On September 29, LCO Board of Governors Chair Bruce Elman announced Aneurin (Nye) Thomas as the next executive director of the Law Commission of Ontario.
The former director general of policy and strategic research at Legal Aid Ontario (LAO), Thomas was responsible for leading LAO’s project to significantly expand financial eligibility and legal aid services in Ontario, and for the organization’s dedicated strategies to improve access to justice for Aboriginal peoples, persons with mental illness and addictions, and victims of domestic violence. Between 2004 and 2007, he oversaw policy and research for the Ipperwash Inquiry into policing and aboriginal protests, and he has served in senior roles at the Ministry of the Attorney General, the Ontario Legal Aid Review, the Centre for Public Law and Public Policy and the Libel Defense Resource Centre.
Thomas is currently serving as the LCO executive director designate, a role he began on October 19. He officially takes the helm from founding executive director Patricia Hughes on December 15.
Liaison met with Thomas to talk about his new role.
Liaison: Welcome and congratulations! What attracted you to the LCO and the role of executive director?
Nye Thomas: I have a longstanding interest in law reform as evidenced by my work at Legal Aid Ontario and on a number of provincial inquiries like Ipperwash. I also have a strong connection to the kind of access to justice work done by the LCO in recent years, including the projects in family law, older adults, disability and employment. These are all very much issues in the Legal Aid mandate as well. Combine all of this with the opportunity to lead Ontario’s law reform commission and it seems like a good and natural next step in my career.
Liaison: Among the LCO’s many achievements, what stands out for you?
NT: There are two or three standouts. First, the LCO has done a very good job of engaging a whole new set of stakeholders in the law reform process. Classically, law reform involves judges and lawyers. What I think the LCO has managed to do very successfully is broaden the conversation and bring new voices to the table. It’s an appropriate and contemporary approach to law reform in 2015.
Second is the emphasis that the LCO has placed on relevance. It’s easy for law reform projects to feel removed from the day-to-day lives and issues that people are facing. The LCO ensures its projects are forward-looking and relevant to contemporary debates on law and policy.
The third stand-out is the impressive breadth of projects. The Law Commission has positioned itself as a provincial resource on wide-ranging issues. We’re not just a research institute run out of a law school, but a resource everyone in the justice system can be proud of.
Liaison: What do you see as the unique challenges and opportunities at this stage of the LCO’s growth?
NT: Challenges and opportunities are sometimes the same thing! First up is the renewal of our funding sources in the next 18 months. It’s an opportunity to solidify the role of the Commission and to renew our mandate for another five years.
At the same time, I’d like to focus on the creation of a new strategic plan. I plan to reach out to our stakeholders to get their thoughts on the role of the LCO, the projects we work on and how we engage with our justice system partners, and then use that input to set long-term goals for the organization.
The third opportunity involves our projects. We have a good portfolio at various stages of completion and we would do well to complete these successfully and then move on to our next suite of endeavours.
Liaison: What message do you have for the outgoing executive director and for the LCO’s stakeholders?
NT: To Patricia — You’ve done a great job. I know it’s difficult to start a new organization and sustain it. She’s managed that challenge very, very well. The positive responses from government, the judiciary, academia, and our community are testament to that.
To our stakeholders — I hope to continue the LCO’s tradition of independence, constructive engagement, and rigorous legal and public policy analysis. The Law Commission stands and falls on the strength of its work and reputation. We’re already recognized across the province for high quality analysis; in time, I’d hope to see the LCO emerge as a law reform leader in Canada and a great collaborator with like-minded organizations around the world.