Since the last AGM, your board has met every month including the summer and sometimes twice a month. In between, individual board and committee members have been heavily involved in meetings with the law society, government and businesses to better serve our members and by extension, the paralegal community.
On a few issues, this year has not gone entirely according to plan the way we had hoped but we have learned from the problems and look forward to 2018.
I’m pleased to announce there will be no fee increase for 2018.
Many of you would have seen post on Facebook groups deriding the OPA over how many members we were losing when, in fact, there has been a significant increase in voting membership over last year. As of February 27, 2017, we had 419 voting members. As of January 11, this year, we have 591 which translates into just over a 30% increase in just under a year. Last year we had 284 student members and 36 associate members. As of January 9 this year, we have 766 and 106 respectively. There’s plenty of room for more.
In January, the OPA intervened at the Superior Court in Newmarket when York Region applied to block disclosure of radar manuals based on the O’Connor case regarding third party disclosure. They were successful but, we have been granted leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal. No date has been set yet.
In April, Board Director Laurie Marshall and I met at the invitation of senior staff at the Law Society to discuss paralegal education re Family Law. We took the opportunity to also raise the issues of Officer of the Court and privilege. We now know the outcome of two of these issues. As the words of the song go, “Two out of three ain’t bad.”
We have been told that the OPA needs a presence in the Ottawa Region. So, on a June weekend, I joined others at Le Cite College in Ottawa which hosted what was to have been a Regional meeting. Le Cite College conducts all their programmes only in French. Just one graduate student attended. OPA Vice-President, Frank Alfano brought some recent licensees from the GTA so we had an informal meeting with our host.
It turns out that as of the end of 2017 there are just under 350 paralegals in Ottawa. The Law Society directory shows that the vast majority are not providing legal services but are employed (more than likely by the Federal Government). The remainder are either administratively suspended or have surrendered their licence with only a very few shown as actually being in private practice.
In early September, again at the invitation of the Law Society and TAG (The Action Group on Access to Justice), Laurie Marshall and I met with staff to discuss the OPA’s participation in Access to Justice Week taking place in October where we, together with Elaine Paige were to sit on a discussion panel moderated by Cathy Corsetti (a paralegal Bencher), on the past, present and future of paralegals. We met again in mid-September to finalize the programme.
The evening was a great success with over a hundred people in person and many more watching the live webcast. I was told later by the organizers that our session was the most watched.
That same afternoon I represented the OPA at the invitation of the Region of York Court Services Best Practices Committee, to a stakeholder meeting in Newmarket on POA Reform, dealing with specific issues for that court and Richmond Hill. They wanted to start a walk-in guilty plea court to be held before the first docket, instead of holding Early Resolution Meetings which they had suspended at the beginning of the year. I called for consistency in procedures, particularly the issue of disclosure and raised the problems of “us against them” when it came to dealings with the courts administration. I felt progress was made and that we had the support of the senior regional justice.
That will probably all have to change now that the POA amendments were given Royal Assent on December 14th last year which now requires Early Resolution Meetings.
On November 21st, the OPA was invited by MAG to a meeting where the AG introduced the Family Law Action Plan. Various lawyer groups and family law clinics were represented. Laurie Marshall and I attended on behalf of the OPA. When it came time for the AG to reveal his plans based on the Bonkalo Report, a distinct chill came over the room, but the AG dismissed the various objections coming from other attendees.
One of the Family Law clinics in attendance at was Luke’s Place that had been very anti-paralegal. But, just before Christmas, I received a letter from them saying how impressed they were as to what we had to say about family law education for paralegals and want to meet to discuss it further. It seems we’ve gone from zero to hero in a vert short space of time…
On November 27th the Law Society invited us to a “Confidential Briefing” on the Family Law Review, prior to their presenting their plan to Convocation. Many of the same people attended that were at the MAG meeting.
On November 28th, at the AG’s invitation I attended, on behalf of the OPA a briefing by the AG at Ryerson University’s Legal Innovation Zone on how he will be transforming the justice system through digital innovation.
The past treasurer of the law society, Janet Minor started an initiative she called the Treasurer’s Liaison Group where various lawyer associations meet to discuss areas of mutual concern. As an integral part of the legal community, the OPA is included in this group and we meet three or four times a year to openly discuss issues of mutual and not so mutual, interest.
The treasurer also started holding regional events whereby she travelled around the province with senior staff together with representatives from the different lawyer bodies such as the Ontario Bar Association, Trial Lawyers Association, Family Lawyers Association etc. The current Treasurer, Paul Schabas, has continued this initiative. The OPA is always included in this group and is invited to attended together with an OPA member from that specific area, to meet socially with the local lawyer associations for a reception and dinner hosted by the local association who organized the event and arranged the location, but as I understood it, paid for by the law society.
At these events the Treasurer provides information on law society initiatives. I attended several of these events during the spring and summer and had the opportunity to discuss paralegal issues with one of our local OPA member and local lawyers, many of whom had little knowledge of who we are.
Over the course of this board’s term we have established several programmes that offer considerable discounts and incentives to members. Carswell offers discounts on the publications we use most, as well as with Westlaw’s law source, the legal research application.
LMS Prolink offers excellent rates on errors and omissions insurance. UPS courier services and two legal software companies offers member discounts. Goodlife fitness, Via Rail travel discounts, group health plans and home, life and car insurance are also offered.
All this is the result of the hard work of various committees and I thank them all for that.
As we are now an integral part of the legal community, in September, for the third year, as president of the OPA we were again invited as a special guest to the opening of the courts ceremony at 361 university avenue. The Chief Justice for Ontario announced my name and that of the OPA, along with all the lawyers present, representing about twenty different organizations and associations. Thanks to the hard work of your Board and your committees, we are no longer a voice in the wilderness.
Back in November of 2016, Greg Faulkner, Kristina MacDonald and I met with senior staff at MAG to review their proposals for modernizing the POA. We spent two and a half hours basically picking them apart and indicating what we would like to see if their plan was going to work. We were bound by confidentiality, so we couldn’t discuss specifics, but we were hopeful some positive changes would be forthcoming in the way traffic tickets would be dealt with together with paralegal involvement, before any online system is implemented.
Bill 177 was given Royal Assent on December 14, 2017. This included amendments to the Provincial Offences Act that would allow for online resolutions as well as downloading Part III matters to municipalities, amongst other changes. The issues we discussed at that 2016 meeting were, unfortunately not included. However, since then, VP Brian Eminovski and I have had a meeting with the Senior Policy Advisor at MAG, responsible for the POA, who took copious notes and wants us to meet early in the Year with officials that might be able to have some amendments made before the changes come into force.
The Provincial Conservatives held their conference in Ottawa in late last November where it was made known there that if elected to power this June, they intend to work towards expanding the scope of practice for paralegals. This is where we see the fruits of our political donations.
So, ladies and gentlemen, this brings us to today. You will be hearing from your treasurer and her financial report. You will see a presentation on the new and more comprehensive website and of course you will hear the results of the elections for the board and the volunteers of the year.
To all the board and the committee members, both past and present that have given their valuable time and contribution to this still fledging profession and organization, I thank you all. We have accomplished a great deal in a short time. It would not have been possible without you.