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Prof to share vision of a just society

Trevor Farrow wants to hear ideas about how to expand the justice system beyond the courtroom.

Trevor Farrow wants to hear ideas about how to expand the justice system beyond the courtroom.

The professor at York University’s Osgoode law school will be in Whitehorse next week to lead a public discussion on access to justice and what it means to have a just society.

Just as health care is best offered with preventative measures - like regular exercise and a healthy diet - the justice system works best by dealing with problems early, he said.

“What are we trying to accomplish here? If what we really want to do is get a more just society, let’s start to see legal problems where they originate. Let’s try and start dealing with them earlier,” Farrow said this week.

“Let’s try and think about public legal education so people can understand their rights and prevent issues from happening. Let’s try and think creatively about the kind of laws that we are enacting and, as lawyers, let’s try and be progressive in terms of the kind of cases and how we’re lawyering cases.”

Farrow, who is chair of the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice and academic director of the Winkler Institute for Dispute Resolution, says having more justice goes beyond having more lawyers.

“That’s great, but it may or may not be getting them anything that they really need. Which is food on the table, safe streets, and equal pay for equal work - real substantive justice. Fair treatment in society etc.,” he said.

“Access to legal services and access to legal aid are all great things. They’re important things. But they’re not ends in themselves. They’re more like steps along the process of getting a real just society.”

Farrow uses the example of the lawsuits around residential schools and how former students are compensated.

“Having spent some time with some of those lawyers and in particular some of the instructing clients, being leaders of church or organizations or governments, people say, ‘Had we thought about it then the way we’re thinking about it now, we would have instructed our lawyers differently and we would have proceeded differently,’” he said.

Farrow said he’s not vilifying any particular lawyer; it’s just about a change in perspective.

“I’ve heard people say time and time again, ‘That’s how we litigated it then, because we came at it from a litigation perspective. Had we come at it from a healing perspective, we would have apologized early, we would have taken some responsibility, and we would have moved forward in a more progressive collective way that they’re trying to do now.”

Farrow said he hopes to gain a better understanding of what the public’s perception of the justice system is, and how it can be made better.

“I spent a lot of time talking to lawyers, and judges, and government officials, about what we think the public wants. Why not open that conversation up?”

The discussion is on Thursday, Sept. 11 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. downstairs at the Whitehorse Public Library.

Contact Ashley Joannou at