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Toronto Lawyers Association welcomes more input with new AG

By AdvocateDaily.com Staff

A meeting with Ontario’s new Attorney General Caroline Mulroney, early in her term has leaders of the Toronto Lawyers Association confident the new government will listen to concerns of the legal profession more than the previous administration did, says TLA vice-president Margaret Waddell.

When the new provincial government announced an unusual summer sitting of the Ontario Legislature, the TLA invited Mulroney to meet with its executives, not really expecting it to happen until the fall, says Waddell.

But “much to our surprise she accepted and made herself available right away, which was delightful, and she brought three of her senior executives,” says Waddell, a partner with Waddell Phillips Professional Corporation.

The July meeting was a get-to-know-you session since Mulroney was new to the post and hadn’t practised law in Toronto, Waddell tells AdvocateDaily.com.

With 3,000 members, the TLA represents a broad cross-section of the practising bar in Canada’s largest centre, she says, and it’s hoping to be consulted in the early stages of any new initiatives.

The attorney general and her staff were “very open and receptive to what we had to say,” Waddell says. “We’ve opened the door to future dialogue and an ongoing very positive relationship.”

Relations between Toronto lawyers and the previous Ontario government of Kathleen Wynne were “a little more strained,” Waddell says.

“They were not as receptive to taking input from us. We were often caught by surprise by positions that were taken without having been consulted,” she says.

The four TLA executives who met with Mulroney and her team, including association president Dirk Derstine, raised a number of pressing issues on which they’d like to see action.

The first is the limitations of the new Toronto courthouse being built behind city hall, says Waddell.

The TLA has two main concerns:

  • The plan is for youth court proceedings to take place there, something that raises alarm bells. “This is the same place where adult criminals are coming in and out the door,” Waddell says. “Guns and gangs are going to be in there, and kids don’t belong in the same courthouse as adult criminal cases.” The TLA believes youth court should remain at its current location on Jarvis Street, near rehabilitation and counselling services. “Our point is, you’ve got the facilities there, keep the kids separate.”

  • “It’s not large enough to accommodate all the things that should be taking place in a centralized courthouse, including bail hearings, and certainly doesn’t accommodate any room for expansion or growth as the city continues to get bigger.” As a result of the limited space, most bail proceedings are going to be pushed to a courthouse at Finch Avenue, Waddell says. “This is a significant concern because that’s at the far end of the city and not easily accessible.”

The TLA also raised concerns about the former government’s proposal to expand the scope of paralegal practice in family law.

“This is another area where we’re dealing with highly vulnerable people and an extraordinarily complicated area of law,” Waddell says. “Without knowing the full panoply of rights that people have, and how doing one thing can impact on other rights, people could be put at risk or not receive the rights they have under Canadian or Ontario law.”

Paralegals have not been trained to understand all of the consequences that flow from family law decisions, she says.

“At the same time, we’re obviously acutely aware that there are an awful lot of self-represented people without access to justice — but our view is that licensing paralegals to a broader scope of practice isn’t the fix.”

Waddell says it’s important, if the government plans major changes, that the legal profession be consulted “so that we have the opportunity to give insight into how changes may actually play out in practice.”

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