832 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 78 PART 6 NOVEMBER 2020
Traditional justice, played out in a courthouse, with judges wearing
black robes sitting on a dais, with court clerks and sheriffs, and coats of
arms and the Canadian flag, will always have its place in the administration
of Canadian justice. One good example is the recent extradition case
involving the Huawei executive who is also a citizen of another country.
International interest, media attention and security issues confirm the
need for a formal message to be sent about traditional Canadian values,
with the imposing, formidable presence of law and order to ensure the
integrity of the proceeding.
Even before the COVID-19 crisis, however, we learned that not all legal
cases require such formality. For years, administrative tribunals have dispensed
with many court-like procedures. The Civil Resolution Tribunal is
British Columbia’s online mechanism to deal with certain motor vehicle
injury disputes, small claims disputes and strata disputes. Thus, Internet
access to justice, for those who have access to the Internet, is now a reality.
It is arguable that most family law disputes do not require traditional
court-like accoutrements for resolution. Indeed, many of us view a court’s
rigid formality and bureaucratic processes to be inappropriate, even harmful,
as a dispute-resolution experience for most family litigants.
For five years, from 2015 through 2019, I was a member (and, for two
years, chair) of Richmond’s Family and Youth Court Committee (the “Committee”).
The Committee’s mandate under the Provincial Court Act8 was to
make recommendations to the City of Richmond, the chief judge of the
Provincial Court and the Attorney General about the operations of the
Provincial Court’s Family Division. Each month, Committee members
would observe Richmond’s family court proceedings, make notes, meet to
discuss relevant topics, and prepare an annual report on our findings. The
Committee’s annual reports of 2018 and 20199 recommended immediate,
significant improvements in legal aid funding for family court litigants, as
well as a new Richmond courthouse to replace an arguably inadequate
In 2018 Salima Samnani, a Vancouver lawyer with a background in family
and child protection law, was a guest speaker at a Committee meeting. She
told me, in essence, that our recommendations did not go far enough—we
needed to “think outside the box”. She was right. Now, I’m beginning to
understand what she meant. The box needed to be shattered two years later
by the COVID-19 global health crisis in order for me, finally, to glean the
acuity of her insight. To paraphrase what Sherlock once said to Watson: “We
see, but we do not observe. The distinction is clear.” We must learn to see
differently, because this is how our future is built.10