818 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 78 PART 6 NOVEMBER 2020
weekends to stay apace. As Premier John Horgan put it, parents were left
“holding up the sky”.3
But as the pandemic wore on and the British Columbia courts started
issuing plans to reopen for in-person hearings, the burden on parents in our
profession only grew. When the Supreme Court announced its intention to
resume civil and family trials starting in June (with only a few weeks’
notice before those trials were set to commence), schools remained closed,
with a plan to open only on a partial basis—two days a week at most—for
the month of June. Many childcare centres remained closed. Those that
were open were operating at a reduced capacity, with fewer hours and
stricter controls around attendance. And yet, the courts seemingly had no
plan to accommodate parents, other than requiring counsel to seek an
adjournment on a case-by-case basis, leaving the need for accommodations
to the goodwill of an opposing party or the discretion of the court.
If the discussions among my group of friends in the profession are any
indication, such accommodations for parents were not necessarily forthcoming.
Many of my law school friends and lawyer colleagues were entirely
without childcare. Most were getting through by trading off childcare
responsibilities with work throughout the day (along with significant assistance
from Peppa Pig and PAW Patrol). Having to prepare for and attend a
trial made this plan impossible. In one instance, a master denied an
adjournment of a civil trial on the basis that she was not satisfied it was
impossible for a dual lawyer couple to find alternative childcare in a pandemic
and went on to note that surely accommodation would be forthcoming
from the wife’s employer to enable her husband to conduct a trial.
The master’s message was clear: the plight of parents in the COVID-19
pandemic is not the court’s concern. And yet, the failure of the B.C. courts
to meaningfully address the lack of full-time school and childcare faced by
parents as a result of COVID-19 will have far-reaching consequences for the
profession and the administration of justice in the province.
Courts are not closed systems. They necessarily interact with other systems
that form part of a healthy civil society, including the school system.
The impetus to reopen the courts to in-person hearings, without adequately
considering whether these other systems are fully functional, will have devastating
consequences for parents—not just lawyers, but all users of the court
system in British Columbia with parenting responsibilities. This will exacerbate
existing inequities in our profession and the systems that support it.
The court system has always privileged access for those for whom in-
person attendance does not pose a disruption to their everyday life and
livelihood. COVID-19 only expands the category of people for whom in-per-