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Access to Justice Projects at The Law Commission of Ontario

Patricia Hughes

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

From our inception in 2007, the Law Commission of Ontario has committed to bringing both multidisciplinary experiences and perspectives and those of different communities to bear on our work. Although our mandate is about law, we believe it is important to understand how law affects and is affected by a range of expertise, academic and experiential, depending on the particular project. In many projects, which we call “law in context” or “social justice” projects, law remains at the core of the work, but is informed by what we hear from those bringing their own skills, knowledge and experiences to our analysis and recommendations in whatever area we’re studying.

In our completed projects, we heard the voices of organizations and individuals representing older adults, persons with disabilities African-Canadians and the LGBTQ communities (in our older adults (http://lco-cdo.org/en/content/older-adults) or persons with disabilities (http://lco-cdo.org/en/content/persons-disabilities) projects or both.

The input of Spanish speakers, Chinese Canadians, people of Southeast and South Asian descent, and organizations such as OCASI representing a range of different ethnicities and cultures, contributed to our appreciation of the impact of precarious work on racialized workers, women and the intersection of the two in our vulnerable workers project (http://www.lco-cdo.org/en/vulnerable-workers-final-report), and comments from Aboriginal s, francophone, African-Canadians and Muslim women’s organizatins were among those who helped us develop our final report in family law, Increasing Access to Family Justice through Comprehensive Entry Points and Inclusivity (http://www.lco-cdo.org/family-law-reform-final-report.pdf). These are just a sample of the views we integrated into our analysis and recommendations in our completed reports, along with those of government, academics, employers, labour, service organizations, the judiciary, financial institutions, and other cultural communities, depending on the project.

In our current capacity and decision-making project (http://www.lco-cdo.org/en/capacity-guardianship), our advisory group includes experts from the College of Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists and the Joint Centre for Bioethics, among others representing seniors and disabilities organizations, government, the private bar and academics. And we’ll hear more diverse views, we hope, once the interim report in this project is released later this year.

Let me look to the future a bit here, too. The Board of Governors approved five new projects to begin as our current projects near completion. These projects, too, will look to various disciplines and to those who are most directly affected by the particular area of law for insights into what law requires for effective implementation or the diverse impacts it can have on different communities.

We’ve just started our project on improving the last stages of life (this isn’t about assisted death, although it may overlap as developments on that front occur), but about issues such as not treating terminally ill patients, if that is what they wish, even if death is not likely to be imminent and how palliative care is integrated into our health care system, among other issues  (http://www.lco-cdo.org/en/node/2878). This project will require the input of ethicists, health care professionals – doctors, nurses and others –, sociologists, psychologists and no doubt other specialists, as well as those who may bring their own cultural expectations about how to live this last stage of life in a way that is dignified and most meets their needs.

Also on the agenda is a project on defamation and the internet (see my blog at http://www.lco-cdo.org/en/node/2808), which while likely to be our most law-focused project, will require us to hear, for example, from the media, technology experts, those with different views about privacy and people who have been the target of defamatory comments. For a large project on the regulation of public space, we’ll want to hear from urban planners, designers, architects, among others, and those whose experience of public space raises questions of exclusion, intentionally or otherwise. Our community safety project is all about multidisciplinary or comprehensive approaches to promoting safe communities; we’ll be looking for input from youth, members of different communities, law enforcement, educators, sociologists and community organizations, for example. For redefining parentage (http://www.lco-cdo.org/en/node/2914), in addition to experts, we’ll want to hear from those who have had the greatest difficulty in forming families recognized by law, such as same sex individuals and couples.

The Law Commission of Ontario is a generalist law reform body, intended to review any area of law. Our researchers rarely begin a project with expertise in the area, whether dealing with class actions or last stages of life, and clearly have not had the experiences that many members of society will have had with the wording, implementation or application of any particular area of the law or, more broadly, with the way the law is structured. Our expertise evolves as we hear from the members of our advisory groups, learn from our commissioned research papers, consider what we hear in focus groups or read the feedback to our documents. This is an iterative process. Our interaction with a wide range of communities and expertise enriches our work and we’ll continue to improve this process in all our projects.