“The oath that lawyers take when admitted to the bar compels them to work for greater justice. This does not mean that they work only for justice when they get paid, but perhaps more idealistically, that they work to create a more just society."

~ Supreme Court Justice Major

Sunday, March 8, 2015

'Spread the Word to End the Word'

Enough said.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

'My Life ... My Death' Controversy

Big news out of the Supreme Court of Canada yesterday - relevant for all of us, whether or not we currently have a disability.

I am speaking, of course, of the Supreme Court of Canada's decision striking down the law against assisted suicide in Canada. Or, at least, that's what the media would tell you happened.

Prior to yesterday, there were two sections of the Criminal Code, which, when combined together, banned assisted suicide.

Sec. 241 prohibited counseling, aiding or abetting anyone to commit suicide
Counselling or aiding suicide
241.Every one who aids or abets a person to commit suicide, whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years
and sec. 14 provided that no one can consent to having someone else end their life.
Consent to death
14. No person is entitled to consent to have death inflicted on him, and such consent does not affect the criminal responsibility of any person by whom death may be inflicted on the person by whom consent is given.
What the Court did was to strike down these two sections of the Criminal Code only to the extent that they prohibited physician-assisted suicide "for a competent adult person who
  1. clearly consents to the termination of life and 
  2. has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition". 
So, just to clarify, the law against assisted suicide still stands when it comes to you or I or Joe Blow down the street counseling, aiding or abetting someone (anyone) in committing suicide - this decision only applies to physician-assisted suicide, which fact was implied in some media coverage, but perhaps not clearly stated in all of it.

And, for just a bit more clarity (in case you missed this little tidbit in the ongoing roar), this declaration of invalidity was suspended for 12 months - what that means is all will continue as it was for the next year, giving the government the opportunity to attempt to craft a new law. Of course, the federal government could also decide to do nothing at all (after all, not deciding is a decision in and of itself, isn't it?) in which case, come February 5, 2015, physician-assisted suicide (but only under the circumstances set out above) will be legal in Canada.

In case anyone is wondering why the SCC would approve of physician-assisted suicide today when it didn't, ten years ago, when the case involving Sue Rodriguez was decided (which is a very good question, by the way), the Court explained this inconvenient little inconsistency away by stating that law relating to sec. 7 of the Charter (which protects an individual's right to "life, liberty and security of the person" and is the section of the Charter that the Court used to strike down the relevant Criminal Code sections) has "materially advanced" since the Rodriguez case was decided.

But back to the Carter decision; the Court found that, insofar as the Criminal Code prohibited physician‑assisted dying for competent adults who were suffering from a grievous and irremediable medical condition that caused enduring and intolerable suffering, it deprived these adults of their right to life, liberty and security of the person under s. 7 of the Charter. How you ask?

Well, the Court reasoned that the prohibition had the effect of forcing some of these people to take their own lives prematurely, for fear that they would be incapable of doing so when they reached the point where suffering was intolerable. The rights to liberty and security of the person (which deal with concerns about autonomy and quality of life), were also engaged as a person’s response to a grievous and irremediable medical condition is a matter critical to their dignity and autonomy. The prohibition denied people in this situation the right to make decisions concerning their bodily integrity and medical care and by leaving them to endure intolerable suffering, it impinged on their security of the person.

Further, this infringement was done in a manner that was not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice. The object of the prohibition was not to preserve life whatever the circumstances, but to protect vulnerable persons from being induced to commit suicide at a time of weakness. Since a total ban on assisted suicide clearly helps achieve this object, individuals’ rights were not deprived arbitrarily. However, the prohibition caught people outside the class of protected persons and the limitation on their rights was in at least some cases not connected to the objective, making the prohibition overbroad.

Looking at the question of whether the government was justified in violating these individuals' right under sec. 7, the Court went on to hold that although an absolute prohibition on physician‑assisted dying was rationally connected to the goal of protecting the vulnerable from taking their life in times of weakness, the evidence did not support the contention that a blanket prohibition was necessary in order to substantially meet that objective. The evidence from scientists, medical practitioners and others who are familiar with end‑of‑life decision‑making showed that a permissive regime with properly designed and administered safeguards would be capable of protecting vulnerable people from abuse and error. Vulnerability could be assessed on an individual basis, using the procedures that physicians apply in their assessment of informed consent and decision capacity in the context of medical decision‑making more generally.

As an interesting aside, because the Court found that the prohibition on physician‑assisted dying violated s.7 of the Charter, it did not go on to consider whether it also deprived adults with physical disabilities of their right to equal treatment under s. 15 of the Charter. Any equality arguments around sec.15 of the Charter concerning this issue remain to be dealt with on another day.

And given that the Supreme Court of Canada is the highest court in the land, that, as they say, is that. Or is it?

Monday, February 2, 2015

'To Be or Not To Be'

To be, or not to be -- that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to simply ignore
The fact that I have seriously neglected this blawg
Or to take arms against a sea of never-ending "to do"s
And by opposing end them.

To work, to sleep--
No more--and by a sleep to say we end
The busyness, and the thousand things
That must be done in a day. 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To work, to sleep--

To sleep--perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub,
For in that weary sleep what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off to bed,
Must give us pause. There's the guilty, worried conscience
That makes calamity of so short a life.

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th' opponent's wrong, the judge's contumely
The pangs of lost time, the law's delay,
The insolence of teenagers, and the spurns
That patient merit of th' unworthy takes,
When she herself might her quietus make

With a mere laptop? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat through a busy life,
But that the dread of something left undone,
The misplaced file, the limitation period long past, from whose bourn
No lawyer returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

Thus conscience does make exhausted cowards of us all,
And thus the hazy blue resolution of thy computer
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprise of great pitch and moment

With this regard their currents turn awry
And forgets all good intentions. -- Soft you now,
The fair blawg  -- A Primer on Special Needs and the Law, in thine readership 
Be all my sins forgiven.
But my humble attempt to express my ongoing regret and sadness over the current state of this fair blawg. And yet, on a fool's errand to ease my sorely troubled conscience, I have, alas, updated thine "Places To Be". But that it were enough ...

Fear not, for this humble blawg shall not depart this earthly realm; for now I can but bid you a sad adieu and wish you pleasant dreams as I whisper one last promise in thy ear --

I. Will. Be. Back.

~ With my deepest apologies to the Bard ~

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Spoken Word Poetry

An emotional spoken word poem written by a father to his son.

Robb Scott wrote and performed this poem for his son who was born with Down Syndrome. The poem expresses how the R-word changed for Robb and how he hopes he son deals with hearing it as he grows up. The poem expresses how the R-word changed for Robb and how he hopes he son deals with hearing it as he grows up.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Those Least Like Us Have the Most to Teach Us (About Ourselves)

I knew Danny Graham had a child with special needs.
Today I realized that I certainly didn't know the whole story.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Reinventing the Practice of Law

First, let me start with apologies. When I wrote that last post (can you believe that was back in August?), I had every intention of posting more often and on a regular basis. Alas, what is it they say about the "best laid plans of mice and men women"?

It turns out that starting a solo law practice [even on a part-time basis] and keeping current with legal education requirements while continuing to offer presentations [and creating new ones] and doing additional work to keep the lights on ... takes more time than I thought. Who knew?

But I read something yesterday that excited me - something that I really wanted to share with you. So here goes.

Many Hopefully some of my readers will be familiar with the new battle cry in the legal profession; namely "access to justice". It appears that the powers that be in the legal community (and not just here in Nova Scotia but across Canada and the US and elsewhere) have gradually come to realize what a huge issue this is for so many people. After all, what good are a gazillion legal rights if you have no meaningful access to them?

That realization combined with the fact that technology is affecting the legal profession almost as much as those industries we more traditionally think about in this context (ie. newspapers and magazines) has resulted in the profession looking for ways to reinvent itself so as to remain relevant and provide better service to the public.

The American Bar Association, in particular, appears to be a real leader in this area, having published several very interesting publications on the subject. Publications which yours truly has been eagerly reading and digesting.

The reason for that being that I have no intention of MMC Legal Services being a traditional law practice.

Given that my main motivation for doing this has been to provide better and more meaningful access to justice for the disability community, I realize that I need to approach this in (many) different ways. As I see it, there's no point in reinventing the wheel - by which I mean, no point in opening just another law practice, even one as unique as a practice devoted to disability issues.

Where am I going with this, you ask? Good question. And the answer, as I see it, is pretty much down the path less traveled.
                                                                              Image from Right Brain Law

But lucky for me us, the time appears to be ripe for taking on such an initiative, what with all the new possibilities now available to run a non-traditional practice. The current state of technology now makes things like virtual law offices not just a possibility, but a reality; the increase in the use of flat fee billing as opposed to the "almighty billable hour"; and the acceptance by Bar Associations of concepts like "unbundled legal services" (otherwise known as "limited representation"); and lawyers who now make "house calls" (including will-signing parties - love the concept!) really make the sky the limit - provided one ensures they are always complying with the relevant Bar Society requirements, of course.

Change is often slow, particularly among established traditional professions like the legal profession. But, lo and behold, it is happening. Quicker in some jurisdictions than in others (there's no doubt about that), but it is happening.

And it is exactly these changes and possibilities that MMC Legal Services is poised to take advantage of. As I've come to realize over the last few months, getting this law practice up and running the way I envision is not about to happen overnight. But, I firmly believe, that when it does it will be YOU that benefits.

So stay tuned, if you will, to discover a very different law practice. And feel free to leave a comment telling me your biggest pet peeve with the way law has been practiced (just try to stay away from the the too obvious, please) and what you would like to see the profession (and my law firm) do differently.

Friday, August 29, 2014

'Ensuring the Future of Your Child with Special Needs'

We have discussed various aspects of future planning for our children and other family member with special needs and I know from my presentations that this is a HUGE issue for families around the Province. As well it should be.

As luck would have it, I came across a great video the a few weeks ago, entitled "Ensuring the Future of Your Child with Special Needs". Upfront warning: the video is lengthy BUT I highly recommend watching the whole thing - it will be well worth your time.

Although American, I would say it is at least 80% straight on accurate for families here in Nova Scotia. And, best of all, the presenters (there are three of them) all have children with special needs, in addition to the professional expertise (a lawyer and a financial planner) they bring to the table. This means that they often speak as parents and when they do - trust me, you WILL relate.

"Unfortunately, doing nothing is an action of its own because eventually the future 
becomes the present ... If we have not planned for that eventuality, it will come 
either way and we will have less time to do something meaningful about it."
~ Keith Coldwell, Failure to Plan

Given that the video is quite lengthy, I though it might be useful to break it down into a Table of Contents, if you will. So here goes:
  1. Introduction
  2. Set Up
  3. Greatest Hindrance to Parents Getting Started
  4. First Steps (14:15)
  5. Five Steps to Plan:
  • Letter of Intent 
  • Special Needs Trust
  • Advance Directives 
  • Guardianship 
     6.  The Importance of Communication

If you are a regular reader of the blawg, you will likely be familiar with some of these terms but perhaps not all.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Mea Culpa

My apologies for going so long without posting ... 51 days to be exact, but who's
counting, right?

As usual, excuses abound - I am happy to say that I have been busy work-wise, which is a very good thing when it comes time to pay the bills. That being said, I am, of course, always happy to consult with anyone who has a disability-related issue involving themselves or a family member.

So. I have come here today to apologize for the 51 days lengthy time between posts and to commit to doing better. I would really like to get this blawg on a consistent schedule and start blogging on a weekly basis.

My absence has not been for lack of material, believe me; I have quite a selection saved that I would like to blog about. Some get stale and out of date, of course, but I have enough blawg fodder to keep me going for a while.

There's one post in particular that I am really looking forward to working on - a couple of weeks back, I stumbled upon an EXCELLENT video on future planning for a family member with special needs. It's American, so not 100% on point, of course, but the vast majority of it should be very useful for Nova Scotian families. It's going to take some work on my part, though - I watched the entire very lengthy video once (actually it's more like I was riveted to it) but I will need to go through it again in order to break it down and discuss the issues in a meaningful way.

All right, then. You have my promise to get back to this blogging thing on a much more regular basis. Please feel free to hold me accountable - if you don't, who will?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A New Day Dawns


I hope you and yours enjoyed a great one.

As for me and mine, I am happy to report that Yours Truly managed to not just celebrate our great country and spend some bonding time with my youngest daughter, but I also dotted all my i's and crossed all my t's ... that's right - I finished up the last of the paperwork necessary to finalize the change back to practicing status.

So please welcome my firm, MMC Legal Services, into the
big bad world. And spread the word, this particular firm only serves the disability community.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Focus On ...

You might have noticed that things have been a little quiet around here lately. Not due to any lack of my interest on my part (trust me!) but because my attention is slightly diverted elsewhere at the moment.

July 1st ... Canada Day ... is


So please bear with me.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Beyond Graduation

PLAN (yes, yes, I do happen to be a big fan of PLAN, why ever do you ask?) is asking those of us whose children with intellectual disabilities have recently transitioned out of high school (or soon will be) to participate in a short survey sharing our experiences in order to "help guide other families who may be going through, or who will soon be going through, a similar process".

Hey, it's the least we could do, right?

Leave With the One That Brought You to the Dance ... or Not

I came across this little tidbit today and thought it was rather interesting - apparently PLAN has now partnered up with the Bank of Montreal with regard to the promotion of the RDSP.

The most interesting part being, I thought, the fact that there was absolutely no mention of PLAN's previous partnership with the Royal Bank around the RDSP.

Be that as it may, here's a little more info, from BMO's press release:
BMO Investments Inc. has announced that it is partnering with Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN), a not-for-profit organization committed to ensuring the safety, security and well-being of those living with disabilities. 
The three-year sponsorship and partnership will focus on educating individuals and their families about the Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP). The partnership will also help those with disabilities set up RDSPs in order to help with their financial future.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Very, Very Interesting

Dear Parents,

HRM Community Recreation & Culture (CR&C) staff would like to invite you to attend a Parent/Caregiver/ First Voice engagement session regarding recreation, social and cultural services, for people with disabilities. 
CR&C staff have started to develop a community recreation service delivery model for people with disabilities that is community oriented, provides choice, is person focussed, responsive, safe and accessible.

We are creating a model by researching what other Canadian municipalities are providing, working with Dalhousie University faculty on a literature review piece, studying legislation and using the related philosophies on the SPD Transformation Plan and Roadmap. The additional development phases include Recreation/Social Service Providers Engagement, nurturing partnerships with post-secondary schools, engaging Therapeutic Recreation professionals and caregiver/first voice engagement. 
This session will be the second of three engagement sessions which include:, Recreation/Social Service Providers; Parents/Caregivers/First Voice; and lastly, Recreation/ Therapeutic Recreation/ Child & Youth Professionals.

We would like to bring parents of children who have special needs to the table to share our research, share our proposed model, do an asset mapping exercise, insure we are filling service gaps in the community, not duplicating or competing with already existing programs and finally to see where we can build partnerships.

We hope that you will join and share your feedback. Here is the session information.

Caregiver/First Voice Engagement Session
Wednesday May 7, 2014
7:00 – 9:00 pm
St. Andrew’s Recreation Centre
3380 Barnstead Lane (off of Bayers Rd.)
Light refreshments will be served.

Please RSVP to stapled@halifax.ca by May 2, 2014, 4:00 pm. Please let us know if you have any dietary restrictions and/or anything you need on site in order to fully participate.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Stuttering as a Disability

UPDATE: Apparently we now have some US lawyers agreeing that yes, yes indeed, stuttering can indeed be a disability under the terms of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). Good to know. 

What says you? Is stuttering a disability? And, if so, should it be "legally protected"?

It seems to me that this should have a fairly easy common sense answer. And if it doesn't, it should.

Of course, stuttering is a disability from a legal point of view.
Section 10 (1) of the Code defines “disability” as follows:
“because of disability” means for the reason that the person has or has had, or is believed to have or have had,
  1. any degree of physical disability, infirmity, malformation or disfigurement that is caused by bodily injury, birth defect or illness and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, includes diabetes mellitus, epilepsy, a brain injury, any degree of paralysis, amputation, lack of physical co-ordination, blindness or visual impediment, deafness or hearing impediment, muteness or speech impediment, or physical reliance on a guide dog or other animal or on a wheelchair or other remedial appliance or device,
But I think worrying about a potential "widespread backlash against all persons with disabilities" is a bit of fear mongering an over-reaction. Why?

All you need do is check out the comments at the end of the article to find a very common sense response.
Of course it's a disability, but not one that should ever override a common sense BFOQ. [Ed. I believe that is meant to read BFOR - "bona fide occupational requirement**.] But if a person is denied a position they could handle because a stutter "isn't pretty" then that's discrimination. 

** We've discussed this very same issue many years ago and although I didn't use the commonly-accepted terminology at the time, this is exactly what I was talking about. 

Duty to accommodate meet bona fide occupational requirements.
The duty to accommodate can include things like altering the physical workplace, redefining a job description or altering the work schedule. If a driver's license is a job requirement, for example, and the interviewee doesn't have one, there is a duty on the employer to enquire why, to see if a disability is behind it ie) epilepsy. In which case the employer would have to consider what alternations he might make so that driving would not be necessary or whether he could change the job description to give the driving portion to another employee.

And it's important to realize that it would be a lot harder to accommodate certain disabilities in some jobs than in others. For example, is it possible to accommodate a blind person who seeks to be an editor? In all honesty, even with technology, I don't know. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't.

What about a person in a wheelchair, with no use of her arms or legs, who dreams of being a firefigher? There might be some job back at the fire station that she could conceivably perform but it would be a little hard to picture her actually out there fighting a fire, wouldn't it?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Whazzup With That Roadmap, Anyhow?

Everybody needs a hero, right? I think I may have found (one) of mine.
This guy right here. He impresses me.

Why, you ask?

Because, in the midst of all his other work, he has written repeatedly on some very important issues for the disability community. And he's not showing any signs of letting it go. You have to like that.

And that raises a very important question - what is up with the Department of Community Services Transition Roadmap (aka The Roadmap)?
The report, written by a joint group of civil servants and representatives of community organizations, calls for the phasing out of large institutions, a more individualized approach in terms of care and funding, and altogether a new emphasis on changing services to better accommodate people with disabilities.
The short answer ... Hell if I know.

The sad reality is that the best information I have comes from Robert's article. Much like Sgt. Schultz, I see nothing, I hear nothing, I know nothing.

But fear not, for others know much, much more than I. Let's see what Robert has to say:
At the time the department, right in the introduction to the report committed to "implementing these recommendations over a five-year time frame, with major action steps for each of the ten recommendations being plotted over 2013-14 through 2017-18."
.  .  .
That was September of last year.

Now it appears things are moving ahead, but not at the pace that the report suggested.

Of the thirty or so action steps scheduled for the previous fiscal year 2013-14, not one has been completed. But work has started on all of them, Elizabeth MacDonald, departmental spokesperson, tells the Halifax Media Co-op.

Stakeholder provincial advisory groups, which according to the report should have been in place by now, have not yet been announced.
 Guess who else apparently knows something? Wendy Lill.
Wendy Lill, playwright and former Member of Parliament, has been advocating on behalf of people with intellectual disabilities for a very long time. She was co-chair of the team that helped shape the transition roadmap.

Just two weeks ago she attended a roadmap progress update for stakeholders organized by Community Services. That was also the first update provided by the department since the roadmap was launched seven months ago.

"After that meeting I am hopeful that there is some real movement happening and that there is good faith there," Lill tells the Halifax Media Co-op.
Apparently, we are to hear more about a series of pilot projects "in the spring" [wait, isn't that, like, now?] and the membership of advisory groups will be revealed some time after March 31st [so, again, that would be, like, any time now, right?]. But not just that - "a training program" for "care coordinators and service delivery people" is on the way. Thank God for that. Just, please, don't ask me what it means - I'm not entirely sure.

But, hey, know what I do (think I) know? Politics. I can talk politics. Let's try that.

The Roadmap was originally brought forward by the NDP government. The very same NDP government that a lot of people, myself included, were pretty frustrated with. We were frustrated because we expected CHANGE with our first NDP government, real CHANGE. And we didn't get it, or, at least not as fast as we wanted. It was that very frustration that caused played a large part in the NDP's defeat in the last election.

So now we have a new government. A Liberal government. And I have to wonder if people will be as hard on them, expect as much change as quickly from them, as they did our last government. Because, if so, I am pretty sure we will have another epic fail.

In the words of Wendy Lill:
"Things are dreadful now, [the Department is] spending a lot of money and they are getting very poor results," says Lill. "Strong arguments have been made that [the new way] can be sustainable, and they have leadership that is mounting that argument in a very strong way."
Yeah, they are. And how much (and how fast), if at all, that changes will be up me you and me. That's right, you. And you. And you. And me.

And that takes me back to why I am so grateful for Robert Devet's continued writing on these subjects, for his efforts to hold our government accountable for what was promised. But that you and you and you and I can do half as good of a job in that regard.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

For What It's Worth

I'm not sure exactly what to make of this but ...
March 25, 2014) BOYNECLARKE LLP, one of Atlantic Canada’s largest law firms, will be offering free legal consultations over a three-day period in celebration of Law Day 2014
On April 8, 9 and 10, BOYNECLARKE LLP will be inviting pre-approved applicants to their office in Dartmouth for a free legal consultation. The initiative, spearheaded by Partner Gordon F. Proudfoot QC, is intended to give residents in the HRM access to justice. 
“Law Day is all about making sure everyone understands the law, has access to justice and can have their legal questions answered,” says Gordon. “This is our first year with the project, so we’re hoping to see lots of people during the three days.” 
Over 25 lawyers at the firm have volunteered their services to meet with approved applicants and discuss their legal issues in various areas of law. 
“Community service is one of things we try to make a priority here at BOYNECLARKE,” adds Gordon. “This is a way for us to give back.” 
Applications can be obtained online or by calling 1 902 460 3444.
So go on. Get out there. Get out pre-approved.

What do you have to lose?

Friday, March 14, 2014

[Almost] Street Legal

Posted on Facebook on March 6, 2014 
Lawyers need trust accounts.  
But according to the bank, in order to have a trust account, you need a business account first.  
And to have a business account you need to have registered a business name. [check
But before you can register a business name, you have to have the name approved [check
So, two out of four ain't bad for one week.

And I have a date with the banker on Monday to open the business account.

The name, you ask? Oh, that's easy.

MMC Legal Services

Of course.  

Cross-posted on Free Falling