The calendar has just rolled over to 2021 as I sit down to write my fifth article as President of the Hamilton Law Association. I wish all our members a wonderful and prosperous New Year with many happy days ahead.
Last year, 2020, will be an unforgettable year. I would say that it was unexpected for some, horrible for many and should be a wake-up call for all. The reality of the COVID-19 pandemic turned out to be so different from anything we may have imagined last January. Jury trials were once again suspended when Hamilton became a red zone in December. The isolation restrictions tightened further as we entered the grey zone lock down before Christmas and then the province instituted a universal public health lock down on Boxing Day. The concern surrounding the cases of infection that have impacted the court houses continues to require a response and impact our behavior. This past year was challenging in many ways, but it did strip away many illusions and has directed us to focus on what truly matters and is important in life. The past year has been frightening, tedious and taxing on civil behavior, but I remain optimistic; several vaccine options have been developed in double quick time and approved by Health Canada and some of our most vulnerable members of society are being vaccinated as I write. I am expectant that better days will return; that we will get to be with our families again and that as colleagues our wonderful association of Hamilton lawyers will meet again, in persona.
One personal reflection that continues to return to me during this time as the President of the Hamilton Law Association is that I am blessed in countless ways. Driving by the homeless encampments in Hamilton, watching the varied political rallies held outside of City Hall, frequently focuses my attention on how fortunate we are. I have my ability to work and have a warm house, food and family and I am privileged to be able to give back. As an example, I have a seat on the Charity Board of the Lawyers’ Legacy for the Children, a fund of the Hamilton Community Foundation. Last year the Lawyers’ Legacy for the Children made a financial donation to Essential Aid, a charity that provides physical resources to meet the basic needs of the most vulnerable children in Hamilton by providing families with packages of diapers, baby food and other essential supplies. In contrast to many when I was a new mother, I was able to stumble to the store in my eternal state of sleep deprivation and just buy what we needed without any thought to the cost of the nappies and mush. Not everybody is so fortunate. Nor has everybody been able to continue to support their families, maintain their businesses or continue to work during the pandemic. Despite being embroiled in a complicated and highly emotional time for Family Law, Christmas Time in a Pandemic, I have been able to keep family and work and finances in hand better than many. I am proud that as an association, the Hamilton Law Association, we donated this Christmas to the Lawyers’ Legacy for the Children on behalf of our members. I am proud that we were able to continue the tradition of contributing to a charity each year, undeterred by the pandemic.
In our workplaces, as lawyers, we must be responsive to mandated COVID-19 workplace requirements. Under the Province’s Reopening Ontario Act, we are required to appoint a manager to develop, implement and actively monitor a Safety Plan. We need to be cognizant of how we are keeping our workplaces safe from exposure to COVID-19, screening for COVID-19 and controlling the risk of transmission in our workplaces. In our workplaces, we need to plan what we will do if there is a potential or suspected exposure to COVID-19 and how risk will be managed. The plan needs to be reviewed to ensure that it is effective, needs to be in writing, be made available to any person for review on request and be posted in a conspicuous place.
Who knew what Zoom was a year ago? Not me
On November 12, 2020, I attended the FOLA Fall Plenary via Zoom. Listening to the keynote speaker, Dr. Hadiya Roderique was most thought-provoking. Dr. Roderique, a lawyer, researcher, broadcast commentator, and an award-winning writer, is perhaps best known for her Globe and Mail piece “Black on Bay Street”, which outlined her experiences as a young Black lawyer working in a Bay Street law firm. Dr. Roderique provided information and insight into race-based discrimination and discussed the term “microaggression” which (for your reference) is a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority. Her presentation provided compelling insight into systemic racism in the legal world and ideas as to how to combat the injustices.
As I mentioned in my last report, on November 17, 2020, I attended the 19th Annual Sopinka Legal Luncheon held in support of the United Way of Halton and Hamilton. This year the luncheon was, of course, held virtually, and the keynote speaker was The Honourable Justice Nicholas Kasirer a puisne justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. The Honourable Justice Kasirer’s lecture combined art history (namely the paintings in the Supreme Court of Canada) with theorizing on bridging the gap between judges from an academic vs. a practical background.
On December 2nd, I was delighted to present Kirsten Hughes with the Ed Orzel award at the 34th Annual Joint Insurance Seminar. The purpose of the award is to honour a member of the Hamilton Law Association who has demonstrated excellence in trial advocacy for a single outstanding trial effort, or for a career in trial advocacy in any area of the law. Kirsten clearly has a notable career in trial advocacy and was a very worthy recipient.
The Hamilton Law Association was dismayed to learn about a 14% cut to its library grant from the Law Society for 2021. The Trustees feel that these cuts will have a direct impact on the quality and currency of the information that the HLA can provide to its members through its library collection. We are cognizant of the severe and far reaching economic impacts of the pandemic. However, we do believe that the Anthony Pepe Memorial Library is a crucial link between lawyers in Hamilton and the legal information that they need to practice law effectively. With a view to developing a further response to this, the Trustees would like to hear from you concerning this and in particular as to how you feel about the usefulness of the library to your practice.
At the Hamilton Law Association our volunteers continue to provide interesting and quality Continuing Legal Education. In February, the 19th Annual Estates and Trusts Seminar is scheduled; in April, we plan on having the 20th Annual Advocacy Conference and there are a number of other interesting shorter seminars like the free Family Law Lunch Bucket seminars. I will be attending a number of these via webcast and hope that you can also join in.
The Hamilton Law Association website has a new look. We attempt to post important and timely information for you such as COVID-10 notices and links to the unfortunately ever evolving practice directions. This information is invaluable to help you stay on top of the newest developments and is easy to find at www.hamiltonlaw.on.ca. We have also transitioned to an online membership platform where you are able to renew your membership and enroll for seminars online.
Over the last few years, I have also been studying mindfulness as a way to deal with the stresses of the profession. Mindfulness is the practice of purposely bringing one’s attention to the experiences occurring in the present moment without judgment. A repeating theme in mindfulness has been finding balance through practicing mindful breathing. It is reported that breath control is one of the most effective ways to calm and restore yourself. By slowing and regulating your breathing rate you can lower your heart rate and lessen your feelings of stress or anxiety. One simple way I achieve this is with a four-count breath. This is a simple cycle, wherein one counts in one’s head to four as you breathe in, then you hold your breath for a count of four, then you exhale for four and hold again for four and then repeat the cycle. It is like working your way around a square in four steps with each step being four counts long. Once you have a comfortable rhythm you can close your eyes and visualize the square and working your way around it, while also bringing your attention to the air entering and leaving your lungs. I have been using this prior to my zoom court appearances to bring focus and calm to my presentation. Anxiety is normal and perhaps this little trick might help you in some way to reduce it.
Finally, I want to take this opportunity to thank all our volunteers over the past year for both the small and large efforts made to benefit our Association. Each contribution big and small helps make our association great.