A short report on recent activities
by Shelley Bentley
There are 72 BC Branch provincial Sections. These Sections play a vital role in keeping members up-to-date on changes in the law and aware of legal and political issues affecting a given area of practice. They are the main resource utilized by the BC Branch in legislative review, law reform initiatives and in responding to matters affecting the profession. What follows is a sample of the recent activities of many Sections.
Legal researchers Yves Moisan and Christine Mellema shared their insights on how to locate hard to find people, companies, things and places. Such non-legal research is often part of managing a legal file. Mr. Moisan spoke about his research in the estate administration area involving everything from tracking down missing heirs to figuring out how to value a gold coin collection.
Ms. Mellema shared her knowledge of government records and religious, municipal and corporate archives and talked about how she has helped to construct institutional histories in some of the residential school cases that have been before the courts.
Both speakers emphasized the importance of maintaining good relationships with as many contacts as possible because the information comes from a wide variety of sources. They stressed the importance of the Internet to their work and recommended a number of Web sites (see opposite page).
Women’s Practice and Equality Issues
West Coast LEAF President, Alisa Nada, and Law and Government Liaison Committee members, Theresa Stowe and Jennifer Kohr, outlined the recent activities of the Legal Education Action Fund. LEAF’s two-fold mandate is to argue important equality cases before the Canadian courts, human rights commissions and government agencies on behalf of women, and to provide public education on the issue of sex equality.
They outlined some of the cases that LEAF has recently been involved in.
The “Little Sisters” case involved a gay and lesbian bookstore in Vancouver that for years had most of its shipments stopped by Canada Customs on the grounds that the material was “obscene.” The bookstore launched a constitutional challenge of the Customs legislation on the basis of freedom of expression and the right to equality. While the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the legislation, the Court did strike down the provision requiring importers to prove that seized materials were not “obscene.” The Court held that Customs officials were discriminating against the bookstore.
LEAF intervened in the case of BC forest firefighter, Tawney Meiorin, who was laid off after failing the aerobic component of a job fitness test. The test was imposed after Ms. Meiorin had completed two successful years as a forest firefighter and had received good reviews. The Court agreed that Meiorin was a victim of sex discrimination and identified two problems with the test: its lack of connection to the job and its reliance on male biological norms. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a workplace rule that systematically excludes women or other groups must be scrutinized to ensure that it is required to ensure acceptable job performance.
LEAF was also involved in the case surrounding the 1995 sexual harassment complaints brought before the BC Human Rights Commission by two former employees of Robin Blencoe, the then Minister of Sports and Recreation for BC. Blencoe applied to stay the proceedings on Charter grounds because of the delay. The Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ordered the hearing to proceed stating that the protection afforded by section 7 of the Charter does apply to human rights commissions but that neither the right to life nor the right to security of the person were affected by the delay. LEAF Director Carissima Mathen commented that by overturning the stay the Court has removed a serious barrier that may have further discouraged women from coming forward with sexual harassment complaints.
Wendi Mackay, Project Director of the Administrative Justice Project, provided a summary of the project and the Core Services Review undertaken by the current government. The project was conceived by the Honourable Geoff Plant, Attorney General of BC, to address concerns with the administrative justice system in BC. It involves a review of administrative law processes. The objectives of the project include ensuring that the system functions effectively and efficiently, is open and accountable, is modern and relevant to British Columbians and meets the needs of those it is designed to serve. Further, it aims to provide the tools to agencies to allow them to fulfill their mandates. By December, 2001 the Project will have produced four background papers identifying options in the areas of administrative justice, workplace tribunals, human rights and agency appointments.
The Core Service Review will involve a review of all agencies, boards, tribunals and crown corporations with a view to rethinking government involvement in any area. The government views this as an opportunity to reassess why government is in any particular type of business and to eliminate non-essential services. The reviewers will be posing the following questions:
- Is there a compelling purpose to this body?
- In the current fiscal climate, can governments afford to provide this type of service?
- Would the service be better provided by some other body?
This article was published in the December 2001 issue of BarTalk. © 2001 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.