Candidate bio description
I maintain a small practice in Northwestern Ontario, while serving as an economic advisor with Grand Council Treaty 3 and on the municipal council of the Town of Fort Frances. My legal career started with McCarthy Tétrault in Toronto, and since then, I have worked as a contract Crown Attorney and in Indigenous restorative justice. I began my professional career on Parliament Hill, as an aide to two MPs, and have also served in the federal public service. I have a busy volunteer presence in the profession and in my community. I serve on the board of the Northwest Community Legal Clinic, as President of the Rainy River District Law Association, and as Co-Chair of a Pride festival. I am on the executive of the CBA’s SOGI Community, and recently concluded a term on the LSO’s Equity Advisory Group. I am a Past President of the Law Students’ Society of Ontario and a former Start Proud board member. I hold a JD/MBA from Osgoode and Schulich, and degrees in political science and commerce from the University of Ottawa. I live in Fort Frances with my partner, Peter Howie, who practices criminal and family law and serves on the local hospital board.
What inspired you to run for bencher this year?
Younger lawyers need to lead the modernization of legal service delivery and drive improvements in access to justice. The challenges facing newer calls are unique from previous generations and can only be addressed through their participation in the leadership of our profession. I am running for bencher to give voice to the future of law and to ensure the public we serve is heard at Convocation. The LSO must uphold its statutory commitment to access to justice, and adapt that commitment to respond to contemporary challenges and public expectations. I want to help break down silos across the justice sector to address these issues and ensure our profession leads this work. I have collaborated on a number of significant policy initiatives in the profession through my term on the LSO's Equity Advisory Group, as the first President of the Law Students' Society of Ontario (LSSO), on the board of Start Proud (formerly Out On Bay Street), as the current President of the Rainy River District Law Association, and in my involvement with the CBA and OBA (with their Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Community (SOGIC), in particular). I am a passionate advocate for improving the diversity and financial accessibility of the bar, and have written extensively and contributed to submissions on matters such as the Pathways to the Profession review of licensing and the Challenges Facing by Racialized Licensees. I supported the LSO in its legal challenge surrounding Trinity Western University by coordinating the intervention of LGBTQ2 groups, and I was the primary author of the LSSO’s 2015 Just or Bust report on the impacts of skyrocketing legal education costs. In my current work, I advocate for the justice and health needs of First Nations in Treaties 3 and 5. The LSO’s public-facing mandates must remain central to its work. In my practice, through my work with Indigenous communities, as a director of a community legal clinic, and through my time volunteering with Law Help Ontario, I have seen firsthand some of the challenges facing Ontarians navigating everyday legal problems unserved by lawyers. I see a role for the LSO in enhancing public education, outreach, and legal resources, and doing more to integrate technology and pilot innovative practice models to address these unmet and underserved needs.
What do you believe is the biggest issue facing the legal profession?
Imagine: it's the year 2045 and not a single judge in Ontario comes from a low- to middle-income family. The costs of legal education are one of the greatest threats to the long-term viability of this profession and its ability to serve the public. The fact is that an accessible and representative bar helps the profession do its job for Ontarians. A profession that does not look like the public and cannot relate to the full range of its lived experiences is a poor instrument for supporting access to justice. As I have argued elsewhere (https://bit.ly/2EhbnPv), the LSO needs to assert its accreditation power over ALL law programs to require financially accessible pathways to the profession.
What would be your first priority upon election?
First, as a practitioner in the Northwest, I believe it is crucial that the unique issues facing justice sector participants in my region be voiced by someone with first-hand experience. Regional representation matters at Convocation - and my first step a bencher from the region would be to engage with our local bar associations and open ongoing lines of communication with those stakeholders. Second, I am disappointed that the governance review found no need to revisit the rules for bencher elections to impose spending limits, or to require reporting of in-kind campaign contributions. Even university student councils have more democratic accountability built in to their electoral systems. If we want representation from smaller firms and a more diverse range of benchers at Convocation, we need to equalize the campaign rules.
What do you hope to achieve over the next four years as a member of Convocation?
The next Convocation has to move our profession forward in a way that is responsive and adaptive to the growing role of technology and AI in the justice sector and the expectations of practitioners who are seeking regulatory certainty and guidance when it comes to implementing new service delivery innovations and formats. These developments are critically linked with the profession's mandate to facilitate access to justice. We cannot regulate purely by reaction. Convocation needs to get out in front of this changing landscape and ensure that the basic safeguards and hallmarks of our profession are respected – competency, confidentiality, etc. – while supporting the expectations and needs of practitioners and consumers of legal services.
What's the most pressing concern for the profession in your region of the province?
As smaller northern and rural communities struggle to attract new practitioners, we should look to provide incentives through the licensing fee structure to encourage new calls to practice in under-served markets, regions with an aging local bar, or in under-served areas of law. Some further comments on licensing are contained in my responses about licensing pathways. My 2016 response to the Pathways to the Profession consultation is available here (https://bit.ly/2TWH5XA) and contains additional reflections.
Do you support the requirement to create and abide by a statement of principles?
I have been critical of some of the means by which the statement of principles policy was initially implemented. However, I believe that requiring licensees to affirm their respect of difference, to welcome diversity, and to foster equity in their practices is entirely consistent – if not central – to our commitment to the cause of justice itself. This is particularly so in light of the legal profession’s history of excluding some groups in our society and the continuing challenges our justice institutions face as they strive to account for historic wrongs. I am proud to have friends across the bar who have championed this policy. It is here to stay - let's focus our regulatory efforts on the challenges ahead.