Reflections: My Last LCO Blog

It's come at last - my final week and final blog for the LCO. Time for a
little reflection.

I'm leaving the LCO feeling fairly positive about some of our accomplishments:

  • the way we've approached our projects,
  • our emphasis on community engagement coupled with consultation with the legal community and others,
  • our efforts to integrate insights from other disciplines and
  • bringing to bear the views from a variety of critical perspectives.
  • I think the staff have developed cohesive and positive relationships, and
  • they have applied their skills and talents to ensure that we meet as close as we can our standard of excellence in all the work we do. It's a wonderful feeling to have confidence in those doing the hard work.
  • I'm pleased we've undertaken a mix of projects, and am sorry I won't be involved in some of those now ongoing and those approved but yet to be started - they are exciting, on the edge and some with the potential to be innovative.
  • I've enjoyed my outreach across the province enormously, and am grateful for friendships I've developed that I hope will last beyond this coming Friday.

There's also much I wish we could have accomplished, but which finances and time -- and energy -- inevitably have left outstanding. A few of my would be favourite things:

  • At one point, we hired a research lawyer (for only a year while our regular research lawyer undertook a project) with knowledge of empirical research and I assigned him the task of reviewing what we've done and letting me know how empirical research could have improved the reports, and then of developing a plan for empirical research for upcoming projects. As luck - his luck! - would have it, he got a "real" job and so of course left.  
  • The Board is committed to undertaking a project that is focused on an issue or issues that are of particular concern to Aboriginal or indigenous communities. I have thought this required careful selection of a project with known parameters (or, in other words, a specific issue), external expertise and extensive engagement with Aboriginal communities, among others. Cautious collaboration with others also working in this area would be desirable.
  • We have been fortunate that our funders (Law Foundation of Ontario, Ministry of the Attorney General, Osgoode Hall Law School and the Law Society of Upper Canada) give us undesignated funding (for which we are, of course accountable), and compared to other law commissions in Canada, we are well-funded. Our use of funding for projects is helped by Osgoode's generous in-kind contributions. Nevertheless, I commissioned work in relation to potential funding that would complement our current funding because if the LCO wants to undertake more activities, acquire expertise it now lacks and do some projects differently, additional funding is required.
  • French language facility: we translate everything (except this blog and my tweets) into French, but our spoken language capacity leaves much to be desired, with only one staff member who is bilingual. I thought perhaps the new executive director might be able to do better than I in this regard. On the other hand, translation is a big ticket item; however, efforts a few years ago to find other ways of ensuring good translation didn't reveal any wonderful alternatives. Still, it would be good to free up some funding without giving up quality.       
  • Social media, of course: meagre efforts on my part, with Twitter and this blog, although a bit more than other commissions. Not too adventurous, I'm the first to admit, but I hope informational and at least all written by me. (I look forward to writing more exciting tweets and blogs once they are actually mine!). Very, very early on someone prepared a social media plan for the LCO, but it's long outdistanced by developments. There are lots of options here, including project blogs by project heads. We'd planned a new website for this year, already overdue, but other expenditures took precedence.
  • While I've had some communications and interactions with our Community Council and the Law School Research and Liaison Group, I'm sure they agree there's more that could be done there, as well as additional people representing different interests on the Community Council.

Over an eight year period, there are bound to be some bumps, and we have had them. It's pretty normal for relations between boards and EDs to have their rough patches. But as I leave, I'm pleased that the Board is excited about what we do, how we do it and what the LCO will be doing in the future. They are a committed bunch who bring different skills and outlooks to the LCO's work. I'm very grateful for their "goodbye" to me - I admit it's great to finish on a "high"! 

When I met with the search committee  (then Dean of Osgoode Patrick Monahan,
then Deputy Attorney General Murray Segal and judicial appointee to the Board
of Governors Justice James MacPherson of the Court of Appeal) back in spring 2007, I commented that
coming to the LCO would feel like coming "home". I meant home to
Toronto, which, despite 15 years away, nevertheless felt my Canadian home city,
and "home" to pursuing changes in the law. In the getting to be far
past, I'd done the latter as an activist; this would be different, of course:
as an activist, I'd been very much an advocate, while this is not the role of
the LCO, but the spirit of improving people's lives would be similar. And to
some extent, this has proven to be the case. I'd like to think I brought what I had learned in previous positions to the LCO, including, but not only, my academic and administrative work, but I know that I've learned a lot from working with our staff and in relation to the issues we've addressed.

One of the first events I attended after I arrived back in Toronto was a legal aid
conference organized by Professor Fred Zemans and others; that I had been
something I'd done before and even after I left for New Brunswick to be the
Chair in Women and Law at UNB's Faculty of Law. I met some of the same people, doing
some of the same things. And I've been involved in the Friends of the Community Legal Clinics (as me, not a representative of the LCO) because I believe our community clinic system brings a needed systemic and expert approach to poverty law. I'll continue with that.

Early on I also went to a session organized by CLEO on self-help for
self-represented/unrepresented litigants. We're still talking about that and
figuring out how helpful self-help materials can be. Since then, there's been
an explosion of internet information about the law, some good, some not so
good, but it raises huge challenges about delivery, reliability and
accessibility. Over the years, I've done presentations with CLEO or otherwise
participated in CLEO events on this subject, and I'll probably continue to do
some work in that area. I'm a member of a baby cluster on making technology
inclusive associated with The Action Group on Access to Justice (TAG), and
intend to continue to contribute to that.

What of the future (after December 14th)? I don't intend to put what I've learned over the last years aside. I hope to continue making a contribution to the access to justice field, to write and be open to  what else might come up. I'm speaking next February at Queen's IWD conference. I may write on law reform, and on the challenges inherent in Charter guarantees to freedom of religion and equality, among other topics.  I'm an original member of Toronto Public Health's Research Ethics Board, and that is rewarding with respect to new knowledge and a very different arena. I will continue to sit on the Board of the Canadian Forum on Civil
Justice (CFCJ) and participate in the Winkler Institute and others'
collaborative social lab on family justice and mental health. And I'll read, and read and read....

To Nye Thomas, who will (finally!) be the executive director in every sense of the word on December 15th, my very best wishes: you'll love the job, I'm sure. I know the LCO will be moving forward in lots of exciting ways.

And to everyone who ever reads this blog, all the best for the holiday season and for 2016! 

 

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