Focus On

2020 Vision: Collaboration, co-operation, co-ordination | Kurt Sandstrom

Monday, January 27, 2020 @ 11:18 AM | By Kurt Sandstrom

Kurt Sandstrom %>
Kurt Sandstrom
The beginning of a new year — and even more so a new decade — inspires resolutions and future focused thinking. We all make New Years’ resolutions, so why shouldn’t the justice system? The system should vow to get itself in shape by focusing on the three C’s of justice reform: collaboration, co-operation and co-ordination.  


The effective operation of the Canadian justice system requires that there be a strong partnership between the federal government and the provinces and territories. Addressing justice system challenges and justice and public safety reform in Canada is best accomplished when federal, provincial and territorial (FPT) governments work closely together. FPT collaboration enables jurisdictions to collectively consider and address criminal justice, public safety, civil, family, international human rights and youth justice matters that have implications for the administration of justice across the country. 

Collaboration helps to facilitate comprehensive and evidence-based recommendations on justice system issues that are of joint concern to FPT governments. It often involves considering the relevant legislative, policy, cost and operational implications of these issues and determining methods appropriate to address them, including thorough analysis, consultation and research.

Through participation in FPT discussions, British Columbia is able to provide input into legislative or policy reform and advocate for the development and advancement of policies and practices that align with provincial priorities. In addition, because of the shared jurisdiction over family law, B.C. advocates for continued federal funding of important family justice services to citizens. 

B.C. has taken a leadership role at FPT tables on issues such as:

  • Advancing reconciliation efforts (e.g., responding to TRC calls to Action and implementing the principles of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP);
  • Advancing human rights;
  • Addressing violence against Indigenous women and girls;
  • Addressing over-representation of Indigenous peoples in the justice system;
  • Developing and implementing justice innovation and transformation initiatives;
  • Addressing the opioid crisis;
  • Addressing issues associated with organized crime and gang activity, including firearms and money laundering;
  • Developing guidelines for minimum thresholds of family services, and advising on development, and; implementation of federal family law legislative changes.

B.C. also actively participates on an ongoing basis in FPT matters such as:

  • Implementing new federal legislation;
  • Improving legal aid and access to justice;
  • Reporting and accession to international human rights treaties;
  • Advancing the use of restorative justice and alternative dispute resolution;
  • Reducing court delay;
  • Examining policy, strategic and operational issues, which impact on the delivery of correctional services in Canada, and;
  • Advancing innovative family program delivery.

There are unequivocal gains when we collaborate. Let’s do more of that this year.


Looking back, our sector used to view family justice issues simply as legal problems, but we’ve grown in our understanding to recognize them as social problems with legal elements. We also recognize the importance of information and services as early in the process as possible, and the need to co-operate within and across sectors and jurisdictions so that options are meaningful and lead to truly sustainable resolutions.

Informed by research and a public consultation process in 2019, B.C.’s proposed model for new provincial court family rules will help to pivot families, where possible, towards earlier resolutions and skill building by utilizing the tools of assessment, referrals to appropriate services, parenting education, consensual dispute resolution and family management conferences.

The consultation has closed, but the materials are available on the website here

As brain science has developed, so has the knowledge of how adverse childhood experiences resulting in toxic stress can negatively impact the brain with consequences for people’s health, well-being and opportunities that ripple throughout communities. Early information and resolution processes that reduce conflict and trauma where possible are consistent with reducing negative impacts on children, families and communities.

We look forward to improving outcomes and processes by better understanding of, and co-operation with, the end-users of our processes and services through human-centred design, user experience testing and behavioural insights.

As we look forward to a new decade and beyond, we anticipate furthering our understanding of how to improve the pursuit of resolutions that are informed, engage partners appropriately and meet the needs of those involved.

Co-operation works. Let’s do more of that this year.


Communities are concerned about the social costs of crime. Victims and their families suffer financially, emotionally and sometimes physically. Business owners deal with financial losses. People not directly affected by crime see evidence of it in their neighbourhoods and communities, creating an erosion in our sense of safety and well-being.

People committing crimes are also coping with multiple health and social issues that are inexorably linked to their criminogenic behaviour, such as addiction, mental illness and homelessness. Their problems are complex, expensive to address, and they challenge the justice system to respond in a different way.

Addressing these issues upstream in a co-ordinated fashion saves the justice system resources and also prevents a situation where people can only get help for their health and social problems by going to jail. But more than that, it’s time the justice system stops criminalizing mental illness and homelessness.

Greater co-ordination across the various sectors is necessary to deal with both crime and the issues which contribute to criminal behaviour. It is well documented that individuals who become involved in the justice system often require significant supports to assist in coping with multiple issues that contribute to their criminal and nuisance behaviour or their criminalization.

To improve outcomes for these individuals, the justice system must explore opportunities to better co-ordinate with social and health service agencies.

Integrating justice, mental health, addiction, housing and other services, through co-ordination among service providers is an important factor in supporting individuals with complex needs. Let’s do more of that this year.

Let’s make 2020 a year with perfect vision by focusing on how we bring about much needed change in the justice system by emphasizing more of the three C’s of reform!   

Kurt Sandstrom has been the assistant deputy minister of Justice Services Branch, with the B.C. Ministry of the Attorney General, since June 2016. He also teaches law, public policy and dispute resolution at the University of VictoriaHe lives and works on the traditional territories of the Lekwungen-speaking peoples, now known as the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations.

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