Access to Justice BC

a2j_logoAccess to Justice BC is British Columbia’s response to a national call for action to make family and civil justice more accessible. It is a forum to facilitate open communication and collaborative working relationships among justice system stakeholders.

The following entry is a cross-post from the Access to Justice BC website

By Mr. Justice Robert J. Bauman
The Honourable Chief Justice of British Columbia
Chair of Access to Justice BC


Welcome to the Access to Justice BC website. It is my sincere pleasure to launch what I anticipate will become a series of updates communicating the activities and progress of Access to Justice BC. I look forward to reaching people across our province who are interested in and concerned about the extent to which the civil justice system is accessible in BC. I want to provide information about what Access to Justice BC is doing about the problem, and to invite you to tell us how well we are doing.

In this posting, I will describe a bit about Access to Justice BC and explain what encouraged me get involved with the initiative.

Access to Justice BC started when a few of the province’s justice leaders and thinkers took to heart the recommendation of the National Action Committee to create a provincial forum dedicated to improving access to justice. The small group of people grew larger and came to involve the major legal institutions in the province, and eventually representatives from organizations outside of the justice system as well. The rationale for this broad membership is to foster an innovative, multi-disciplinary approach to the issue, hopefully leading to better ideas and a greater willingness to experiment (and to take risks).

Access to Justice BC got off the ground in 2015 with a handful of meetings addressing the processes that the group will follow and deciding on a first target for action within the civil justice system: family law. Running parallel to the full Access to Justice BC meetings have been a multitude of smaller sub-committee meetings, working on strategy, communications and planning issues.

The most recent full meeting of Access to Justice BC, which I will describe in more detail in a separate posting, took place in February of this year and put to the test the creative thinking and commitment of the group. A number of concrete initiatives were identified for exploration, and I will be reporting on these initiatives as they progress.

What drew me to join Access to Justice BC? Like many people involved in the civil justice system, I am sorely aware of its shortcomings. Don’t get me wrong; I’m also proudly aware of its strengths and successes. But when I see litigants struggling to navigate complex court processes on their own, or when I consider the unknown number of people in BC who, thwarted by the potential cost, don’t pursue their legal rights, I have to ask myself: is the justice system there for everyone who needs it? If not, what are we doing wrong? Are there minor fixes to address some problems, or is a complex overhaul required? Conversely, what aspects of the system (or of another system for that matter) are working well? Is there a way to transpose those successes to certain areas of civil justice or to scale them upwards?

Access to Justice BC does not pretend to have the answers to these questions. The access problem isn’t something that can be solved by a group of people thinking hard in a room. It is a complex problem that may require multiple innovative solutions and, in order to reach those solutions, some degree of trial and error. It will also take hard work and, yes, in some cases resources.

I hope that you will visit our website and follow our progress over the next year.

– Bob Bauman, Chief Justice of British Columbia


Stay informed with Access to Justice BC:

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Legal Resources for Youth

Do you work with children and youth? Here are some interesting services and programs from our Clicklaw contributors that you may not know about:

Bookable Court Tours, Mock Trials & School Workshops

mock_trials_JES_youthJustice Education Society runs a Justice Education Program that provides bookable court tours in various locations across BC and also facilitates youth mock trials: JES helps coordinate about 70 youth mock trials each year, performed by youth ranging from Grade 5 to Law 12 students. Younger participants will use scenarios from popular book series (e.g. Harry Potter), while Law 12 students will perform actual case re-enactments. To read more about how to book a court tour or mock trial, click here.

DCC_frontThe Downtown Community Court (DCC) in Vancouver’s DTES, which opened in 2008, is a partnership between the BC Provincial Court, the Ministry of Justice, and social and health service agencies. Its goal is to reduce crime, improve public safety, and provide integrated justice, health and social services to offenders in a timely manner, while holding them accountable for their actions. DCC offers tours to the general public, school groups and even international visitors, who come to learn about the DCC model. The tour lasts for about 1.5 hours during which the guide will introduce: how the DCC got started, who generally attends at the DCC, a typical day in court, and what integrated programs are connected with the court. Tours are provided on Tuesday and Thursday or by special arrangement. To organize a tour, contact communitycourt@gov.bc.ca.

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People’s Law School runs the Justice Theatre program, delivered throughout the province of BC: a troupe of professional actors perform dramatizations of criminal trials at elementary and secondary schools and to community groups. Each show is designed for participatory engagement. Attendees are encouraged to be part of the jury, to debate the issues and to vote on the overall outcome of the case. Topics can range from: Bullying and the Internet, Bullying and Violence, Stanley Cup Riot, Gang Violence, and Shoplifting. For more information on Justice Theatre, please contact: Rob McAninch 604-331-5400

wcleaf_trendshiftWest Coast LEAF offers workshops for students in Grades 8-12, in Kamloops, Nanaimo and the Lower Mainland. The workshops can be delivered in schools or community groups. The goals of the workshops are to: open a space for discussion with young people about the ways the Internet is used in our lives, and to clear up myths about what the law in BC says about online behaviour. The workshop is 2.5 hours in length and can be offered over 1-3 sessions. Read more about the TrendShift workshops here.

CPABC-logo2Cerebral Palsy Association of BC operates a number of programs for youth with disabilities, including: a Youth Without Limits Support Group – a peer-to-peer support group for people with disabilities – youth and young adults between the ages of 13-29, facilitated by people with disabilities. Youth Without Limits is held in downtown Vancouver. The Cerebral Palsy Association of BC also operates the Navigator for Youth Transitioning to Adult Services, which helps connect youth with the services they need through our specialized information and referral resource. The Navigator service is available for youth aged 14 to 25, their parents and members of their Transition Support Teams. To access this service, call the CPABC office at 604-408-9484, or email Jeanne@bccerebralpalsy.com.

Online Resources

  • Explore the “Children & teens” section of the Clicklaw site to find common questions and resources on: young people and criminal law, parental separation, rights of children & teens, and protecting children.
  • The HelpMap features multiple services that provide help with legal issues related to children & teens here.
  • The Law Foundation of BC and the Representative for Children and Youth have compiled a list of resources and services for children and youth; many of these resources can also be accessed through Clicklaw.
  • Justice Education Society has just soft-launched a new service for youth legal_rights_youth_jes
    at LegalRightsForYouth.ca. What’s new: a virtual assistant to help youth understand basic legal concepts and find the right information. Every weekday from 11am to 2pm, youth can chat live (with LSLAP students) to get answers to their legal questions. During offline hours, youth can ask questions and get answers back by email. Topics include: Working, Renting, Driving, Debt, etc.

Stay Informed:

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Disability Disclosure in the Workplace

By Shelley Hourston
Disability Alliance BC

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DABC invites (1) people with disabilities/chronic illness and (2) employers, to share stories and experiences that illustrate disclosure and accommodation in the workplace.

I’ve been writing about resilience for about 20 years now—most of that time I’ve worked at Disability Alliance BC (DABC). I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to talk to countless people with disabilities or chronic illnesses about their experiences.

Each story is unique but the common thread that intrigues me is the extraordinary creativity, commitment and determination that carries people forward despite their challenges. Our society focuses so exclusively on perceived deficits of disability that problem-solving, creative thinking and tenacity are overlooked. The consequences of disability deficit thinking is especially serious in the employment arena. Our experience at DABC led us to explore the flip-side of disability deficit thinking in the form of a guide to disability disclosure and accommodation in the workplace.

According to the Canadian Survey on Disability, 2012, there were 334,800 individuals aged 15-64 with disabilities in BC (10.8%).* Statistics Canada reports that in 2011, the employment rate of Canadians aged 25-64 with disabilities was 49% compared with 79% for those without a disability.** In BC, the $800/month ($9,600/year) earnings exemption for a single person receiving disability benefits provides an opportunity for people with disability/chronic illness to supplement their income with part-time employment.

Thanks to support from the Law Foundation of BC, DABC is developing a reader-friendly guide on the law relating to disclosing disability in employment settings. Disclosing Your Disability: A Guide for People with Disabilities In BC is intended for people with all types of disabilities (including visible and invisible disabilities and chronic illnesses). Some people are able to work full-time with appropriate accommodation while others may be able to work part-time. Others may be employed but face a need for disclosure due to acquired disability or chronic illness. The guide will address legal rights and responsibilities of disclosure and provide practical activities and worksheets to guide readers through self-assessment and to elicit and document individual strengths. A reference list of sample accommodations and resources will equip potential employees and employers with ideas and a place to begin planning.

We’d like help from you too. The guide will include six experiences of people with disabilities/chronic illness and six stories from employers to illustrate disclosure and accommodation in the workplace. If you know of someone who would be willing to share their experience, please ask them to contact me.

Shelley Hourston is a program director at DABC and can be reached at 604-875-0188 (toll-free 1-877-232-7400) or Shelley@disabilityalliancebc.org.

*Statistics Canada. Canadian Survey on Disability, 2012. Table 1.11: Prevalence of Disability for Adults by Sex and Age Group, British Columbia, 2012. 

**Statistics Canada. Persons with Disabilities and Employment (Insights on Canadian Society) by Martin Turcotte. 2014.

More Help Available for Families Experiencing Separation and Divorce – Sliding Scale Family Mediation Project

About Mediation Page
Mediation help for separation and divorce

By Kari Boyle
Director of Strategic Initiatives, Mediate BC

Are you going through a separation or divorce? Would you like to avoid the time, money and stress involved with going to court? Mediate BC is a not-for-profit society that provides people with practical, accessible and affordable choices for resolving their disputes. With funding from the Law Foundation of BC, Mediate BC has launched the Sliding Scale Family Mediation Project this Spring to help families experiencing divorce and separation to access mediation services at fees which are set based on the family’s net income and assets/debts.

What are the benefits of mediation?
Family mediators will help you reach decisions about issues such as: property division, child and spousal support, parenting time and guardianship without going to court. This approach promotes a healthy relationship with the participants and any children involved, and can also save you time, money and stress.

How do I get started?
Visit our website or call the Sliding Scale Project Mediation Coordinator, Maria Silva, at 1-877-656-1300 ext. 108 for more information. She will help you decide if this program is the right choice for you.

What if I or my ex-spouse/partner qualify for Legal Aid?
You may be eligible for the Family Mediation Referral Program which provides the first six hours of family mediation services at no charge to your family.  To apply for this service, visit a Legal Aid office or contact the LSS Call Centre.

Below are some of Mediate BC’s other services and resources:
–    About Mediation: information on mediation, including the role of a mediator and how to choose one.
–    Roster Mediator Directories: searchable directories of civil, family, and child protection mediators to assist people in selecting a suitable mediator to resolve their dispute.
–    Public Education and Training: offers free public seminars on mediation and professional development opportunities for dispute resolution practitioners.