My name is Martha McCarthy. I've been a full-time family lawyer, since I was called to the bar. I'm not embarrassed to tell you, at least in this setting, that is 27 years of practice.
I am a full-time family lawyer. I act for men and women in equal proportion. I act for straight and all manner of not-straight former couples. I act in a pro bono way regularly with lawyers in my office for children, children whose parents are getting divorced, children who are in other challenging circumstances and children and youth who have problems in school.
I also have a practice now that has developed into something that I'm not sure anybody envies me for. I do a serious amount of very high-conflict custody and access work. I act for people whose husbands have tried to kill them, and who are asking for custody of their children after that. I act for grandmothers where there's been a murder-suicide and there are no parents left.
I act in situations that we would easily call 10% or less of the constituency. These are stories that, if you didn't spend every day doing the kind of work that the lawyers sitting here now—these are all my colleagues and professional friends.... If you didn't spend time with us, you wouldn't quite believe it.
That's what we do, and that is one of the perspectives I'm going to ask you to consider as you look at this bill—the question of who the constituency is. Who are the people who need to access this legislation? Who is it actually aimed at?
Before I say that, you'll have to forgive me for all parts of my paper, to the extent that it contains comments that you didn't ask me for. That's the cost of inviting me to attend. I did spend the first five pages of my paper talking about the current legal context. I wanted to talk about it because I think there is a perception in the public that family law is in crisis. It's all over papers. It's this old saw that people say.
What I want to say is this. Due to maybe a magic confluence of every star lining up or something, we are at the biggest sea change in the history of family law since I was called to the bar, and that is the unified family court.
The unified family court—and I go on about it, again you'll forgive me, in the first five pages of my paper—is without a doubt the greatest law reform effort we will see, once we get it off the ground. It's not an “if” anymore. We now have the budget. We have the commitment at four provincial levels on the first rollout. Ontario is going to be one of those four provinces. It's going to get four centres.
What does a unified family court get us? Why does it matter? It's a very difficult subject to discuss in public and for people to understand because there's this one thing of, “We shouldn't have families in two different courthouses,” but actually that's just the little thing. A unified family court gets us a whole bunch of really huge things that we have not had and that will make a huge difference in access to justice for the average family and the average user of the system.
The specialized bench is huge. I have a part in my paper about it, so I won't repeat it. It's a massive change. It is a system where you can have all kinds of adjunct services. At a unified family court, the only place where family law is done, we can have mediation centres, a triage judge and some things that we don't have already, although we have many of them.
That's the second point in my context in this paper. We have rolled out across Ontario, and I think in many provinces—I can't really speak to specifics about other provinces—on-site services for mediation in every courthouse. Five years ago, that wasn't a thing.
What happens in the courthouses in Ontario right now? With or without the language.... I agree that it is totally appropriate that we should all have a duty to encourage and discuss mediation in the appropriate cases. What happens on the ground every day? You're in motions courts where judges are saying, “Hey, self-rep versus self-rep, or self-rep versus lawyer here fighting about a travel consent, did you know we have on-site mediation? Did you go down there? You can put your name in a line, and you can be heard in five minutes. Why don't you go down there? We'll hold your matter down.” They are triaging all kinds of stuff right off their list into that system.
You can judge my analogy however you like, but here's my analogy that I'm going to give you today. With the unified family court, which we have a commitment for, which is happening, with on-site services and mediation centres available, for those of us who have worked so hard—and I include both levels of government, people who have lobbied for it and all of you—we are standing over a body in a surgery, an open body, we are fully engaged in that surgery, and it is going to change the life of the patient.
With the greatest of respect, the legislative reforms are not really about that. The legislative reforms are about a very modest medical change, like how somebody wants to talk about putting a cast on the finger. We are on the precipice of the biggest, most amazing thing that has happened. We're not sure about whether the temperature comes down or how much we cure the patient once we roll out the UFC.
My friend Mr. Melamed tells me that I've already covered five minutes in my intro, which is how lawyers roll—