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Notes for Remarks by the Attorney General - Law Commission Symposium

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Notes for Remarks by the Attorney General - Law Commission Symposium

Ministry of the Attorney General

Law Commission Symposium
Law Society of Upper Canada
Barristers Lounge

Thank you, it is a pleasure to be here with you this morning.

I want to start by telling you how excited I am by the historic opportunity we have before us.

Quite simply, we are about to re-shape Ontario's legal landscape. We are on the cusp of rebuilding a vital institution that -- for too long -- has been notably absent from this province.

As Canada's most populace province, Ontario should not be among the country's common law jurisdictions without its own Law Commission.

As Attorney General, it troubles me that a progressive, innovative province like ours is lacking such an important forum.

British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia all have Law Commissions.

In fact, you'll hear from representatives from Alberta, B.C. and Nova Scotia today.

All of you are familiar with the previous Ontario Law Reform Commission. For many years it was one of the most important instruments of change in our province.

And yet it was scrapped more than a decade ago.

Without its own Law Commission, Ontario is in danger of losing a significant opportunity to lead other provinces in the promotion of independent academic development, law reform, justice modernization and community outreach.

We cannot allow this to happen.

And judging by the people I see here today, and the work that's been done so far, I believe that we will not allow this to happen.

We are here because we share a common goal: to create a modern, relevant and responsive Law Commission that will help improve the administration of Ontario's justice system.

I would like to thank all the partners who have worked so hard in an effort to make the Law Commission a reality.

Thanks in large part to your help, we are very close to achieving our goal.

In particular, I'd like to recognize and thank Larry Banack, Law Foundation Chair, and Gavin MacKenzie, Treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada, for their incredible contributions.

I'd also like to thank the deans of Ontario's law schools who have contributed so much:

  • Dean Bruce Feldthusen, University of Ottawa, Common Law Section;
  • Doyenne Nathalie DesRosiers, University of Ottawa, Civil Law Section;
  • Dean Bruce Elman, University of Windsor;
  • Dean Patrick Monahan, Osgoode Hall Law School;
  • Dean Mayo Moran, University of Toronto;
  • Dean Bill Flanagan, Queen's University; and
  • Dean Ian Halloway and Acting Dean Craig Bowen, University of Western Ontario.

And to those who have volunteered to serve on the Commission's Board of Governors and Research Advisory Board, your work in the coming weeks, months and years will be invaluable. Thank you.

Finally, I would like to thank today's speakers who have joined us from jurisdictions across Canada.

They are here to share their valuable insights and experiences in establishing and running successful law commissions.

We look forward to learning from you so we can create the best system possible, one that meets the needs of Ontarians and significantly improves the way our justice system operates.

Thank you all for being here.

The justice system is one of the few segments in government that isn't served by Non-Governmental Organizations and independent think-tanks.

Although legal organizations do their best to fill this gap -- and we are thankful for the significant contributions they make -- they can only do so much.

The Law Commission we are working to establish would fill this gap.

Now, more than ever, we need a vehicle to tap into the best legal minds.

We have an opportunity to do this by creating an independent body to work with academic institutions, the legal community, the judiciary and the public.

Ontario's new Law Commission would examine important issues and develop recommendations to improve the administration of justice and enhance access to justice.

It would generate practical and creative solutions to existing challenges, and explore new directions for the rule of law.

We need to create a Commission that will challenge conventional thinking, advocate reform where needed and combine scholarship with practical experience.

Some say policy development is strictly the role of government, but I believe others have a role to play as well.

Now, more than ever, governments work in an environment where there are competing priorities and significant pressures to respond to issues of immediate concern.

This can make it difficult to focus resources on pragmatic law reform or controversial social policy issues, even though they might ultimately be of great assistance to the legal profession and the public at large.

That's where the Law Commission would step in.

The Commission would have the opportunity to study and raise the profile of practical reforms that otherwise may go unaddressed.

It would be able to examine and recommend changes to tackle social policy issues that a government may be reluctant to address.

The Commission would also help make our justice system more accessible and equitable.

There are many ways to do this, for example, by using technology like the Internet to collect and disseminate legal knowledge and research.

The Commission could undertake research that would be of practical and immediate value to the legal profession.

It could even develop a "virtual library" that would be of particular assistance to lawyers in small firms who may not otherwise have access to research of this sort.

It is also important that we build a Law Commission that can withstand potential changes in government.

It must be ideologically indestructible.

Consider the fate suffered by the previous Law Reform Commission of Ontario.

Consider the fate recently suffered by the Law Commission of Canada.

They were dependent mainly on the government for their survival. When the governments withdrew support, they were forced to close shop.

You know, I spend a lot of time up the street at Queen's Park and I often take note of the beauty of the grounds and, in particular, the huge trees.

The trees, most notably, have stood the test of time.

Like those trees, the Commission we are here to create must also be able to stand the test of time.

I commit to you that I envision Ontario's Law Commission not as a small tree that withers away, but as an oak tree that stands tall for years to come.

The best way to ensure this longevity is to create a system that has strong roots, not just in government, but in the legal and academic communities as well.

That's why I'm so excited to see all of you here today, for it is through broad collaboration that we will plant the seeds of success.

Ladies and gentlemen, in 20 years, I want to see our tree still standing strong.

One of the most stable and productive law reform bodies in Canada has been the Alberta Law Reform Commission.

You'll hear more about Alberta's experience from Peter Lown.

Suffice-it-to-say that Alberta's system was created using a collaborative model, and it has served that province well for almost 30 years.

This is my vision -- and I believe this is our vision -- for Ontario's Commission.

To ensure its survival, a shared approach, one with strong roots in government and the broader community, is the best approach.

I encourage you to use today's symposium as an opportunity to learn from the experiences of other commissions so that we can create the best system for Ontario.

The insights gleaned from other jurisdictions will be invaluable as we continue to work towards establishing our own Law Commission.

Our justice system needs an independent organization that will propose progressive ideas, ask tough questions and engage in innovative, critical thinking.

Its work will strengthen relationships between law schools, academics, the legal profession, the government and the broader legal community.

In the end, it will allow us to make our justice system more responsive to the public's needs, and help improve the administration of justice in Ontario.

Working together, I am confident that we can create just such a system.

Thank you for being here, and best wishes for the rest of what I know will be a very productive day.

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