President’s Blog
April 17, 2018

by Miriam Kresivo, QC

Today marks the 36th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms being signed into law on April 17, 1982. A great deal has transpired since that rainy day in Ottawa. The early years of the charter saw changes in police powers and criminal procedure, Sunday store openings and women’s reproductive rights. A decade later came recognition of LGBTQ rights and decisions that change our understanding of Aboriginal rights and title. In more recent years, charter cases led to the recognition of same-sex marriage, introduction of supervised injection sites and medical assistance in dying. The charter has been transformative.

The Law Society of BC is pursuing initiatives that we believe will be transformative in their own way. We hope to transform the delivery of legal services in BC through our alternative legal service providers initiative and our Vision for Publicly Funded Legal Aid. We have also been looking at the transformation of legal regulation through our law firm regulation and our mental health initiative, through which we hope to support lawyers with resources to meet their professional responsibilities to the public, while helping them avoid problems that lead to disciplinary processes.

Our efforts to improve the public’s access to legal services have resulted in the Law Society contributing its voice on matters affecting the public interest. Last year, we shared the regulator’s perspective of why adequate funding is needed for a properly functioning justice system. Building on this foundation, we are preparing to put our own “skin in the game,” with alternative legal service providers who would transform access for unserved and underserved British Columbians as a new class of providers to deliver legal services in discreet areas of practice for which there is a demand that is not being entirely met.

The Law Society is also embarking on a new era of proactive intervention with its law firm regulation initiative. Law firms will begin registering starting next month, and registration will be followed by a pilot in which a representative sample of firms throughout the province assess their policies and procedures with regard to key functions of law firm practice. Similar to our mental health initiative, the goal is to identify problems before they lead to mistakes that previously resulted in lawyer discipline.

Since I wrote about our mental health initiative in a previous blog, the Mental Health Task Force has begun to explore alternatives to after-the-fact engagement with lawyers who are offside the rules or the Code of Professional Conduct for British Columbia. By raising awareness of mental health and substance abuse in the legal profession, we hope to destigmatize these issues in ways that encourage early intervention. The task force is also looking into diversion options where it would be more appropriate to get a lawyer out of the discipline process and into finding the help they need to return to health and full regulatory compliance.

As we celebrate our Charter of Rights and Freedoms this Law Week, we should also be inspired by what it has shown us is possible. The charter has broken new ground and provided solutions in areas where others feared to tread. It is that spirit and example that inspires me and my efforts to move the Law Society’s initiatives forward.