Six Strange Weeks… and Congratulations to Melanie!

Stray Pandemic Thoughts…

I have not yet blogged about the COVID-19 crisis, in part because it is all so surreal.

These are truly unprecedented times, particularly for modern Western society. For our economy to effectively grind to a halt in the way that it has is truly remarkable.

I’d hazard to say that this is something that our court system was ill-prepared for. However, credit where it is due, the wheels of justice have not grinded to a complete halt.

In order to facilitate social distancing and minimize exposure risks to the virus, we are now entering our second full calendar month of remote court appearances. Frankly, we are lucky that this did not happen 20 years ago when we likely would not have had the technology to take the steps that we have. Teleconferences may not have the nuances and charm of in-court proceedings, but we are adapting our advocacy styles, and undoubtedly seeing results.

The Crown lawyers have by and large been exceptional in accommodating our vulnerable, in custody clients. They have worked long hours, come up with creative alternatives to custody, and been very approachable via email and telephone. Things are getting done.

The Courts have likely had the most difficult time adapting, with a largely paper-driven system (and if you don’t believe me, I have the Xerox bill to prove it…). Again, it is very much a work-in-progress, but the judiciary has been extremely accommodating, and the court staff deserve gold medals for an incredibly difficult job well done.

As for us as Defence (and duty) counsel, I don’t think that it is self-aggrandizing to say that we have done an exceptional job. I am a proud Board Member of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, and our leadership, membership, and everyone in between has been incredible. For me, it meant a hectic Sunday on March 15, rallying volunteers remotely and attending teleconference meetings from the hospital room where my baby girl was born mere hours prior. For others it meant hours of meetings with government and court authorities advocating for all members of the criminal justice system and those caught up in it. For many others still, it meant sitting and waiting with bated breath to find out when/if/how court would proceed the following day.

The result has been incredible.

The latest data provided on April 28, 2020 by the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General (responsible for operating Correctional Facilities in the province) indicate that there has been a 32% reduction in inmates registered across all 25 institutions in the province since March 16, 2020. This is staggering. It means that our efforts have seen thousands of clients released from custody over the span of 6 weeks. Talk about unprecedented.

It certainly makes one wonder whether mass incarceration is an effective and/or solution to crime, but I could be here typing all night about that (and if I had a dollar for every time a family member of a client asked why they can’t be ‘sentenced to treatment’, my newborn would have a pretty exceptional RESP waiting already).

A New Chapter…

This public health crisis has affected us all in so many different ways. There are good days and bad days. There are inspiring moments and depressing moments. Sometimes it is impossible to tell them apart.

Today, I had such a moment.

I have been extremely lucky to have Melanie Goodfellow as an articling student for the past ten months (after spending a summer with me in 2018 – which feels like five lifetimes ago).

She has been anticipating her well-deserved Call to the Bar of Ontario in June, which has now been cancelled out of necessity. The positive is that she’ll be able to practice law weeks sooner, as an ‘Administrative’ Call has been scheduled for May 28. The negative is that she will miss out on the opportunity to cross the stage with her peers and have a formal recognition of years of hard work culminating. She certainly deserves it.

I had the privilege of administering her Oath on my front porch today, from a socially responsible distance. This just added to the surreal nature of this entire situation. It was melancholy for many reasons, but I was brimming with pride.

Regardless, I want to thank Melanie for an incredible job well done for me and all of our clients over the past two years!

To everyone else dealing with this pandemic in your own way, keep it up. We are all in this together, and you don’t have to look any further than our Courts to see what can be done when we work together.

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