A Fine – Sometimes Precarious – Balance

  • April 01, 2015
  • Caroline Nevin

The challenge of being the legal profession’s advocate

The Canadian Bar Association is the only professional association that represents the interests of lawyers, law students and judge members across this amazingly huge and diverse country – ad mare a mari usque ad mare. Given the breadth and depth of our membership, it should be no surprise that there is an ongoing, organic debate about how the CBA considers and presents those many views, opinions and priorities.

If what we were talking about were small, benign issues then conflicting views amongst a large membership might matter less; however, it’s almost never an inconsequential issue. We’re talking about the law, justice and governance of our society – in essence, issues at the core of what it means to be Canadian. Everything in this sphere matters to someone; some things matter to many, and to many they matter a lot.

Yes, there are big issues almost every CBA member can agree on: Solicitor-client privilege? Sacrosanct. Legal representation for those who can’t pay and might suffer severely without it? Absolutely. Outrageous attacks on judges or lawyers? Speak louder! Those are the relatively easy ones.

But what about Omar Khadr? Terrorism/security and “tough on crime” laws – or just about anything that affects the balance between state power and individual rights? What about Trinity Western University’s proposed law school? Politicization of judicial appointments (not to mention their compensation)? Corporate or other specific sector interests? How about taxation policy? International human rights abuses? Law Society regulation of notaries/paralegals/alternate business structures? The list of hotly debated topics goes on…

Every year, CBA National and its branches intervene in legal cases, make submissions to government,
courts and law societies, and advocate both publicly and privately on literally hundreds of issues. Those submissions, arguments and positions are generated through thousands of volunteer hours by passionate and intelligent members on all sides. As a result, the CBA has become a cauldron within which an amazing alchemy occurs almost daily, as many elements and perspectives merge together to form a new whole.

Often – very often – the outcome is pure gold. There are times, however, when the mix isn’t quite right, and the result leaves some members feeling disenfranchised or disconnected. That is a precarious position for a member-based advocacy organization; if it happens too frequently, we risk losing both relevance and impact. Yet, if we take no positions at all, we risk the same thing. So, the big question is: how do we ensure we’re striking the right balance?

The CBA is in the process of answering this question head-on. National President Michele Hollins created a cross-Canada Intervention Policy Review to ask tough questions of our members: When should the CBA stand up? On what basis? In what places? Who should decide? What should we do when members are strongly divided? And what’s the right process to follow to figure these things out?

The BC Branch responded to the Review with a submission, as did many individual members and Branch Sections. Together with branches and members across the country, we’re going to help strengthen the CBA’s role as a powerful advocate, and help ensure that the profession’s influence is used to good ends and through good process. Your views on this or any other topic are always welcome at cnevin@cbabc.org.

CBA advocacy exists because the legal profession, individually and collectively, is engaged firmly at the heart of every public debate about how our society should evolve. We are all the better for it. I hope that you will engage just as firmly in the current debate about how the CBA should evolve too.

Caroline Nevin signature

Caroline Nevin
cnevin@cbabc.org