Bringing justice issues into the election conversation
British Columbia’s justice system plays an important foundational role in providing a stable society for the province’s citizens and businesses. Yet, when it comes to government priorities, opportunities to improve the justice system are often drowned out by the pressing and loudly expressed needs of other areas. We in the legal profession need to ensure that the challenges facing our justice system are at the forefront of discussions, and our Branch is ready to take a leading role in making that happen.
As it did in 2013, CBABC has prepared and is now circulating an “Agenda for Justice” for the 2017 provincial election campaign. This Agenda pulls together important needs of our justice sector and ideas for law reform collected over months through consultation with various CBABC groups, including Provincial Council. They have been grouped into four main “pillars:” Effective Access to Justice, Public Safety and Community Fairness, Supporting BC’s Families and Stability for BC Businesses.
Our engagement strategy, which will be launched at the Provincial Council meeting on January 28, 2017, includes enlisting members of our Provincial Council and other CBABC members to meet with local candidates to ensure that they are aware of the needs of British Columbia’s justice system.
Our 2013 Agenda for Justice saw a number of concrete results, including a small increase in funding for the Legal Services Society, and enactment of a new Societies Act and a new Franchise Act – all of which were among changes sought in the 2013 document.
The 2017 Agenda for Justice contains a significant focus on the needs of our province’s legal aid program. Key needs include increasing availability of legal aid for qualifying individuals needing family law advice, and funding a realistic tariff for those doing legal aid work. There is also a need for increased funding for staffing of the court services branch, and for greater investment into technology for our court system. As well, it urges that statutory provisions passed in 2013 that would provide a fixed complement of judges for our Provincial Court should be proclaimed into force.
The 2017 Agenda for Justice includes several calls aimed at building a robust and comprehensive restorative justice program within British Columbia, and improving the way our justice system works with indigenous peoples. It also advances the CBABC’s proposal for student loan forgiveness for lawyers who commit to establishing legal practice in high needs rural communities.
In terms of family justice, the 2017 Agenda for Justice advocates for increased funding for Family Justice Centres for interview and assessment reports, mediation and counselling services, and making funding available for the use of parenting coordinators by families in need of such assistance but who cannot afford the cost of a private parenting coordinator. It also calls for the establishment of a unified family court, and bringing the Family Compensation Act more in line with current notions of fundamental justice when a family member is killed as a result of negligence or intentional acts by another.
Finally, there are a series of proposals to improve the way our legal system deals with commercial transactions, including updates to the laws governing enforcement of Canadian money judgments, commercial tenancy laws, class action legislation and legal doctrines related to contract fairness.
We encourage all CBABC members to become familiar with the proposals in the Agenda for Justice and to raise them at opportune moments with your local candidates and elected officials. We look forward to working with our membership and politicians alike to ensure our justice system receives the priority and attention it so needs.
Bill Veenstra is Vice President of CBABC and Chair of the Government Relations Committee. He practises commercial and construction litigation with Jenkins Marzban Logan LLP in Vancouver.