Equity & Access Office activities fall under priority areas identified through the Society’s strategic framework, equity committees and input from community voices. Activities for 2015-2016 fall under the following priority areas:
These activities involve consulting with individuals and community groups regarding their experiences with the justice system and how they would like to see it work differently.
#TalkJustice is a new initiative that has become the centrepiece of the Society’s community engagement work. Run in collaboration with the Communications Office, it provides a platform for members of the public, particularly from equity-seeking and economically disadvantaged communities, to share the barriers and challenges they face when trying to access the justice system. This project is designed to connect their voices to decision makers who can address these complex challenges. Input from #TalkJustice determines the future direction of the Society’s access to justice projects.
- Preston Area land issues
Many community members in Cherrybrook, North Preston and East Preston have identified a number of complex challenges that impact their ability to fully enjoy ownership of their land. These include lack of clarity of title for land, lack of wills and inability to pay taxes. Community members have identified an interest in preserving these historic African Nova Scotian communities and have expressed worry that without clear land ownership, they may be lost. With clarity of title, community members will be able to sell their land, potentially qualify for municipal programming, identify ownership for tax purposes, and hopefully reduce conflicts that result of lack of clear land ownership.
To attempt to resolve some of these issues, the Society has convened a group of key stakeholders including the Department of Natural Resources, the Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs and Nova Scotia Legal Aid.
Preliminary steps involve:
1. determining which land belongs to the Crown and which has been migrated; developing educational materials for community members on wills and estates, land title and taxation; and
2. introducing special Nova Scotia Legal Aid summary advice clinics dealing specifically with land-related questions and concerns in Cherrybrook, North Preston and East Preston.
Read the full Preston Area Land Issues report.
- Pride Reception
The Society and the Nova Scotia branch of the Canadian Bar Association have jointly hosted an annual reception every year since 2003. The event is viewed as an opportunity to celebrate diversity within the legal profession, to show support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender lawyers in Nova Scotia, and to allow lawyers to learn about the unique legal issues faced by the LGBTTI community.
- Aboriginal Child Welfare Collective Group
The overrepresentation of Aboriginal families and children involved in the child welfare system has been identified as an access to justice challenge by our own Racial Equity Committee (REC) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. In response to this concern, the REC convened a series of meetings with child welfare stakeholders to discuss the issues and to find collaborative ways to resolve them. The stakeholders included Nova Scotia Legal Aid, the Department of Child and Family Services, Mi’kmaq Child and Family Services, the Department of Justice, family law lawyers, Chiefs and Nova Scotia Native Women. The group is chaired by Chief Paul Prosper of Paq’tnkek First Nation.
The Equity & Access Office provides ongoing administrative support and expertise to this project. Read the first report of the Aboriginal Child Welfare Collective Group.
These activities involve improving the knowledge, skills and attitudes required for lawyers working with Nova Scotia’s diverse communities.
- Cultural competence instruction
The Equity & Access Officer provides in-person training in cultural competence to a wide variety of audiences, including articled clerks in the Skills Course, law students at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University, law firms, conferences and Society staff. Training can range from a basic conceptual introduction to sessions working with particular communities (Aboriginal, LGBTTI or Arab communities, for example), or specific legal issues relating to particular communities (matrimonial property on reserve, for example).
- Cultural competence video series
The Equity & Access Office frequently receives requests to provide cultural competence instruction to lawyers who cannot attend in-person training sessions. In response to this demand, the Office is developing a series of short educational videos, accessible through the resource portal and the Society’s YouTube channel. The series introduces cultural competence concepts and also advice for working with specific populations. It’s a growing collection and should not be considered exhaustive. If you are interested in contributing to this series, please contact the Equity & Access Officer.
- Trauma-informed lawyering education
The Equity & Access Office has partnered with Avalon Sexual Assault Centre to provide education sessions for lawyers that help participants recognize the signs of trauma in their clients; provide suggestions for mitigating re-traumatization from the justice system; and identify the supports and services available for sexual assault survivors in Nova Scotia.
- Race and the Law Paper Prize
This award recognizes and encourages outstanding scholarship by law students in Nova Scotia, on topics pertaining specifically to issues of race and law. It is presented by the Society’s Racial Equity Committee and sponsored by Stewart McKelvey. Read about prize recipients and their paper topics.
Equity in the Profession
These activities involve supporting lawyers in their efforts to meet obligations related to Regulatory Objective #5: to “promote diversity, inclusion, substantive equality and freedom from discrimination in the delivery of legal services and the justice system”.
In collaboration with Library & Information Services, the Equity & Access Office has launched a resource portal for lawyers and law firms seeking guidance on issues of employment equity and cultural competence. The portal gathers valuable online model policies, toolkits and other web resources, training and information materials created by the Equity & Access Office, and relevant items from the Barristers’ Library.
- Inclusion of Aboriginal law content in the Bar Exam materials
The Equity & Access Office, in partnership with the Credentials Committee and through the Racial Equity Committee, drafts additions to the existing Bar Course Materials that explain how the law can apply differently with respect to Aboriginal people. The additions are for chapters on Property Law, Criminal Law, Family Law, Wills and Estates, Constitutional Law, Business Associations and Commercial Transactions.
- Integration of Internationally Trained Lawyers (ITLs) in Nova Scotia: The Observership Program
The ITL Observership program gives internationally trained lawyers an opportunity to connect with the local legal profession in order to learn about the practical and procedural aspects of practising law in Canada. The program pairs an ITL with a supervising lawyer and is designed to expose ITLs to all facets of legal practice in Nova Scotia, facilitating their entrance into the legal profession. Through the program, ITLs are invited to participate in a variety of activities including attending client meetings, visiting the courts, and observing day-to-day procedures in a variety of legal workplaces.
The ITL Observership Program is run in collaboration with the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS). To learn how to take part in an observership as either an ITL or a supervisor, visit Resources for Lawyers and Law Students.
- Strength in Leadership: Remembering Dara Gordon QC
Through the strength of her leadership and as a highly regarded lawyer, Dara Gordon QC made many contributions to her country, her province and her profession. This annual leadership event, held in her memory, provides the opportunity for lawyers to come together to discuss women’s leadership in the legal profession.
Improving access to justice in Nova Scotia requires cooperation throughout the justice system. The Equity & Access Office provides expertise and administrative support to cross-sector collaborations with justice system actors and government bodies. These include:
- The Access to Justice Coordinating Committee: Led by the Minister of Justice, a body identifying ways to make Nova Scotia's family, civil and criminal court systems more efficient and effective, less costly and easier to navigate.
- The Criminal Justice Transformation Group: A group of justice system actors that works collaboratively to ensure the criminal justice system in Nova Scotia is strategic in bringing forth positive change.
- NSFamilyLaw.ca: A website offering information about the law, processes and services that make up family law in Nova Scotia.
Improving access to justice requires lawyers and law firms to find new ways of doing business that make legal services more affordable and accessible to Nova Scotians. The Equity & Access Office provides research support to the Society’s efforts to encourage innovation in the legal profession. Visit the Society’s innovation page for more details.