The Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family, an independent organization affiliated with the University of Calgary, closed on 31 August 2018. The closure of the Institute is somewhat of a national tragedy, given that it was one of the very few organizations conducting empirical research on family law, justice processes and access to justice in Canada, and was the inevitable result of today’s singularly infelicitous funding climate.
The Institute has conducted some remarkable, innovative and often ground-breaking work over the 31 years of its existence. Highlights include some of the first work on the financial consequences of family breakdown, research contributing to the foundations of the Child Support Guidelines, Canada’s first study of individuals identifying as polyamorous and organizing, with the Alberta Office of the Child and Youth Advocate, an astonishingly successful national symposium on children’s participation in justice processes. Although a full survey of the studies, reports, monographs, book chapters, journal articles and presentations undertaken by the Institute is impractical by blog (interested readers can survey the Institute’s entire body of work at www.crilf.ca/publications.htm), in this brief post I will highlight a number of the Institute’s 2018 publications.
1. Client and Lawyer Satisfaction with Unbundled Legal Services: Conclusions from the Alberta Limited Legal Services Project (John-Paul Boyd), released in August, is Canada’s first evaluation of clients’ and lawyers’ satisfaction with unbundled legal services, also known as limited scope legal services and by a few other terms as well. It discusses the creation and outcomes of the Alberta Limited Legal Services Project, a massive undertaking conducted with Rob Harvie QC which included a roster of 60 lawyers providing services in almost area of the law, and the extent to which unbundled legal services improve clients’ ability to access justice, and makes a number of recommendations intended to improve the delivery of unbundled services. This research was funded in part by the Law Foundation of Ontario’s Access to Justice Fund.
2. Children’s Participation in Justice Processes: Survey of Justices on Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench (Jo Paetsch, Lorne Bertrand, John-Paul Boyd), also published in August, is the follow-up to a survey conducted by the Institute of participants in its 2017 national symposium on children’s participation in justice processes and examines the results of a survey of justices on Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench. The project was intended to obtained judges’ opinions on the importance of obtaining children’s views in court proceedings which affect them, the best ways of obtaining those views, and the extent to which judges have had experience soliciting the views of children. The study concludes with a number of recommendations for hearing children’s views and further research on the subject.
3. An Evaluation of Alberta’s Mandatory Early Intervention Case Conferencing Pilot Project (Lorne Bertrand, Jo Paetsch, John-Paul Boyd), another August publication, examined a pilot project implemented by Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench. The pilot required early intervention case conferences in certain family law cases, following the Institute’s previous study on the use of early intervention case conferences in family law cases, and is one of the Court’s responses to the increasing numbers of litigants without counsel, the short complement of the bench relative to the province’s population and the increasing delays until family law cases can be tried. The pilot project is intended to promote access to justice for families in Alberta by providing a means for families to have their family law cases heard expeditiously and settled efficiently. This report evaluates the project to determine whether it is meeting its goals, provide insights into what is working and what could be improved, and provide evidence to help the Court determine whether the project should be implemented as a permanent component of the family law litigation process. This study was funded in part by the Law Foundation of Ontario, Alberta Justice and the Court of Queen’s Bench.
4. Summary Legal Advice Services in Alberta: Survey Results from the First Two Years of Data Collection (Lorne Bertrand, Jo Paetsch), released in May, analyzes data collected from 7,963 surveys of clients of Calgary Legal Guidance, Edmonton Community Legal Centre, Lethbridge Legal Guidance and Central Alberta Community Legal Clinic between February 2016 and January 2018. The vast majority of clients indicated that they were very satisfied or satisfied with the information and advice they received. Almost two-thirds of clients received a written summary of the lawyer’s advice, and those receiving a summary were more likely to agree that they understood their legal rights and responsibilities, their legal options and the pros and cons of those options, and what to do next to address their legal problem.
5. A Brief Overview of Bill C-78, An Act to Amend the Divorce Act and Related Legislation (John-Paul Boyd), published in May and June, provides an overview of the amendments to the Divorce Act proposed in Bill C-78 touching on the Convention on the International recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance, the Convention on Jurisdiction, Applicable Law, Recognition, Enforcement and Cooperation in Respect of Parental Responsibility and Measures for the Protection of Children, and the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act.
6. Findings from the Evaluations of Years 1, 2 and 3 of the Priority Prolific Offender Program (Jo Paetsch, Lorne Bertrand, Leslie MacRae-Krisa, John-Paul Boyd), another May publication, is a collection of three reports completed between 2013 and 2017 that describe the findings of the Institute’s evaluations of the Priority Prolific Offender Program. The program is a project of the Alberta Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General, undertaken in partnership with the Calgary Police Service, Edmonton Police Service and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. It aims to improve collaboration among police, Crown prosecutors, corrections and social services to increase supervision, timely and meaningful responses to reoffending, as well as services that support the rehabilitation among the small proportion of the offending population who commit the most crimes. The results obtained when examining offenders’ behaviour before, during and after the program were extremely positive and strongly suggestive of the efficacy of the program in having a positive effect on offenders not only during their time in the program, but after deselection as well.
7. An Evaluation of the Cost of Family Law Disputes: Measuring the Cost Implication of Various Dispute Resolution Methods (Jo Paetsch, Lorne Bertrand, John-Paul Boyd), was prepared for the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice and released in March. This landmark, first-of-its-kind study describes the results of a survey of family law lawyers and their views of the use of collaborative processes, mediation, arbitration and litigation in family law disputes. The study provides valuable insights into the costs of these processes, how long cases take to resolve, and lawyers’ perceptions of their efficacy. It suggests that most lawyers are using, and prefer to use, dispute resolution processes other than litigation to resolve family law disputes. Four-fifths of respondents use mediation, almost two-thirds use collaboration, and almost one-third use arbitration. Moreover, almost all lawyers surveyed agree that people should attempt to resolve their dispute through another process before litigating, and almost three-quarters agree that, except in urgent circumstances, people should be required to attempt to resolve their dispute through another process before litigating. Three-quarters of lawyers also agreed that litigation should only be used as a last resort, when other dispute resolution processes have failed. In light of today’s straitened budgetary resources, the findings from this study provide information that is useful for policymakers and program developers in identifying best practices in cost-effective dispute resolution methods.
8. Perceptions of Polyamory in Canada (John-Paul Boyd), published in January, presents a detailed analysis and discussion of the data collected from a national survey undertaken in the summer of 2016. It examines the sociodemographic attributes and attitudes of people identifying as polyamorous, the composition of polyamorous relationships and perceptions of polyamorous relationships in Canada, with the goal of obtaining a better understanding of the prevalence and nature of polyamory to inform the development of family justice policy and legislation. It is the second Institute report on polyamory, the first of which focused on the application of the law on domestic relations to those involved polyamorous relationships.
9. Record of Proceedings: Symposium on Children’s Participation in Justice Processes, Calgary, 14, 15 & 16 September 2017 (John-Paul Boyd), also published in January, is the record of proceedings of the Institute’s 2017 national symposium on children’s participation in justice processes that brought together a multidisciplinary spectrum of leading stakeholders to share information and dialogue about how the voices of children and youth are heard, how their interests are protected and how their evidence is received in justice processes. The record contains the Program Guide, the PowerPoint slides presented at the conference, workshop scribes’ notes and presenters’ summaries of outcome, and a digest of the key themes and recommendations emerging from the workshops.
10. The Development of Parenting Coordination and an Examination of Policies and Practices in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta (Lorne Bertrand, John-Paul Boyd), another January publication, reviews the development of parenting coordination in the United States and its adoption in Canada, as well as the findings of the research available to date on parenting coordination, its efficacy in resolving parenting disputes, its efficacy in steering such disputes out of court and its impact on parental conflict. It discusses the practice of parenting coordination in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario, compares processes and training standards in those provinces, and makes recommendations for the practice of parenting coordination in Alberta, and in Canada generally.
All of these publications are available for download at www.crilf.ca/publications.htm, may be copied, distributed and reused as the reader wishes, without the need to contact the Institute for permission.
A significant debt of gratitude is owed to the Institute’s staff over the past three decades, especially to Jo Paetsch, Dr. Lorne Bertrand and Leslie MacRae-Krisa, all of whom are extraordinarily talented researchers and writers. A debt is also owed to the Institute’s stalwart board of directors, a group populated by the true illuminati of academia, bench and bar in Canada, in particular to Marie Gordon QC AOE, Prof. Nick Bala FRSC, Dr. Rachel Birnbaum, David Day QC, Dean Jackie Sieppert, Prof. Jonnette Watson Hamilton, Wendy Best QC, Eugene Raponi QC, Justice Debra Yungwirth, David Dundee, Justice James Williams, Justice Herman Litsky and Justice Heino Lilles.
Finally, thanks must also be paid to the Alberta Law Foundation, whose generous support of the Institute, by operating grants covering the majority of the Institute’s operating expenses, allowed the Institute to make its important contributions to family justice in Alberta and in Canada.
POSTSCRIPT: The Institute’s website went offline on 19 September 2018. The library of the University of Calgary maintains a complete collection of the Institute’s public materials, searchable by title, keyword, author or date, here https://prism.ucalgary.ca/handle/1880/107197. Some of these materials are also available through CanLII.