674 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 78 PART 5 SEPTEMBER 2020
which participants enter as soon as they connect into the TELUS teleconference
line, having crossed a boundary from which they leave their former
space. This new space is a sacred space, a “pop-up” transient Justice Room.
The human voice can be effectively used to create an aura of sacredness,
to communicate and remind hearing participants that they are present in a
proceeding deserving awe and respect, where all participants are treated
fairly and with consideration. How, then, can a decision maker use her or
his voice to achieve these goals?
In Abraham Verghese’s novel Cutting for Stone,8 a professor asks his class
of medical students: “What is the most important treatment, administered
by ear, given to a patient in an emergency situation?”
The correct answer: “Words of comfort”.
Board hearings are scheduled with alacrity pursuant to the Act’s tight
deadlines because under the Charter, every individual has a right to liberty,
not to be detained without just cause. It is critical, therefore, that the Board
attend to an applicant’s detainee status promptly. In that sense, the “legal
treatment” is akin to an emergency situation. The Verghese analogy
reminds us that law, just like medicine, must be practised with more than
just literal practicality. Technical brilliance and knowledge of prescription
drugs (in the medical context) or familiarity with relevant statutory provisions
and case law (in the legal context) are simply not enough to “cure” or
“remedy” a problem.
To care for people, whether it be by a medical team in a hospital treating
patients, or by administrative tribunal decision makers considering an
applicant’s request to be set free from detention, must be a practice that
reflects respect and consideration for them as individuals.
Just as a psychiatrist, nurse or social worker needs to take time to
thoughtfully observe a patient and her or his needs, a legal decision maker
must also take the time to consider the evidence about an applicant as a
whole person, to avoid the danger of being influenced by inaccurate
assumptions and unfair biases. The applicant or “patient” must be truly
seen, in order to be truly understood.
Words matter. The words we choose to address, or refer to, other persons
are an important indication of how we perceive them. It is entirely appropriate
for a medical team to refer to a person as a “patient” when that person
is being treated by the team in a hospital or clinic setting. The person is
indeed, in that environment, one who is suffering and who needs medical
But when a person crosses a notional boundary, leaving a hospital space
and entering into a different location, that departure will invoke a change