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Stay current with the latest news and views from Courthouse Libraries BC.
  • Courthouse Libraries and Law Week 2012...the Charter at 30

    by CLBC Administrator | Apr 30, 2012

    "Your Majesty, Your Royal Highness, Excellencies, Fellow Canadians, today, at long last, Canada is acquiring full and complete national sovereignty. The Constitution of Canada has come home."

    Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau spoke these immortal words thirty years ago when the proclamation ceremony took place. Patriation happened on April 17, 1982. In 1960 Prime Minister John Diefenbaker enacted the Canadian Bill of Rights, the Charter's predecessor, but the Bill did not go far enough in protecting Canadian citizens' rights from their provincial governments. As a Federal statute, the Bill of Rights could only be applied to Federal laws and was ineffective on the matter of civil liberties that fell within provincial jurisdiction. The Bill of Rights could also be amended by Parliament whereas the Charter could not be so easily changed. The Charter ended parliamentary supremacy, and, being entrenched, meant Parliament was subject to the Charter, transforming Canada into a constitutional democracy, a boon for Canadian citizens across the Nation.

    The Canadian Bar Association BC Law Week 2012 commemorated the thirtieth anniversary of the signing of the Charter with its theme "Access to Justice: The Celebration of the Charter of Rights." Courthouse Libraries BC took up the mantle in educating the public not only about the Constitution but also on how best to find and use legal information. Our Nanaimo, Victoria, Kelowna and Vancouver branches had their own unique way of celebrating Law Week 2012.

    Janet Howey made the news in Nanaimo where she was interviewed by the local press. Janet had 50 people come through the law library, engaging them in a game of legal jeopardy as well as giving instruction on how legal databases work. Janet told the reporter, "Law Day helps increase awareness about the library and its availability for people to access." She drove the point home, "the law library can help them."

    Victoria Courthouse Library kept the festivities simple but vital nonetheless. Sheila Folka and Liz Blackburn gave Clicklaw presentations, a free resource crafted for, and popular among, the public. To accompany their presentation Sheila and Liz put on display the Charter, Magna Carta, some historical information and Prime Minister Trudeau's speech to inspire visitors to learn more about our history.

    Girl Guides "arrested"
    Photo courtesy of the The Daily Courier

    Perhaps the most intriguing event to happen during Law Week is the arrest of the Girl Guides. Yes, you read that correctly. Kelowna's Evelyn Lindsay reported a scaled down version of Law Day included the RCMP arresting a group of Girl Guides: they were read their rights, fingerprinted, given a tour of cells and a trial. The Boy Scouts also attended, but were not arrested. Fear not, the Guides and Scouts were simply earning their law awareness badges. The Kelowna Law Day was not open to the public this year, but the local bar association hosted a BBQ on the courthouse steps.

    Last but not least Vancouver paired up with Access Pro Bono and the CBABC to host Law Day on the Vancouver Art Gallery lawn. Although attendance by the roaming public was sparse, 250 students attended as part of a field trip. Brenda Rose, Meghan Maddigan and Kerry Taillefer played an exhilarating game of legal jeopardy. The kids also got to play "Are You Smarter than a Lawyer" and a Charter-inspired version of Wheel of Fortune. Law Week culminated with the Law Week Fun Run. Vancouver courthouse library staff, led by Executive Director Johanne Blenkin, took part in the run with proceeds going to Access Pro Bono.

    This year is a special one for Law Week and the Nation. Taking a continued and active interest in CBABC Law Week is an important step towards keeping the spirit of the Charter alive; it's essential for Canadians to understand how our justice system and government works. Law Week is leading the way in capturing the essence of our Charter by advocating for--and promoting--an open system and by educating. Courthouse Libraries BC stands beside the CBABC in this practice and looks forward to many Law Weeks to come.

  • BC lawyers team up for new Clicklaw wikibook

    by CLBC Administrator | Mar 21, 2012
    One Profession, one Public and oneself

    Among the Canons of Legal Ethics—that earnest list of 'shalls' and 'shall nots' comprising the first chapter of the Professional Conduct Handbook—you'll find time-honoured practical criteria mixed with aspirational principles to which each BC lawyer is beholden, stated to the benefit of five key groups: the state; the courts and tribunals; the client; other individual lawyers; and oneself.

    Oddly absent, at least from explicit mention, are the public and the legal profession. Strange, since these are the groups that many, many BC lawyers dedicate countless hours in service to, whether in pro bono clinics, serving CBA committees and sections, teaching CLE conferences, or any number of pursuits that underscore the inherent collegiality and service-mindedness of the profession. Strange, at least until one realizes that, in fact, accountability to the profession and the public lay at the heart of canons otherwise embedded awkwardly in the class of duties owed to oneself.

    You'd be forgiven for assuming that self-owed duties would involve more self-interested ones, such as collecting ample retainers, billing clients regularly, and not letting the pressures of practice drive you into the office on Sundays. For better or for worse, a lawyer's self-owed duties are not of self-interest. Rather, they are to protect the profession, and, yes, serve the public.

    Specifically the legal ethical canons pertaining to guarding the profession speak to the lawyer's obligations to root out dishonest and incapable characters from the profession, respect oneself and one's oath, and espouse the "time-honoured virtues of probity, integrity, honesty and dignity". OK, some of the language directed at purifying the profession is a shade McCarthyesque in tone. You are to "expose without fear or favour", "accept without hesitation a retainer against any lawyer who is alleged to have wronged the client" (really? not even hesitation for a conflicts check?), but you can also tease out of this fervent language and rectitude a keen desire to ensure the profession thrives. And it is nice to see that for the most part the bar proactively pursues this through mentorship, peer-to-peer education and leadership by example. A glance at the list of contributors in any CLE publication, or the long list of names serving as executives for CBA sections, is proof of that.

    As for the public, ethical canon 5(3) demands that lawyers "make legal services available to the public in an efficient and convenient manner that will command respect and confidence." Rarely has as much focus been placed on this issue, and the underlying issue of access to justice, than as of late. There is a hardly a chief judge who has yet to speak on the failure of access to legal services in the past year, nor a report that has failed to opine on the gap between the need for legal assistance and its supply, nor a lawyers' organization in this province who has not made it a priority to improve awareness on the decrepit state of access to justice in BC.

    Volunteerism, helping others alongside Courthouse Libraries BC

    Legal Help for British Columbians, 3rd editionIt's encouraging to see commitment to public service renewed by a large group of volunteer contributors in new initiatives, such as with last week's launch and announcement of the third edition of the public legal information guide Legal Help for British Columbians, which now takes the form of a Clicklaw wikibook. Over a dozen lawyers and key staff with legal organizations have joined to make a new edition of this popular guide that promises to remain up-to-date even after the first copy is printed off.

    You can check out the wikibook here, which combines a familiar online experience (as it is powered by an instance of the same wiki software platform that powers Wikipedia) with the promise of accessibility that is only possible when you can print a resource to hand out in person at clinics, doctor's offices, community centres, libraries, and other places people with limited income and all-too-common legal troubles often go for support. The wiki platform also makes the Guide easier to update, enabling multiple contributors to update content as soon as the law changes, giving it an advantage over print-only publications that risk being outdated from the date of printing.

    While you may have caught the news release, or maybe have already learned about the wikibook through the Clicklaw blog or through Access ProBono or Povnet (or on Twitter, where a number of folks, including CanLII's Colin Lachance, Steve Matthews, Legal Aid BC and others tweeted the release), we wanted to pass along direct thanks to the editors, writers and reviewers of the Guide (see here for a complete list of contributors) for exemplifying the principle of public-service—at a time when it's needed most.

    Courthouse Libraries BC and Clicklaw will be developing more collaborative resources of this type in the near future, using platforms like the Mediawiki platform behind this Clicklaw wikibook, to bring legal information forward in efficient and convenient ways. Doing so in conjunction with practitioners is part of our vision of partnering with the legal profession to accomplish more in the realm of legal information and shared knowledge, for the good of the public and the profession.

    If you are a lawyer interested in knowing more about ways you can contribute through upcoming initiatives, please let us know!

  • The New & Improved Clicklaw: Six Highlights

    by User Not Found | Apr 16, 2010

    Our community outreach team has been working on improving Clicklaw, the website we manage that features legal information and education aimed at the public. Drawing on usability testing and feedback, we’ve been working on making the Clicklaw site easier to use & more helpful.

    Here are six things we’ve done:

    • Additional resources: We added over 200 new resources to the Solve Problems section to fill gaps in the legal information available.
    • Clicklaw subtopics:  We added subtopics to resources to improve the experience of browsing on Clicklaw.   
    • Common questions: There are now over 100 “common questions” on the site, featuring resources that are good starting points for information on common legal problems.
    • Resources in languages other than English: We made it easier to find resources on Clicklaw that are in languages other than English.
    • What’s new: blog highlighting new resources is now featured on the Clicklaw homepage.
    • Facebook & Twitter: Clicklaw has arrived on Facebook and Twitter!

    One way in which we hope Clicklaw offers value for the legal community is as a site to refer clients (where appropriate) for basic legal information on their problem. All the resources on Clicklaw have been either contributed directly by organizations that produce legal information and education, or vetted by Courthouse Libraries BC staff. 


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