President's Report

By Frank Friesacher

 

“Spring is the time of plans and projects”, wrote Leo Tolstoy: so apt for our organization! Once you read this, most Law Day events across the province will have been held, exposing Albertans to the justice system with popular mock trials, courthouse tours and Dial-A-Lawyer events. This year there were some special organizational challenges: Edmonton courthouse renovations, increased security, and government electoral restrictions. Law Day is only possible with the incredible volunteers who come together to plan many activities, and we thank you for making this an outstanding public legal education event. We also appreciate our partnership with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) in hosting citizenship ceremonies in conjunction with Law Day.

CBA Alberta took advantage of the 2019 Alberta election with “Justice Matters: An Agenda for Justice”, raising several issues affecting our province:

  • Access to Justice demands not only that we consistently and adequately support legal aid, but that we do not deny a fair hearing to vulnerable Albertans who cannot afford a lawyer but make too much to qualify for legal representation programs. We ask government to build on the 2018 commitment to advance legal aid, and to enhance the role of the pro bono sector.
  • Resources for the Justice System: The importance of a timely and effective legal system cannot be overemphasized. A well-developed and properly resourced justice system is critical to a healthy democracy. An inadequately resourced system results in significant delays and accessibility challenges.
  • Family Justice: Most Albertans will be affected by family law issues, be it divorce, child or partner support, parenting or guardianship, and child protection. We ask the next government to commit to long-term support of multi-disciplinary approaches between courts, government, the legal community, social/health organizations, educators and researchers, all with a vision of reforming family justice in Alberta. The goal is healthy outcomes for individuals and families, regardless of their means, capacity or social situation.
  • Drug Treatment Courts (DTCs): CBA supports innovative and responsible approaches to justice, including specialized courts such as mental health, Indigenous, domestic violence and drug treatment courts. DTCs are pre-sentence treatment programs that seek to rehabilitate non-violent offenders. DTCs divert offenders away from imprisonment on the condition they complete an intensive, judicially-supervised drug addiction recovery program.
  • Judicial Independence: Provincial Court judges face tough decisions that affect the daily lives, liberty, and security of Albertans. The quality of those decisions will be maintained only if the security of the judges making them is, which impacts the administration of justice for all.
  • Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Calls to Action: The Indian residential school system removed 150,000 First Nation, M├ętis, and Inuit children from their homes, families, communities, and culture – often forcibly – to "civilize and Christianize" Indigenous children by assimilating them into the dominant society. This exposed a sizeable number of Indigenous children to poor living conditions as well as physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Implementing the TRC’s Calls to Action will help address these longstanding historical issues.

We met with the Justice Minister as well as opposition justice and solicitor-general critics to introduce them to the above issues. We wrote to political parties for their positions, and asked our members and the public to speak with the candidates on these issues. We held a press conference and received media coverage on our concerns. Finally, we promoted lawyers running in the election: CBA advocates for improvements to law, and knows the value that lawyers bring to Alberta’s legislative process. Their respect for detail, understanding of the rule of law, and specialized training in identifying issues and finding solutions, are all important skills that can be used in passing good legislation to benefit all.

At our February AGM, our members approved bylaw changes which give effect to CBA Alberta’s new governance model, replacing Council with a Board of Directors and enhanced engagement of the membership. The final Council meeting on May 16 in Calgary will be an opportunity to celebrate and thank those who have been dedicated Council members, as we look forward to what comes next.

Once we receive confirmation of our bylaw registration, we look to holding elections for the eight director board positions so they can begin their work this fall. We invite all to consider whether board service is a way for you to give back. We especially encourage Young Lawyers and members outside of Calgary and Edmonton to consider running, to ensure diverse viewpoints are represented at the board table.

Another quote, this time from Margaret Atwood: “In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt”! There are many opportunities for you as a CBA member to give back and get involved. Volunteer opportunities for the coming year open now: committees need people willing to contribute, and Sections are always looking for those able to take on leadership to organize meeting speakers and topics. Finally, the new governance model proposes a Leadership Forum open to all members, an opportunity to learn, network and engage with legal stakeholder groups. Once dates are announced, we will ask you to join us. Let’s get our hands dirty together and see what grows!