like this, we need to start showing measurable progress.”
And Chief Justice Smith advised that “one of the most important issues plaguing the early resolution of child protection cases is the insufficient number of experienced and available counsel to handle these challenging cases… this problem is beyond the control of any single partner in the justice system, but is not beyond the power of all partners together.” Justice Smith applauded the pro bono efforts of those lawyers volunteering their time for the family law Mandatory Information Programs (MIP).
These are just a few recent examples.
Lawyers in Ontario give generously of their time to many community initiatives. This I call our “community of lawyers for our communities.” However, there is a greater need and I believe that we have a greater capacity to give.
I raised this issue with the OBA Board in September. At the Board’s direction, I raised it two weeks later at our fall Council meeting. Both our Board and our Council unanimously agreed that the OBA should consider an enhanced role in contibuting to our communities. Accordingly, Council established a Pro Bono Task Force to investigate, enquire, research, and report on how our association can better contribute to the provision of pro bono services to our communities. In other words, how can we extend the reach of our “community of lawyers for lawyers” into our “community of lawyers for our communities"?
I am pleased our association has taken this initiative and am confident that our members will continue to contribute towards the betterment of the communities we live in.
Morris Chochla, Forbes Chochla LLP