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Access to Justice: Action Committee summit all about change | Beverley McLachlin

Monday, May 27, 2019 @ 9:10 AM | By Beverley McLachlin

Beverley McLachlin %>
Beverley McLachlin
In the words of Bob Dylan, “The times, they are a-changin.’ ” In order to truly achieve access to justice across Canada, the justice sector needs to embrace change. The discussions at this year’s Annual Summit of the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters reflected this need.

Eighty delegates bringing high-profile leadership on access to justice from across the country, with participation from the judiciary, governments, legal institutions, law schools, non-profits, lawyers’ organizations and equity-seeking groups, came together for 2.5 days in Montreal this past April to learn, share ideas and successes and push one another towards change.

This year’s report to the Action Committee on progress on Canada’s Justice Development Goals, Working Toward Accessible Justice, showcased the innovation and action happening across Canada on A2J. The report tracked 88 organizations in all 13 Canadian jurisdictions with 504 activities advancing the goals and pushing change. The report, along with key highlights of projects from Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, Manitoba and Nunavut, were presented at the summit and funded by the Law Foundations of Ontario and British Columbia.

Delegates at the summit shared their experiences changing the culture of justice, including the Triple Aim Framework in B.C. that is drawn from the health care sector; a family law approach in Alberta that starts from the premise that the law and its outcomes must not negatively impact a child’s brain health; and Quebec’s collaborative approach to justice that pushes past traditional roles and responsibilities.

Over the course of the year, Action Committee activities focused on elements of transformation. Members of the Metrics Committee underscored the importance of measuring civil justice in order to understand need and respond with appropriate changes. Saskatchewan is testing the Triple Aim measurement framework and Statistics Canada is introducing a National Legal Problems Survey. The cross-country work done on the Justice Development Goals was featured in Canada’s report to the United Nations on Sustainable Development Goal 16. The delegates took time to work together to identify opportunities to further measurement and evaluation in justice in the coming year.

The Action Committee’s national Pop-Up Community of Practice looked to the future this year, with the 43 members learning about and discussing disruptive technologies like blockchain, models of future thinking like Strategic Foresight, and alternate ways to measure and assess access to justice, including the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index.

However, the summit was not only a forum to share experiences, it was also an opportunity to expand the definition of justice and challenge ourselves to find new ways to respond to the access to justice crisis. A full day of the summit was devoted to a discussion of Indigenous legal orders and Indigenous justice. Distinguished speakers from the Yukon Territory, the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, British Columbia and Ontario spoke of the need and opportunity for the Canadian justice system to follow through on the promise of Gladue and other key decisions and to incorporate and/or share space with Indigenous legal orders and traditions in order to provide more culturally appropriate, community-centred and accessible justice services to Indigenous people.

Professor Gillian Hadfield fired up the group to think outside the box in the provision of legal services in her keynote address Striking a Match, Not a Pose, for Access to Justice. She argued that, while pro bono and legal aid services are valuable social constructs, they should not be expected to shoulder the burden of meeting legal need. Rather, she argued that the regulatory environment of the practice of law must be altered to create a more permissive and business-centric model that would support a wider array of options for meeting legal need.

The Action Committee itself is also in transition. At the summit, members voted to increase the size of the committee to include greater representation from diverse and equity-seeking organizations. The committee has also committed to greater transparency, with increased communications to the access to justice community and more opportunities for participation in committee activities.

It was my honour to participate in the summit this year for the first time as the committee chair. I was pleased to welcome Richard Wagner, chief justice of Canada, in his new role as honorary chair of the committee and was inspired by his own personal commitment to access to justice and his words of encouragement for the leaders in the room. I was moved by the dedication, enthusiasm and expertise of the summit delegates. I appreciated the passion and thought they brought to the group, and I look forward to another great year working across Canada for access to justice.

If you want to learn more about the activities of the Action Committee, the Justice Development Goals and the Annual Report, or to sign up for the Action Committee’s newsletter, please visit:

The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin served as chief justice of Canada from 2000 to mid-December 2017. She now works as an arbitrator and mediator in Canada and internationally and also sits as a justice of Singapore’s International Commercial Court and the Hong Kong Final Court of Appeal. She chairs the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters.