President's Update to CBABC Members

  • August 28, 2018

To my fellow CBA members,

August 31 marks the end of my term as CBABC President. I wanted to take a few minutes to update all of you on the state of the Association and the work done over the past year.

Sections, PD and Mentorship

For many of our members, the primary interaction they have with the CBA is through their involvement in Sections. This past year, we had 77 Sections across the province in a variety of different practice and interest areas, with total Section enrollment up 12% over the previous year. Sections held a total of 367 meetings, giving rise to 406 hours of creditable PD. We continue to build our capacity to make section meetings available online when appropriate – over the year some 53% of meetings had a remote attendance option. As well, we continue to offer our members the ability to participate in as many BC Branch sections as they would like without any charge above the Branch membership fee, and continue to hear from members that this is welcomed.

Our professional development staff also had a busy year, with three multi-day conferences organized at the Branch level – including the CBA West conference in Las Vegas in November, as well as the Women Lawyers Forum retreat in April in Vernon. In addition, the PD group held some 20 additional in-person PD events, ranging from one to six hours long and occurring in various locations around the Province, plus a further ten webinars, each two hours long. 

Finally, our various mentorship programs continued this year with students at all three of BC’s law schools, through the CBA Women’s Lawyers Forum mentorship program, and through the hard work of our Aboriginal Lawyers Forum to ensure mentors for the Law Society’s Aboriginal Lawyers Mentorship Program. These programs as a whole involve hundreds of our members in mentoring relationships, which are highly valuable to those involved.

Advocacy

Our main advocacy goal this year within the BC Branch was to press the new provincial government to implement the initiatives advanced in our 2017 Agenda for Justice, which was the focus of our advocacy during last year’s provincial election. 

Much effort over the course of the year was aimed at improving legal aid funding, and in particular to improve funding for family law legal aid services and to improve the legal aid tariff. We had some success with respect to family law legal aid funding, with February’s budget including nearly $4.8 million per year in additional funding to the Legal Services Society for family law and Indigenous services, and an additional $3.8 million per year in funding to expand Parent Legal Centres (which support families facing the possible removal of children). However, the government did not provide any additional funding to allow improvement to the legal aid tariff – which has increased only once since 1991 and desperately requires attention.

Our advocacy focus had to evolve mid-year as the government announced in February and then passed legislation in May to make substantial changes to the tort and insurance regimes governing compensation for those involved in motor vehicle accidents. Bills 20 and 22 impose caps on compensation for those suffering what are to be called “minor injuries”, and move jurisdiction over all motor vehicle accident claims valued at less than $50,000 to the Civil Resolution Tribunal – all effective in April 2019. We prepared detailed position papers in May responding to each of the two bills. Included in our responses were other steps that we said the government should be taking to deal with financial issues at ICBC, instead of the proposed caps. While the government has not yet changed course, we will continue to advance these positions moving into the fall.

We also undertook significant advocacy work from about December through February aimed at bringing attention to the vacancies on the BC Supreme Court and the impact thereof. There have been seven appointments to that Court in 2018, and we hope that the pace of appointments will continue. The Court is now approximately five judges below full complement – not ideal, but a substantial improvement from where it was one year ago.

There have been some successes – including the improved legal aid funding, as well as improvements to the Class Proceedings Act called for in the Agenda for Justice – but much work remains to be done.

Other areas of advocacy – which I’m happy to provide more details on to any who may be interested, include:

  • Court services, including sheriffs, registry staff and courthouse facilities;
  • Indigenous justice issues;
  • Unified family court; and
  • Restorative justice.

Related to our advocacy is work to improve access to justice within BC. There remains a serious access to justice problem, and the Bar needs to be a key part of improving the situation. Several groups within the CBABC are working hard on these issues – among them, our Unbundled Legal Services Section and our Access to Justice Committee – and I have worked hard to ensure that the CBABC remains a key player in this conversation. Access to justice issues are not amenable to simple solutions, and require a balancing of desires for perfect justice and affordable justice. As lawyers, we have direct, practical experience working day-to-day with clients, which gives us important insights, and we need to be part of the hunt for solutions, ensuring that principles of fairness and the rule of law are not obliterated in the name of efficiency, but at the same time being open to improvements that may require us to change some long-standing approaches.

Membership

Several years of work culminated this year in the announcement of a significant fee reduction for regular CBA members called 4 or more years – in BC, the reduction will be $100 per year. This fee represents years of groundwork aimed at streamlining governance structures, better aligning national and branch operations to find efficiencies, and some rethinking of how services are delivered and how we allocate and spend the fees collected. There should be little change in the member-facing services being delivered at the BC Branch level.

More generally, CBA staff across the country – including many from our BC Branch office – are currently working hard to streamline our structures and ensure that we are focusing on those products and services most valued by our members. This “CBA 2.0” work involves obtaining survey data to help determine where our members find value, coordinating and improving services, and ensuring they are delivered in the most efficient manner. Thank you to all those who have participated in the Nanos surveys commissioned by the CBA.

Overall, membership within the BC branch increased by about 5.8% over the 2016-2017 year. We hope that the membership fee decrease, combined with ongoing efforts to ensure that we refine and target our programming to help deliver optimal value to all members given available resources, will lead to ongoing increases in our membership.

Other Activities

There are many other activities underway involving our membership, including:

  • Our Truth & Reconciliation Working Group presented its final report including Action Plan at the June Provincial Council meeting. The Action Plan will be presented for adoption at our September Provincial Council meeting and includes ongoing work to incorporate cultural competency and related topics into our PD and Sections programming, providing resources for law firms that seek to create their own action plans for reconciliation, and ongoing advocacy in Indigenous justice issues.
  • Our very active Aboriginal Lawyers Forum, which creates a tremendous sense of community amongst its membership, and recently hosted its annual retreat with the theme “Honouring Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine:  Making a Difference – Be the Difference”;
  • Ongoing efforts to help law students and new lawyers provide access to justice in rural communities through continuation of our Rural Education and Access to Lawyers (REAL) initiatives; and
  • A very active Equality and Diversity Committee – one of the highlights of their year was a very successful “Diversity on the Bench” event in June, in which several judges from diverse backgrounds spoke of their own experiences and views on the importance of diversity to an audience of over 120.

As the face of the CBABC for the past year, I have tried to travel to as many parts of the Province as possible, and to a wide variety of CBABC events including a number of Section meetings, to learn about your experiences and how you see the CBA assisting you to be a better lawyer and to create a strong legal community. I am constantly impressed by the number of lawyers and law students who work so hard and give so much of their time to improving the justice system in their communities and to making the Bar a welcoming community.

Thank you to the many volunteers, both within the CBABC and with local community Bars, across the province. Special thanks as well to our excellent staff at the CBABC office who work so hard to bring the thoughts and ideas of the volunteers to fruition and make us look good in the process. And thank you to those from other justice sector organizations who have been such a pleasure to work with on common goals.

I have very much enjoyed my term as President – it has been a great honour to serve and it is difficult to believe that my term is now drawing to a close. I thank all of you for the opportunity. If you have questions, comments or concerns, please feel free to contact me at bveenstra@jml.ca

Bill Veenstra
President 2017-2018
Canadian Bar Association, BC Branch