After three weeks rest and relaxation, I flew to Thunder Bay for two days of “outreach”, two days of what turned out to be a valuable glimpse into how residents of the northeast experience law. We’ll be following up with more specific consultations in our projects, but I ended up with pages of comments and questions that will become part of our analysis in our family law and vulnerable workers projects in particular. Comments that cut across the groups I met suggest a couple of possible new LCO projects.
I started on the Thursday morning with a meeting of representatives from some six or so different groups, a boardroom lent to us by the Legal Aid office there, and ended on Friday afternoon meeting representatives of three other groups in the same location. Also on Thursday, I had the chance to spend time with The Honourable Madam Justice Helen M. Pierce
Regional Senior Judge for the Northwest Region, workers at the Ontario Native Women’s Centre and legal aid administrators and staff lawyers (not only from Thunder Bay, but Sioux Lookout and Kenora). Friday morning provided an illuminating conversation with workers at the Kinna-Aweya Legal Clinic. I had the chance to spread the word about the LCO to lawyers attending the Thunder Bay Lawyers Association CLE as the lunchtime speaker.
A common thread through all these conversations is that the kind of legal supports we take for granted in the south (even if we think they are insufficient) may not even be available in the northwest region of the province. Needless to say, distances are a huge challenge. The demographics bring a new intensity to issues that are not unknown in the south, but are of widespread significance there.
I know that the people with whom I (and other LCO staff) meet do not meet us lightly. They have been fighting these battles in most cases for a long time; they have received promises of changes that don’t occur; they often do not have an opportunity to put their distinctive perspective forward to policy-makers. Spending time with us takes effort and money, but they are willing to put their faith in yet another effort at law reform. At the LCO we are grateful they do. Even so, the question, “how will this benefit us?”, is a hard one to answer. We can give no guarantees – our work is just the beginning of any reform that might happen. But we can say that our work cannot be as useful without hearing from them and that this kind of conversation is really a fundamental element of law reform work today.